Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Preachers everywhere will be getting themselves psyched up for Trinity Sunday this weekend. All the old illustrations will be dusted down: the three-leaf clover, the idea of water as ice, liquid or steam, light as a wave and a particle to hold two conflicting ideas together. I’ve probably used all of them myself at one point or another. All are using words and metaphors to describe a concept that is essentially beyond human understanding – which as we are talking about God shouldn’t surprise us.
Many sincere Christians react against this mystery and suggest we should ditch it altogether to make the Gospel easier to understand. I would love to commend the Christian faith to people in ways they can understand and respond to, so I have some sympathy with this idea. However, let’s do a little thought experiment about what happens if you ditch it. In a nutshell, the doctrine of the Trinity says that God can best be understood as three distinct persons so in a relationship of love that they are essentially one. It arose out of Christian experience of God acting as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That was an experienced reality which had to find some sort of philosophical shape.
So, if we say we don’t believe in the Trinity that would mean that one of the persons of God isn’t – well God. If we say God the Father, who made the world, isn’t God, then there is no God. Richard Dawkins is right and we are simply the results of biology, random chance and selfish genes. There can be no meaning or purpose other than what we imagine for ourselves. There could be no grand plan. There could be no morality other than what is expedient or decided by majority, and no criteria other than the greatest good for the greatest number of people to decide how we ought to behave. Since we don’t even know ourselves very well, its virtually impossible to decide what ‘good’ is in any particular circumstance. Also, there would be no reason to behave well other than social pressure and no reason to develop character if no-one was watching. It would be a recipe for public morality and private licence.
If we say Jesus isn’t God, then he can’t be a great moral teacher because much of what he said makes no sense at all unless he really was divine. His self-understanding as divine, which he describes frequently in the Gospels are the ramblings of a religious maniac if they aren’t true. Any claim to judge the world, forgive sins or to represent humanity on the cross is just hot air and dangerous hot air at that. If Jesus isn’t God then he has set up a delusional system in which people have denied themselves, been martyred and died in the hope of an illusion of heaven.
If we say the Holy Spirit isn’t God, then the work of Jesus remains a historical curiosity. There is nothing to connect it to the present, only memory. If the Holy Spirit isn’t Divine, then Jesus was wrong. There would be no gift of himself after he ascended to continue his work in people. It also means that his work wasn’t modelled on the way he wants us to live, but unattainable. Our hope that Jesus life might be a model is based on the fact that he emptied himself of divinity and did all he did in the power of the Holy Spirit who came on him at baptism.
So, it sounds reasonable to dismiss it but to do so is to deny both the reality of Christian experience and the way God has revealed himself to us. No God as Father is simply no God at all and we must all be atheists. No Jesus as God and we have some interesting moral teaching but delivered by someone intrinsically deluded and unreliable. No Jesus as God means no forgiveness of sin, no guarantee that evil won’t in the end have the last word, no proof that there is a God outside ourselves. No Holy Spirit as God means no connection between us and God and no mechanism for faith to become a lived transforming reality. All we are left with is dusty rule books, ritual and memory of something that happened 2000 years ago that may have some contemporary relevance. Its striking that the blindingly obvious witness of the resurrected Jesus by the disciples wasn’t enough to start the Christina movement. They had to wait until the Spirit came at Pentecost for that to happen.
So, the suggestion that the Trinity doesn’t matter is one of those reasonable sounding things like, “all religions are basically different roads up the same mountain” They sound warm and open but examine them at any depth and you find they eviscerate the Christian faith completely. Yes, the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to understand and almost impossible to explain, but without it there is no good news. With it we have the best news imaginable of a God who made the world, loves the world, came to be part of it, can be known personally, forgives, restores and transforms, not just individuals but the whole cosmos. We believe in one GOD, father, Son and Holy Spirit.