30 May 2010

A Personal God

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - C - 30 May 2010

Readings: Prov 8:22-31; Ps 8:4-9; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15

First, let me tell you what the doctrine of the Trinity is not.

It is not about numbers. 1+1+1=1 really doesn’t make sense because it is not what it is about. It is not a mathematical conundrum.

It is not an abstract theological doctrine. It is not how we came to naturally know about God. Rather, it is the other way around: it is how God revealed Himself to us.

It is not a later Christian invention. Dan Brown, the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t get it. It didn’t start in Nicea, or God forbid, with Constantine. A little less than a century before the Council of Nicea (325 AD) – which officially articulated what was already held by sensus fidelium as the right doctrine – the Church Father Tertullian (c. 210 AD) first used the word “Trinity” in describing how the Scriptures refer to God. Even earlier, around 110 AD, the bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven letters to the Christian churches wherein he called Jesus "God" 16 times.

It is not an incomprehensible mystery, a knowledge inaccessible to us humans. The doctrine is called a mystery not so much because we cannot deign to understand it, but because the fullness of the knowledge of God cannot be contained in our puny limited minds. Thus, even when we cannot understand God in His entirety, we can understand enough to love Him and be saved. Throughout human history, and even now, we are discovering more and more about our God.

First, God revealed Himself to us as Father: creator of everything, provider of our needs, liberator from oppression. Then He revealed Himself to us as Son: Son of Man, the Word made flesh, Redeemer. Then the Holy Spirit “came down” to us: our advocate, guide, consoler, sanctifier, revealer of truths.

Tertullian writes of the Trinity: “God the Father is a deep root, the Son is the shoot that breaks forth into the world, and the Spirit is that which spreads beauty and fragrance.”

That God is a Trinity is a revelation not immediately grasped even by the first disciples, thus, the lack of direct articulation on this doctrine in the New Testament. However, there are numerous biblical references to the Trinity:

Mt 3,16-17 details the baptism of Jesus where the Spirit of God was seen descending, and a voice was heard saying; “This is my beloved Son.”

Mt 28,19: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

2 Cor 13,14: "…the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all"

Jn 1,1: “…the Word was God”

2 Cor 3,17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Now, let us answer the question: How does believing in a Triune God impact my life?

True, people can live decent lives, filled with humanitarian concerns and various achievements, even without believing in the Trinity or in any concept of God at all.

However, Christianity is more than just being good or doing a service to society or not harming anybody. It is a belief in a personal God. It is a personal relationship with God.

The great Protestant theologian Karl Barth says: “The central claim of the faith is that God has spoken to us.” He explains that from this we can derive the doctrine of the Trinity. It means that there is a speaker who is God, a word spoken who is God, and an interpreter who is God.

God has spoken to us. God has taken the initiative time and again to reach out to us, especially in our darkest hours. And the message is the invitation to share in His divine life. Thus, it is important to know that God is a relation of Persons, a community of love. From all eternity, the Father generates (not creates) the Word, through which all things were made and humanity is saved. The Word is all-powerful and perfect that He must be a Person. Their love for each other is so perfect that He has to be a Person as well: the Holy Spirit.

If there is a human analogy that comes closest to the Trinity, I would say it is the family. A family is first of all a community. At the very least it is composed of a father, a mother and a child. There is also generation in a family as the couple’s love for each other produces children. But most of all, there is love. A healthy loving family is a person’s best chance towards becoming a mature, healthy, loving individual as well, in other words, towards achieving fullness of life.

And so, when we reach out to a friend or neighbor in need, we are following the example of our personal God. When we consciously stand in solidarity with the poor, the lonely, the ostracized, we are participating in the redemptive mission of Christ. When we are lovingly present in the lives of our family and friends, we are doing the work of the Spirit who is Love.

Here’s the catch: when we do the work of the Trinity, we become what we do. We share in the life of the Triune God, which is what revelation and salvation is all about.

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