Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Thoughts on the Trinity

Fridolin Leiber - The Holy Trinity. Note that ...Image via Wikipedia
Mike bravely tackled the subject of the Trinity at church on Sunday. The title of his sermon was "God throws a curveball". I think that's an apt description of the Trinity- a curveball. The Trinity is a pitch that I've never been able to hit. Some of it makes a little sense to me. But, overall, as a doctrine, it raises more questions than it answers- so I just kind of leave it alone. I don't have a problem per se with Trinitarians; as long as they don't tell me I have to accept their doctrine to know God or to be a good Christian or (especially) to get into heaven.

The Trinity, IMO is a mixture of good and bad. It can be very useful. Mike pointed out one of the most useful aspects of the Trinity at church on Sunday. That was that God is, by God's nature, a community. There is mutual submission. There is sacrifice for the good of the other. There is no hierarchy (even though Father, Son and Holy Spirit certainly implies hierachy to me). But, in this sense, the Trinity is exemplary for us. It shows us what our human relationships should be like. It gives us a model to follow. Score one for the Trinity. Actually I first discovered this aspect of the Trinity while reading the book The Shack in which God is presented as an older black woman (but God makes it clear God can manifest anyway God wants and later manifests are a man), as Jesus (not as handsome as you would expect) and as Sarayu, an Asian woman. I like that Young presents God in two female forms. I liked this presentation of the Trinity and I think it actually did a lot for the story. Including the feminine in the Trinity added something that is sorely missing from the traditional Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I've also heard different forms for the Trinity that I find very helpful. The most helpful of which is God as Lover, Beloved and Love. This one actually kind of works for me. God is the initiator of the Love, the recipient of the Love and the Love itself. You can't have Love without an object. So, to say that God is Love and at the same time to say that God is completely self-contained and self-sufficient is somewhat contradictory IMO. You can't have love without having something other than yourself to love. The Trinity helps with this.

Those are the things about the Trinity I find useful. And, when the Trinity is presented as a model, as a visual aid, as a way of breaking down the incomprehensible into something we can at least kind of get our arms around, I don't have a problem with it. But, one of the dangers of the Trinity is that it can lull us into thinking we really understand the nature of God and limit us from looking more deeply. The traditional form of the Trinity- Father, Son and Holy Spirit is supposed to represent a family. But, what kind of family doesn't have a Mother? Even though the author of The Shack presented two of the members of the Trinity as female. God, (the Black woman) wanted to be called Papa and later manifested as a male. If the Trinity makes you think of God as even more anthropomorphic than you would otherwise, I think rather than being an aid, it's a hindrance. If you see God like the picture above shows God, I think maybe that's not a complete picture. If you picture seeing God as an old man, a guy with a beard (and whatever the Holy Spirit is supposed to look like in "person") sitting in a room in a committee style meeting each saying "Whatever you want to the others.", I think the model has been taken too far. In the book The Shack, one of the characters asks "Which one of you is God." to which all three manifestations answer "I am". Rightly said as far the doctrine of the Trinity is concerned for we are taught God is three persons. But, it smacks of polytheism to me. And, come on who among us doesn't really see the "Father" as really being God? Jesus never equated Himself to the Father. Paul didn't equate Jesus to God. Even as I read The Shack, I still thought "God, Jesus and Holy Spirit".

When I speak with Jews or Muslims they are usually as confused about the Trinity doctrine as I am. They'll recite the Shema or the the Shahada which are virtually idenitical and the first commandments of both faiths "Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is one" (the Shema), "There is no God but Allah..." (the Shahada) and tell me that Christians are polytheists and have abandoned this first principle. That's hard to argue with as much as you try to claim that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three persons but one God. I've heard some analogies that try to explain the Trinity- water, ice and steam- all the same substance but in three different forms. Sorry, that doesn't work for me. Water, ice and steam are not persons. I think a closer analogy would be a human being like myself, for example. I am father, brother, son, husband, friend, boss, etc. all at the same time. When I was studying Kaballah, I ran across a concept called the Sefirot. The book I was reading presented these as 10 different aspects or emanations of G-d. Aha! I thought. The Jews complain about the Trinity. Yet, they have broken G-d not into three but into ten. However, Kaballah is part of the Jewish mystical tradition and you are not supposed to even begin studying Kaballah until you are at least 40 years of age. Also, behind the Sefirot (10) there is the One- Ein Sof- entirely devoid of form. This teaching is very easy to misunderstand and, for that reason, is not for general consumption. Maybe we should think about that wisdom before we do teaching three-in-one to our children, LOL.

Another thing I realized about the "Trinity" is why the magic number three? I think the concept is limiting. If we can rephrase the Trinity into Lover, Beloved & Love or into Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer and others (Indians have form Creator, Preserver and Destroyer) and a myriad of others, I think we need to just say the traditional form of the Trinity- Father, Son and Holy Spirit is just one triplet that is a useful model. I don't mean to completely trash it. It certainly does have its uses. But, God has a myriad of attritbutes- Love, Compassion, Wisdom, Mercy, Grace, Justice, Father, Son, Mother, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer and on and on and on. The Trinity certainly isn't big enough to contain God.

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Chuck said...

It's always seemed to be a metaphor to me - some vehicle we use for our own convenience that may or may not have a correlation with reality. I think it is truly difficult to "redeem" concepts/terms such as trinity/salvation, etc. - too much baggage, so I'd rather just discard them and reinvent what's needed now.

kc bob said...

Interesting thoughts Brian. I particularly liked:

"one of the dangers of the Trinity is that it can lull us into thinking we really understand the nature of God"

IMO too many people seem to have God all figured out and get very disappointed when He acts in ways that they do not understand.. not that I have any actual experience with the God-in-a-box stuff :)

Don said...

Brian- I, like you, have trouble with the doctrine of the Trinity. But, you know that from my posts. I just cannot conceive of three-in- one, or understand the need, since it is obviously a later creation within Christianity. Nice Post!

Brian said...

Good point about the "later creation" of the Trinity doctrine, Don. It took about 400 years after Jesus' death to come up with the doctrine. Now, for some anyway, it seems to be set in stone.

As I said, I think it's a somewhat useful model. As long as we take it for metaphor (to use Chuck's word) and not literal fact.

Dena said...

Good thoughts, Brian!

I just finished reading "The Gifts of the Jews" the other day (thanks for the recommend!). One of the things that Cahill pointed out, is that the shema can also mean, "The Lord our God is ALL," or "The Lord our God is EVERY."

This, to me, based on where I've been led at this point, speaks of the All-Inclusiveness of God ... that HE is all in all (as is later expounded in scripture) ... that He is One with His creation ... that He is Omnipresent, in everything, and everyone. That nothing can escape God -- that HE is in all things.

I love that.

I think the question of "is God Trinity or Singular" is perhaps a moot question.

Perhaps the essence of a triune aspect of God is a statement of His inclusiveness ... such as the other "threesomes" found in the universe:

- solid, liquid, vapor
- past, present, future
- here, there, in-between
- height, width, depth
- body, soul, spirit
- conscious, subconscious, superconscious
- id, ego, super-ego
- thought, word, action

Perhaps the notion of three denotes a completion, fullness, inclusion ... implying that nothing and no one is left out...?

Just my thoughts...!

Brian said...

Good thoughts, Dena. There does seem to be something special about a trio. And, as long as take the Trinity as symbolic of G-d's completeness, I have no problem with it.