Sunday, May 30, 2010

Make the Most of your Model

Readings: Holy Trinity Sunday

In 1674, Thomas Ken wrote a hymn called Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun, which ends with the following verse, now sung as the Doxology in many of our Christian services:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. On this first Sunday after the Pentecost we celebrate and meditate on God's revelation to us that we may think of God as a Trinity of three Persons.

Indeed we may. But must we? Must we believe that the Absolute Reality of God really is this unity/trinity of three distinct Persons emanating from one Godhead?

I don't think so. For one reason, whenever you begin to think about God instead of being in relationship with God, you are thinking about your own idea of God, which is at best a toy model of God, and at worst an idol. All theology is thus tinged with idolatry, which means that we can only take theology as a guide, a pointer to the One who is beyond all theology. And so, the Trinity is a theological construct. Because it fits so well with the New Testament, it qualifies as a model rather than an idol. And it's a model with many virtues. But as for it's being the Absolute Reality of God, well, as Paul says, "Now we see through a glass darkly."

Yet another reason leads me to assert that the Trinity is a model. The historical Jesus and his companions during his public ministry would have rejected such a notion. Yet, neither he nor his followers could be critiqued as "un-Christian." Instead, the notion of the Trinity reflects the opinion of the early Church following Jesus' Resurrection. Indeed, it may even reflect some secret teaching of the post-Resurrection, pre-Ascension Jesus that was kept circulating in oral tradition and not written (not explicitly, anyway) into the New Testament.

Now, although the Trinity is a model, it isn't "just" a model. It's a great model, fitting nicely through all the wickets in the New Testament, and with the experience of God reported by Christian mystics through the ages. We have Jesus, who declares "All that Abba (the Father, or 'Daddy') has is mine," Jesus' emphasis that we are to relate to God as "Daddy," and the Spirit of Truth which came over the assembled worshippers at Pentecost. Indeed they go together, three faces of an inseparable Unity.

It's not so complicated, really. Certainly not so complicated as imagining God to be the ten Sefirot of Kabbalistic Judaism. And indeed, among the Sefirot one finds the Shekhinah, the Spirit (or in Hebrew the "Ruach" or breath of God) who is feminine, and corresponds well to the Holy Spirit recognized by Christians. She is the Sefirah who spends so much time the world of humans.

But let us not fight over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (Eastern Church) or from the Father and the Son (Western Church). That's just arguing over how the Tinker Toy sticks of your model are joined together. If prayer can be compared to making love, then too much concern with this kind of theology can be compared to, shall we say, "going it alone."

So step outside. Consider that the skyscape is brought to you by God, that your breath is breathed for you by the Spirit of God, and that next to you is the Son of God, admiring it all through your eyes.

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