Christian Theology in a Thumbnail: The “Cash Value” of the Trinity (7)
Yes, I know it’s crass to talk about the “cash value” of the Trinity. But I bet it got you attention to take a look at this post. We expect so little from this understanding of God that some wag described as “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the whole thing incomprehensible! that we need a bit of a jolt to get us to think about it.
Most of us, I suspect, are functional Unitarians (one God but no threeness within God) or binatarians (Jesus and God are God but no Holy Spirit) but the triune understanding of God plays little or no role in life and experience of God. To be sure, it is a mystery that eludes rational explanation and to describe what it is we are saying about God is not easy. Yet, I contend a triune view of God is indispensable for Christian faith and practice. Without it, in fact, we have no Christian faith at all!
Three basic rules for describing God as triune are vital. The first is that God is “always and at the same time the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” “Always and at the same time” is the crucial phrase. The second is that what one member of the trinity does, all do. God is fully involved in all that God does. And the third is that the triune God is a “dancing” God. That is, the one God is his relationships within himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and is a continuous movement of giving and receiving love. These rules undoubtedly don’t clear things up much but they put us in a position to see what is lost is we do not work from a triune understanding of God.
I suspect most of us would love to sure of at least three things. First, that God cares and makes himself knowable to us. A triune God does not remain distant in the heavens shouting out commands and orders for us to obey. Indeed, our God speaks to us. But he also becomes one of us so that we might know him up close and personal. Imagine you’re a goldfish who takes it upon yourself to instruct the other goldfish in the bowl about human beings. How reliable would that instruction be? Rather limited, if not actually distorted. Humans are so massively different that no goldfish could gather more than a fraction of a smidgen of true knowledge of human reality.
But what if a human wanted so badly for goldfish to know him or her and how much they love the fish and would do anything for them so that became a goldfish in order to share this with them? This is just what God has done. Becoming human in Jesus Christ he made himself available and knowable to share his love with us. Without a triune God such certainty that God cares for us and wants us to have reliable knowledge about him is not available.
A second loss stemming from a non-triune view of God is hope for genuine community and unity. We will never experience more reality than the deity we believe the source of our life. A solitary God will create solitary creatures. But if God is in internally differentiated fellowship of love and community as the Christian God is, then his creatures will likewise be created for such fellowship and community. We “wired” that way, so to speak, as those made in God’s “image.”
A final, and surely the most devastating loss of a non-triune view of God is that we can never be sure that that God truly loves us to the fullest and uttermost. As frail, finite, and fallible creatures assurance of our Creator’s love and mercy makes human life possible. We may exist without such assurance. But to thrive and become who we are meant to be requires experience of a love will see us through all things and bring us to our intended end. A chief mark of that kind of love is exemplified in the story of a marine who went to retrieve his seriously wounded buddy against orders that it was too dangerous and nothing could be done. He hoists his buddy on his shoulders and under the cover fire of his unit returns. But not before he too is wounded, mortally, as it turned out. “Why did you go?” the squad leader barks at him. “I told you it was hopeless!” Coughing through his pain, the soldier replies, “It was worth it, sir. When I got to him, he said, ‘I knew YOU would come.’”
And that’s what it all comes to in the end. Either we are sure that God will come for us or we are not. If Jesus is God incarnate, we have that assurance. If he is not, we don’t. For is Jesus is not God, then in response to our deepest and direst need, God could not or would not come himself to help us. Instead, he sends someone else.
The church’s confidence in its experience of God’s love and its boldness in announcing such love to the world rests on a triune view of God. Such is the “cash value” of the Trinity. Thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God forever reigning through the universe!