Reading: John 12:23-33
Today our Sunday school class discussed a passage in John where a voice from heaven. There are other similar passages in the gospels such as when Jesus is Baptized, and a voice comes from heaven saying: “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” and of course at the transfiguration where the voice from heaven instructs the disciples Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus.
In the gospels, Jesus talks about the Father and the Holy Spirit. There are times that a voice comes out of heaven that is understood to be the Father, and at the Baptism the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, like a dove. When we read the Gospels, especially John, we hit these sections that show a relationship between the Son and the Father; and us readers have to figure out what to do with them.
Today is also the Sunday where pastors everywhere take a vacation, and let somebody else preach the sermon. You see, today is Trinity Sunday where it is traditional to preach a sermon that takes on the doctrine of the Trinity. The surest way to profess heresy is to stand up and try to explain the Trinity. When I started studying Christian theology in an academic setting, and I read the definitions of Trinitarian Theology, along side list of condemned heretical views I quickly realized that just about every metaphor I heard explaining the Trinity had been condemned. A Lutheran pastor, Hans Fiene, made a rather silly video that demonstrates why long term pastors dump this task on whoever is available in the pulpit supply list.
I like this video. This video gives us enough of a summary of the arguments, and the major names that as long as you remember that the council of Nicea was in 325, and the council of Constantinople was in 381, you have enough information to pass the 4th century section of the exam in an into to Church history class. Unfortunately while this is a great overview of the arguments — it is not a very attractive picture of Trinitarian theology.
When I was a student at Friends University, I did a major project on the theological proclamations of the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. At first, this was difficult, as most of what I read from the councils was an expression of how not to talk about God; everything was negative. Eventually, I started reading letters, books, and commentary by people who were involved in the argument; the most important book I read was Athanasius’ Incarnation of the Word of God. When I read Athanasius, I began to understand that Trinitarian theology is above all commentary on John’s gospel. Jesus talks about the Father and the Spirit, and the Father talks about Jesus, and the Spirit shows up. Trinitarian theology is about trying to make sense of this.
Perhaps the best way to explain Trinitarian theology is with a diagram called the “Shield of the Trinity.” This is a little drawing that show that the Father Son and Spirit are God, while the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct from one another. When thinking about Trinitarian theology as commentary of the Gospel accounts, this is useful. Jesus is Divine, and the voice that speaks from heaven is Divine — but, there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. When Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, this Holy Spirit is divine, yet distinct from the Son and the Father, and in spite of this distinction, we believe that there is one God.
When I took a class that tried to explain Trinitarian Theology, my teacher, Chris Kettler, tried to explain to us that one reason that God is trinity is that a being in isolation is incomplete. A human, separated from community, is greatly diminished. Without other people, we lose a lot of ourselves because we are most ourselves in and through relationship. There is a reason why in Genesis, God said of Adam that it is not good for Man to be alone.
In the creation account when God creates the world and humanity, God says things such as: “Let us create Man in our own image.” The references are plural. Perhaps the significance of this is that God is complete without our help — God does not need a relationship with creation to be complete. God is complete in Godself.
Perhaps a more important passage is 1 John 4:8, which tells us that God is Love. This is not like a passage that calls God merciful, this is a statement that God is Love — that Love is a basic, fundamental defining aspect of God. Love requires community! The idea that God would need to create in order to be a fundamental aspect of God would make God dependent upon us — this is something that is unacceptable. Dr. Kettler taught us that the Trinity exists as a loving community. God is completely who God is without needing us. While you might say this is a metaphor; it is trying to understand God through human eyes, it has provided a positive way for me to understand Trinity — God is complete.
Now, somewhere there are armchair inquisitors who will decide whether or not I just spouted heresy. I hope I shared a helpful idea in here somewhere. I know sermons often have some sort of call to action — but, when it comes to theoretical theology, the best I can give is a call to think and reflect. I don’t know about you, but I’ve given too much thought to how I can be useful to God — and not enough thought to what it means that God loves me. I think about what I can do for God, forgetting that God does not need me to do anything. We believe in a God that is greater than us — and, we believe that God invites us into relationship.