Do you remember those 3-D posters that were so popular several years ago? You know, the posters that usually looked like nothing more than a field of static like you might find on an old television with no antenna? The instructions that came with the poster said if you “stared intently” at the field of dots long (or intently) enough, you would see some other sort of image—maybe an airplane or a cow or a tree.
The idea was if you look at something long enough, your brain would put the dots together and you would see something else.
This week’s readings put us in mind of this a bit this week. Three of the four readings each offer a different perspective toward what later comes to be known as the Trinity (or Trinitarian Theology).
See, there is really no explicit biblical explanation of the Trinity. However, there are several different scriptures that through the years folks have picked up and put together…scriptures and phrases and ideas that folks have held together in their minds, stared at intently, and the concept of the Trinity is what emerged.
The concept of the Trinity developed out of a certain necessity. People had to find ways to say what it is they believed. While our Muslim friends sum up their belief with “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is His Prophet”, we Christians have no such concise formula. There were great and deep questions that arose when Christians started attempting to understand the connection of the Hebrew God to Jesus the Messiah to this Advocate / Spirit Jesus talked about sending.
Lots of arguments happened and more than a little blood was shed by folks that took very seriously the discussion of how to reconcile these ideas (and all they knew about each of the three from the scriptures) with one another. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity did not fully get codified until the Nicene Creed was agreed on at the council of Nicea in 325 CE (200-300 years after the New Testament was written). (There is a great “Speaking of Faith” show talking with Jaroslav Pelikan…..it is a wonderful way to spend an hour!)
Now these scriptures are not the most overt things pointing toward a Trinitarian Theology, but they do provide some of the early support…..so let’s look and see what sort of evidence / support for the Trinity might be found.
In Acts we get one of Paul’s first sermons as a follower of Jesus. He is following what today is one of the most basic “styles” of evangelism....he has spent time with these new people in their city, living their lives, and understanding what it is they worship. He takes what he sees there and then ties it to the God he came to know as a Jewish leader...and then he even goes a step further and ties it to his understanding of God as he sees in Jesus. He tells them that they are all created in the image of God and that we (they) are all connected to God. Now in just a few sentences, Paul takes these Athenians from a place where they worship “an unknown god” [do we know how they worshiped this god?] to naming that this unknown God is actually God the Father / Yahweh of the Hebrews, and then goes even further to connect God the Father / Yahweh to Jesus as the one God the Father has appointed to judge their righteousness. He’s really making the point that there is One God to a community that has been accustomed to acknowledging many gods.
In the letter of Peter we continue to see a pretty directive / advice giving / instructional situation. The writer is encouraging certainly, but he is also attempting to lay down orthodox thinking so that this community will have the same understandings / practices / theology as Christians in other communities. We do not know what was the depth of practice of this community or what they knew or how / if they shared their faith. We do know though that this letter is encouraging them to be faithful in what they believe and how they practice. This community is being encouraged to do the right thing and to recognize that this choice to do the right thing might result in suffering… he is connecting the suffering they might experience with the suffering Jesus experienced.....and then he connects them back to Noah and then he connects their suffering, the salvation of the Ark, and the resurrection of Jesus all to baptism. Even today, if you are new to the faith, this is confusing and difficult to understand....so imagine what it might have been like to have to understand this when the primary means of communicating this faith was word of mouth and letters being passed around. Here, the author is using Jesus’ humanity to connect these people to God through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.
In John we see Jesus assuring the disciples that they know what they need to know and that they are going to still be supported and still be cared for and still be loved...even when he is not there any more. This falls right in with human development theory....the first stages of life are spent building trust between the child and its caregivers...it takes a while for a child to trust that when a parent is not around that the parent still exists and still loves them and still cares for them. Jesus is assuring the disciples (in their early stages of development) that they will be okay even when he is not there with them. This is one of the examples where we get an explicit explanation from Jesus that ties the “Holy Spirit” or the “Advocate” to himself.
In the Psalm we see someone who deeply knows / understands God’s activity in his life. He can name the ups and can name the downs....he knows where God has supported and where God has tested....and with all of this he cannot contain himself....he wants to tell others to come and see and hear about his God. It is interesting to note all through the Hebrew scriptures that there is a certain sense that God / Yahweh is both God the Father and God the Spirit…..and it is in the New Testament scriptures that we see those “tasks” separated.
One God, many natures. It is a concept with which the early church struggled mightily. Deep down, we think the only way to understand it on Any Level is in relationship with God. We can look to the scriptures for evidence, but in many ways, the Trinity is beyond rational explanation. God is bigger than our rationality, anyway – Right?
* How do you understand the nature of God?
* Is your relationship with God singular or multi-faceted? Do you relate differently to God at different times, in different circumstances, with different practices?
* Is everything in your faith explained by the scriptures? What do you do with those things for which you cannot find an explanation?
* Do you ascribe to a specific creed? Have you written a statement of your own beliefs and understanding of God? How do you share your understanding of God with others?
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Nicene Creed, First Council of Constantinople, 381 CE