How do you explain “green” to a blind person? — Anthony de Mello
It is Holy Trinity Sunday again. Two temptations: 1) to explain the Holy Trinity and 2) to avoid talking about the Holy Trinity. Somewhere in the middle of this is a good strategy. Yes, the Trinity needs asserting. Note: Asserting, not exhaustive explanation but simple assertion.
What is there to be said? To begin with: Jesus is risen! Yes, I know, you thought we were done with Easter but we really never are. Jesus is risen is a basic, a foundational expression of Christian Faith, maybe even a creed which is why it is included in the creedal statements after all. After Jesus rose from the dead, the Trinity is how we must now talk about God. (W. Bouman)
Why? Because if Jesus is indeed beyond death to the point of being alive though not seen today, then it says something about who is God. Only God is eternal. Only God is immortal. So what to make of Jesus? Well, the prophets of the mother faith, the faith of the Exodus of Moses and Abraham, speak of one who will come from God, an anointed one, a Messiah, a Son of Man to use the Daniel 7 term and what is more That: “Son of Man,” will be:
“. . . given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”
This, says the New Testament has happened and Jesus is the one about whom the prophet speaks. Other prophetic passage, many from Isaiah can be and are added to the telling of the tale of Jesus. One who was like a human being is given the powers of heaven. All the powers of heaven. The powers that are normally reserved for God. His mastery over the spirit world and the natural world show these things already before his crucifixion. He is the providence of the God, the mastery of God, the very mouth of God. These are the things set forth in John 1, the great prolog. He is called: “God with us,” for a reason. It is rightly seen that he acts and speaks like the very God who made heaven and earth and even the bits we have never seen and even the parts we never will see.
One of Aquinas’ basic principles was: Behavior is determined by the nature of things. There is a reason that we recognize certain behaviors as being peculiar to, let’s say, apple trees. If pears are found on such a tree we know we are in the wrong orchard or we have found a misplaced and misplanted tree. I like my cat, but he will not talk. It is not his nature.
People are a bit more complicated. We know people and have a general idea about their individual natures. At the same time, we are reminded by experience that we all harbor original sin. We are complex. We might be gentle people but everyone, even St. Francis probably, can be provoked to anger and even violence. Francis was a soldier once after all. The High School Science mantra goes like this: Group projects are meant to teach me teamwork, cooperation, and group responsibility but what they actually taught me was: TRUST NO ONE. It is a description of human nature, I suppose.
Behavior is determined by the nature of things might well be applicable to God as well. Why should it not be. The scripture is fairly consistent in its telling of the story of God. Redemption, providence, mercy are always present as is righteousness and zeal as well as anger over human sin. And are these not on display in Jesus along with the powers already mentioned? The conviction that this Jesus is God from God is not far fetched. But as soon as that is the case the question is: How then is there “One God?” Trinity says it is so because God appears in different “face.” (Gr. prosopon) In Latin the word is persona the second half of the word being related to sound. In other words, the sound of God’s voice is coming through this Jesus and only there is it realized fully and without doubt and without sin.
Yet, this voice also comes from a different place. The Spirit can and does speak through means. Sometimes it is clothed in Sacraments. Sometimes it is clothed in shocking moments that are later called repentance. Sometimes it is clothed in fragile human voices or contained in fragile vessels that do the will and work of God. The Spirit blows where it pleases. We know it has passed in hindsight; in reflection on what has happened as we compare it to what we know to be the nature of God. Behavior is determined by the nature of things. Blessed are they who like Elijah can realize that the utter silence is the whispering of the voice of God. Few of us get to be that mystically endowed ever though we pray we might.
Have I have succumbed to temptation 1)? Maybe. But Bouman’s edict sticks in my mind: “The Trinity is how we must talk about God after the Resurrection of Jesus.” All the scripture somehow fits together if God is assumed as the background on which it is written as well as the one who mixes the colors used.
The Trinity also makes sense of the Church. Yes, the Church. God parked the scripture with us — coming to think of it, God made us scribble part of it. God promised to be present in the work of the Spirit which is found reliably in the Sacraments which God parked also with the church along with the instructions to teach as Jesus, the second voice of the Trinity, taught. (Mt 28)
Too often the church, it would seem to me, wants to err solidly on the side of temptation 2). We are afraid to explain this Trinity Biz. But is it really so hard? Can we actually not give answer to the question: “Who is your God?” Shame on us if we really cannot, or refuse to, or are afraid to. We can explain “Green,” but we need to want to.