Forget theology – and find God?
The Trinity is said to be a preacher’s most frequently avoided topic, and if you read the first of the Thirty-Nine Articles, it is easy to understand why: ‘There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.’
The doctrine of the Trinity arises from a struggle by the Early Christians to define and understand their profound experience of God, but some confusion has been caused by their choice of the word ‘person’. It had Greek and Latin origins in a word meaning ‘face’ or ‘mask’, referring to the mask once worn by an actor to denote which character he was playing. Thus the ‘three Persons’ are not three individual deities, but the different roles played by God. And perhaps the simplest illustration of the Trinity is the shamrock leaf, said to have been used by St Patrick to represent three manifestations of the one God.
But, rather than become entangled in ideas, is there another tack we could take?
Forget theology – and find God! Those radical words from a wise old priest, many years ago, hit me forcibly and made me think. It is easy to become so intoxicated by the ins and outs of Christian belief that it is never lived and made real in oneself. Or it can be so bewildering, or even intimidating, that it is a turn-off for faith altogether. The concept of the Trinity is no exception, and can remain a fairly arid concoction of words, and no more. If that is the case, perhaps the most meaningful step forward for many of us is simply ‘to be with God for a space’, as Michael Ramsey puts it, ‘keeping a little time in the conscious awareness of One who is Friend as well as Creator and Saviour.’
Forget theology, and find God? Somehow, it is in finding God – God as our friend – that the dry bones of theology take on a vibrant new life and significance. We can begin to explore our faith from a better perspective, more alive to ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’, with all the richness of meaning implied. ‘We somehow need to convey to the world God in all his fullness,’ says biblical scholar John Rogerson, ‘The Trinity is not some nasty, complicated Christian doctrine invented by theologians; it is at the heart of our faith, our love, our worship and our service of the God who loves us.’
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