The Holy Trinity (A)
What is TRUTH? It is often very hard for us to know what to believe. Everyone, it seems, is trying to lead us to their version of “truth”. As an illustration of this, about ten years ago a freshman at Eagle Rock High School won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair by showing how conditioned we have become to alarmists spreading fear of everything in our environment through junk science. In his project he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical “Dihydrogen monoxide” because:
1. It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting.
2. It is a major component in acid rain.
3. It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state.
4. Accidental inhalation of it can kill you.
5. It contributes to erosion.
6. It decreases the effectiveness of automobile brakes.
7. It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients.
He asked fifty people if they would support the elimination of this chemical dihydrogen monoxide. Forty-three said “yes”. Six were “undecided.” And only one of the fifty knew what dihydrogen monoxide actually is – that it is more commonly known as – water!
Sometimes it seems as though the doctrine of the Trinity, which we are celebrating today, is like this. Christians strongly affirm this doctrine – that God is three Persons and yet at the same time is still only one God – as being an essential part of our faith. But often, we tend to get so hung up on various “details” of this doctrine that we fail to appreciate the truth of what it is about.
For example, throughout history there has been a major disagreement between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Western churches (which include us) about the so-called “Filioque” clause of the Nicene Creed. We Lutherans, along with Roman Catholics and other Western Christian denominations confess that the Holy Spirit “Proceeds from the Father and the Son” – while the Orthodox churches believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father. Sad to say, in the past people have been persecuted and even killed by one side or the other over this “filioque” issue! May God forgive us!
Or in our modern day, some people object to the traditional naming the Persons of the Triune God as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – and will go to almost any lengths to avoid using any so-called “masculine imagery” when referring to God. (To them, it is probably like using the term “dihydrogen monoxide” to describe water!) Other more traditionally minded folks don’t see what the fuss is about and tend to get upset or even angry with those people who seem to want to “change” our understanding of who God is.
But the truth about the Trinity does not consist of details such as who the Holy Spirit proceeds from or of what we should call the Persons of the Godhead. Nor is this doctrine meant to be a dogma that tells us what we have to believe about God. Ultimately, the doctrine of the Triune God is simply an attempt – a feeble human attempt – to understand and make sense of how we as Christians have experienced God’s activity in all of its many aspects.
On one hand God relates to people as an all-powerful Creator who can only be worshiped from afar. Yet at the same time God also relates to us so intimately that he (or she, or it) is as close as the air that we breathe. We Christians also believe that God was and is uniquely present in the person of Jesus Christ – who lived and died and rose again to give us salvation and eternal life.
Christians have consistently experienced God in three different ways – as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. These ways are so different that we can say that God is like three different persons. And yet, the biblical faith is that there is only one God – not three Gods. The doctrine of the Trinity was born out of this experience that God is three and yet only one. The greatest theologians of the Church have been trying to wrestle with the implications of this doctrine ever since during the past two thousand years. And often, this wrestling has been unsuccessful, confusing, and even divisive at times.
But ultimately, the doctrine of the Trinity is not so much about our “knowledge” about God as it is about our experience of God. To illustrate this, Max Lucado, a noted Christian author, tells a story about a man who wanted to learn how to dance. He went to the bookstore and bought a how-to book. He took it home and began studying it and practicing meticulously according to all of its instructions. He did everything that they told him to do. When the instructions told him to sway, he swayed. When they said, “lean”, he leaned. When they said, “spin”, he spinned. He even cut out paper footprints and arranged them on the family room floor so he would know exactly where to step.
Finally, when he thought that he had gotten it all down pat, he called in his wife and said, “Honey, watch!” Then with book in hand and reading aloud so she would know he had done his homework, he followed the instructions step by step. “One step with the right foot…turn slowly to the left…lean forward, then back…spin around…etc.” After doing this for a few moments he collapsed on the sofa and said to his wife, “What do you think? I executed it perfectly!” And his wife replied, “You executed it all right. You killed it!”
The husband couldn’t understand what was wrong. He said, “But I followed the rules, I laid out the pattern, I did everything that the book says…”
But his wife smiled and said, “You forgot the most important part. You forgot the music!” With that, she put on a CD and told him to try again – but this time not worrying about all the steps and just following the music. She held out her hand, and he got up and took it. The music started, and the next thing the man knew he was dancing – without the book!
Lucado closes his story with this statement: “We Christians are prone to follow the book while ignoring the music. We master the doctrine, outline the chapters, memorize the dispensations, debate the rules and stiffly step down the dance floor of life with no music in our hearts. Dancing with no music is tough stuff. Jesus knew that. For that reason, on the night before his death he introduced the disciples to the song-maker of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.”
That is what the doctrine of the Trinity is about. Stripped away of all of its theological implications, understanding God as Triune is simply MUSIC that helps us to dance with God – it is MUSIC that helps us to praise God in all of God’s fullness!
So what is truth? The truth about God is that God is far beyond our ability to fully understand and comprehend. But we can experience God’s power and providence as from a loving parent – we can experience God’s forgiveness and love especially as it has been revealed in Jesus Christ – and we can experience God’s joy and peace through the ongoing presence of the Spirit among us. THAT is the truth and the music of the Trinity – God as three Persons, and yet still one God.
Yes, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is our song of praise to an awesome God. Feel the music of this – and let’s dance! Amen!
Pastor George Karres
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270