I can’t observe St. Patrick’s Day without watching this modern classic from Lutheran Satire:
Hilarious, isn’t it? I think so. But there was a time when I wouldn’t have been so amused.
The Trinity has caused me much anxiety throughout my lifetime. Or perhaps I should say, not the Trinity itself, but the desire to understand it, the need I felt to grasp it intellectually in order to be able to trust in my faith. I wanted assurance for my salvation. I wanted my identity to be marked by a confidence in my beliefs, a confidence that long eluded me. Being bewildered about the core doctrine of the Christian faith felt like being adrift in a sea of uncertainty, with waves of fear and doubt crashing all around and threatening to overwhelm me.
So there was a time when a video mocking all the ways to misunderstand the Trinity would not have have amused me at all. And for those struggling to understand the Trinity, there is little comfort in condemnation and accusations of heresy for people who work hard to wrap their minds around this mystery only to come up with imperfect understandings. At worst, these condemnations not only victimize people struggling to understand God, but reinforce the idea of God as a tyrant who requires adherence to strict and rigid dogma. And nothing could be further from the truth about the Trinity.
The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be grasped or pinned down, cannot be encapsulated in words or formulas. But it can be experienced, embraced, and enjoyed. It can also unfold itself to us as it dissolves our fears. For if the Trinity is God and God is Perfect Love, then the Trinity should cast out all our fears, not be their source. But trying to pin the concept of Trinity down in words will only entangle us in confusion. That’s why the Triune God revealed God’s self to us not in words but in a person, the person of Jesus.
Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, is God’s love letter to humanity. When humanity was confused about who God is and what God requires, Jesus clarified our vision with the revelation that God is Love and Light, in whom there is no hatred or violence. When humanity was blind in a fog of confusion, projecting our own violence onto God and finding transcendence from our violent passions in the false peace of sacrifice, Jesus showed us the depth of God’s mercy. In his life he healed the brokenness of our selves and our societies by embracing the marginalized and pulling them in from the margins. In his death as scapegoat he became the magnetic target of all our hatred, pulling our violence onto himself so we would not direct it at each other. In his resurrection he proved that love triumphs over hate. In all of this, Jesus revealed to us a power greater than violence and thus redefined God in our understanding. The understanding of the Trinity came about over time as the life and meaning of Jesus not only reshaped our perception of God, but drew us deeper into relationship with God. Jesus’s perfect love cast out all fear and showed us that fear, violence, and vengeance have no place within God. Jesus’s revelation that God is Love is the key to entering into the mystery of the Trinity.
Love is not solitary isolation, but relationship. For God to be love means that God is ever giving and receiving of Love. Love permeates inward and reaches outward. The love that Jesus extended to the world, to reveal the true nature of God, ever flows between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus drew his love for the world from the Father, the inexhaustible Source of Love, who sent his love into the world in flesh, the embodied Love of Jesus. At Pentecost, the Spirit of Love – the perfect Love in and through which all of creation came into being — was poured out that we might more fully embody love. From the beginning of time, Love has been dancing in perfect harmony, leaving stars and planets in its footsteps. We who have been made from Love in the image of Love are called to join in the dance.
This may seem like a poetic jumble. But it is the clearest way for me to understand the Trinity, to understand Love, to understand God – and the clearest way for me to understand what it means to be human. While I have a single body, my identity is bound up in my relationships. I am not Lindsey without my husband, without my daughters, without my mother and father, without the dear friends who have made me who I am. I am not me without you. I am who I am because of what I have learned through and from others and the desires that have seeped into my consciousness and the people upon whom I depend both known and unknown to me. To be human is to be in relationship, and it is to be made in the image of God, who is relationship.
But whereas our relationships are marred by rivalries and jealousies, by miscommunications and desires at the expense of others, the relationship of God is perfect harmony, perfect communion, perfect Love. Jesus as the fully human one was also the fully loving one, and until the perfect Love found in the Triune God casts out our fear, we are not yet fully human. We are being molded by God into God’s image, following Jesus who modeled for us the perfect relationship with Love and showed us how to extend the love we receive in ever-flowing abundance to a hurting world.
The Trinity is the relationship of Love. Relationships cannot be defined or pinned down, but they can be lived and strengthened. I find value in studying the theology of the Church Fathers and Mothers who dedicated their lives to exploring the depths of this mystery, but if talk of the Trinity leaves your head spinning, it’s okay to let the talking go for a while. Focus instead on loving your neighbor and enemy, and you’ll find your footing as you’re swept up in the dance of Love.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
This was originally published on March 17, 2016.