Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, which has been observed the week after Pentecost for about the past 1000 years. What’s it about?
At the very heart of Christian faith is our unique understanding of God: the Trinity. Yet, most of the time we don’t think or talk about the Trinity because it seems abstract and speculative. That’s unfortunate because in reality, the Trinity is not abstract at all; it’s a practical doctrine for Christian spiritual life.
The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. And the formal doctrine of the Trinity did not come into being until the fourth century. However, the “ingredients” of the Trinity are woven throughout Scripture.
Put simply, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that the very nature of God is to communicate Godself to the world. In other words, “who God is” corresponds to “what God does.” And in asking about God, we always have to begin with “what God does.” And what God does is to create, redeem and sustain the world. In other words, we don’t start thinking about “who God is” in a random way, as if God might be an old man in the sky or a “force” in the universe or a set of ethical principals. Rather, we begin with how God has chosen to reveal Godself in and through the testimony of Scripture.
But from a practical standpoint, how is the Trinity important? Well, because if God is only “out there,” beyond our daily reality, that means God is only for Godself. And if that’s the case, God is of little help or hope for humanity. But the Trinity teaches us that God is not only “out there” but also “in here,” that God is not only God for Godself, but also God for us:
“In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.” UCC Statement of Faith, Article 4.
The best way to imagine and internalize this is not through church creeds or philosophy though, but through the biblical stories. If the Bible is about one thing, from start to finish, it’s about God’s deep commitment to and engagement with the world. God is not simply separate from the world, not simply “other.” In Christ, God also becomes incarnate in a broken, sinful world in order to bring forgiveness and justice, healing and wholeness – or in traditional language — salvation.
“But if God is in the world, why is there so much suffering?” Good question. The Bible gives no simple answer for the question of suffering. What the Bible does give however, is the testimony that God does not micromanage the world like a puppeteer. Instead, God creates the world and gives us freedom to be who we are. God is committed to working in and through what God has created. And God will not abandon the world. Rather, God has chosen to save the world in this odd way that doesn’t make sense to our rational minds: God enters the suffering and sin of the world and takes that suffering and sin into Godself. That is the “foolishness of the cross” that Paul speaks of (1 Cor. 1:18-15).
The resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, points to the final verdict on sin, suffering and death – God wins! Yet, as Scripture also testifies, this is an “already, but not yet” verdict. God’s future has invaded the present, yet the world still struggles in sin, suffering and death.
So, part of Christian spiritual life is living out of this “God wins” verdict – the resurrection. But another part of it is recognizing that God is incarnate within a suffering world. The reality of Jesus shows us that God is always about the work of forgiveness, healing and wholeness. Yet the cross teaches us that God is also hidden within the world’s suffering. So if we want to meet God, one sure way to do that is to be about the work of healing and wholeness amidst the pain and suffering of the world – whether in our own lives, the life of others or in the groaning of creation itself (Rom. 8:22).
One of my mentors often said that Christian spiritual life is about “leaning into the pain” of the world. What he meant was that because God is hidden in the cross of Jesus Christ (suffering), when we encounter the suffering of the world we also meet Jesus Christ himself (Matt. 25:31-46).
The world, in many ways, may seem to be pretty messed up. Your life, no matter what will at times be confusing and uncertain, if not outright hard. But the way we find and make peace with God is the same way God finds us and makes peace with us: through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.