Monday, June 4, 2007

Reflections On Romans 5:1-5 (Trinity Sunday)

It is very tempting to take Trinity Sunday and use it as a time to try to explain the mysteries of God. I could use this time to write that God is like a peach: the pit being God the Father who has the potential to create; the fruit being God the Son who nourishes us and gives us new life; and the skin being God the Holy Spirit who protects and sustains as any covering should. “One fruit with three different aspects; God is like that,’ I could write that.

The problem with pursuing that course of thought any further is that God is not a fruit. I know that comes as a shock to you, but God is not a peach, nor is God anything like a peach.
God the father alone, as the pit, doesn’t create, but the Father enlists the help of God the Word (the Son), to activate life and sends this Word by way of the Holy Spirit who hovered above the waters before there was any order in the cosmos and brought everything into order. God the Father alone is not the pit. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share in the creative forces of the pit. Now, I may have already lost you, and that is fine because my simple point here is that any time you say anything definitive about God, you have hijacked God’s name and spoken something that is only partially true.

God is not a peach, I can say that definitively. Peaches don’t forgive us and don’t love us. At least mine don’t. I was in the refrigerator this morning, and my peach didn’t mention ‘Father please forgive him, for he is about to sin” as I stared down at it salivating.
God cannot be said definitively to be anything because God is God. That was the whole point of drawing up the image of the Trinity to represent God in the first place. You see, throughout the history of Christianity, people wanted to pin God down. They wanted to claim that they knew the unknowable and understood the non-understandable. People wanted to define God – all of the whys and hows of God – they wanted to be able to carry God around in their pocket and pull God out whenever God was useful to them.

In the end, the council of Nicaea (yes even back then the church used councils and committees)decided definitively that God is God. God is not who we define God to be. God is who God defines God to be. They said essentially, “If God is a Father and creator, and Jesus says God is, that is fine. We don’t need to figure out how right now. God is God. And if Jesus is not only the son of God but actually is God, and Jesus says he is, that is fine. We don’t need to figure out right now how God can be in two places at once whenever Jesus prays. God is God. And if God is going to continue to be present with us today through the Holy Spirit, and Jesus says God will be, that is fine. We don’t need to figure it out right now. God is God. God will be who God wants to be and God will do what God wants to do no matter how confusing or mysterious it might be. So, you want to carry God around in your pocket? Fine! How about this: God is one being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a mutual indwelling of three persons: the Father, the Son (incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth), and the Holy Spirit. Make that into a short little creed and stick that in your pocket!” And so they did; it’s called the Nicene Creed.

We know things about God, because God has shared them with us, but I will never say to you that I understand God completely. Men, how many of you, after years of marriage can say you understand your wife completely? And, woman, how many of you have heard these words come out of your mouths, “What on earth was he thinking?” Brothers, how many of you have a clue what is going through your sister’s brain? Sisters, how many of you have heard these words come out of your mouth, “my brother’s an idiot.” We don’t understand each other, not completely. But, the point isn’t so much to understand, but to have a relationship and love each other. The same is true with God.

In the ancient world, people were certain that they understood God completely. They carried around in their pockets a god who was a just punisher. If something bad happened to you, like a hurricane, you must have done something really horrific to make God mad. Suffering was a sign of God’s just punishment. So, it must have seemed completely mysterious and baffling when Paul preached that God can use suffering, not for punishment, but for good. “Suffering produces endurance.” When someone mocks you and smashes a crown of thorns on your head, it is not a sign that God doesn’t care. Instead, you are driven closer to God and you ask God for the strength to keep taking steps forward. “And, endurance produces character.” If you have endured thick nails splitting their way through the bones and tendons of your wrists, it is not a sign that you are no longer a child of God. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” These are the words of a child of God. “And, Character produces hope.” “It is finished.” But, it is not the end. God does not forget. The stone will be rolled away. There will be new life beyond the suffering.

These are mysterious truths from a mysterious God. The true God must have seemed perplexing to those ancients who only carried in their pockets a God who punished. But, that is the problem with carrying a god around in your pocket; you might miss the real God. The real God is mysterious and does mysterious things. But, just as your spouse or sibling is mysterious to you, yet you know that they love you; though we don’t understand all the time what God is up to, we know that God loves us. That kind of love is only experienced, it is not understood. You don’t put that sort of God on a card and carry God around. You walk with that God. You use your feet and follow that God, no matter where you are mysteriously taken.