"An Interlocking God" - June 16, 2019

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.  For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

To be totally frank about my first reaction whenever one of these readings from John comes along where Jesus speaks about his relationship to God the Father and to God the Holy Spirit, (and this is not the most convoluted of those passages) I feel a bit like Nathan Fillion in this brief clip:

https://www.google.com/search?q=nathan+fillion+memes&tbm=isch&tbs=rimg:CZF8XgtgBc7CIjiuc-Xu0MCYDEoE0LA9Bt8zgB0bbBXFHydlhvKEf-ypYyfy_16VuGhMPoPftRGrOp4ccWt_1cqg87AioSCa5z5e7QwJgMET5FYcY4ttz5KhIJSgTQsD0G3zMRirb2oR2F_1msqEgmAHRtsFcUfJxF_1geG7C5Y7HSoSCWWG8oR_17KljES85xK235s5vKhIJJ_1L_1pW4aEw8RCkbHubR8l0AqEgmg9-1Eas6nhxFY1ldvEWKyoyoSCRxa39yqDzsCEdhGvFZF1b-E&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj_w6uqjeLiAhXLjVkKHYN4DIEQ9C96BAgBEBs&biw=1093&bih=486&dpr=1.25#imgdii=sQq8cuJVjbRjmM:&imgrc=rnPl7tDAmAwCUM:

I want to say something but recognize that I could get it totally wrong and do more harm than good.  I also recognize that I am in good company on that.  Carlo Carretto, in his book The God Who Comes, sums it up when he says,

“The revelation of a triune God in the unity of a single nature the revelation of a divine Holy Spirit present in us, is not on the human level; it does not belong to the realm of reason.  It is a personal communication which God alone can give, and the task of giving it belongs to the Holy Spirit, who is the same love which unites the Father and the Son.  [I’m going to come back to that, so let me read that last part again: ‘the Holy Spirit, who is the same love which unites the Father and the Son.’”]

The Holy Spirit is the fullness and the joy of God.

It is so difficult to speak of these things.  We have to babble like children, but at least, like children, we can say over and over again, tirelessly, ‘Spirit of God, reveal yourself to me, your child.’”[1]

So, with the caveat that better people than I have babbled about this, let me babble, too.

                Of all the New Testament writers, John is the one who has the most highly-developed way of thinking about the relationship among the three persons of the Trinity.  (And that word “Trinity” is not itself in the Bible, but is a shorthand word for a complex thought.  It is a word like “gravity” or “relativity” would be in physics, or “caramelize” would be in cooking.)  Matthew 25:19 gives us Jesus’ parting direction to make disciples and to baptize

“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

and Paul talks about how

“the Lord is the Spirit” [II Corinthians 3:17]

in the same letter where speaks of

“the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” [II Corinthians 4:4]

but Paul also calls Jesus “Lord” all the time and even says that

“God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” [II Corinthians 5:19],

so it seems clear to me that the sense of what we call “the Trinity” is right there all the way along, even if the wording that we use when we get theological was only hashed out in later centuries with a lot of debate and sometimes even fighting.

                But I digress.  It’s unavoidable on this topic.

                John, whose gospel has the most developed ways of expressing this aspect of God, also uses the simplest language in one of his letters, where he says,

“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  [I John 4:8]

So at the risk of sounding foolish, I will share how I believe those go together: the notion that God is love and that God exists as the Holy Trinity.  If it helps, great.  If not, take a few minutes and pray quietly, ignoring me and using the time better.

                Start with the idea that God is love.  Now, that’s all very good to say, but how can love simply exist on its own?  Love is more than a concept.  It’s an activity and a relationship.  For there to be love, there must be someone to do the loving.  That someone is God. 

For there to be love, there must also be someone to be loved.  Without an object, the verb “love” is meaningless, like when someone says, “I love humanity.  It’s people I can’t stand.”  If love is real, it attaches to an object.  Even the pagans knew that – Cupid’s arrow was always aimed at a target, not just shot into the air.  

Now, here I’m going off into one of these metaphysical moments.

Since God is eternal and existed before creation, that someone who is loved must also be eternal, which means the object of the divine love must be God as well, but in some way differentiated from that which loves.  So what we end up with is God, who is love; God, who loves; and God, who is loved. (And since love is reciprocated, neither is subordinate except in the way that love leads someone to put the other first, so that what one wills the other wills also, and so forth.) What we end up with is a three-personed God, no part of which is identical, yet each part of whom is necessary to the other two, and in agreement with the other two in all things.

Jesus expressed what it would mean for his disciples to worship this interlocking God.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.  For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” [John 16:12-15]

Confusing?  Yes.  But a true and living God is not ever going to be totally understandable to anyone but himself. 

                    The creeds that the Church worked out by trial and error over the centuries reflect not a precise definition of God, but a statement of faith.  This, they say, is what we have known and what has been shown to us.  This, they say, is what is central to keeping our own loving response to a loving God focused and direct.  So, when you look at any of them, and when we recite them together, including the Apostles’ Creed that we will share in a moment, you will see them built around the three persons of the Trinity, understanding that we cannot speak of any one of them without the other two.  Nor can we speak of just some vague divine being without reference to the concrete life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and to the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of his followers.

So I invite you to stand with me and together confess our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed, and as we do so, to bear witness to the eternal God, three-in-one and one-in-three.

                             

[1] Quoted in Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (Nashville: The Upper Room, 1983), 194.