Talking About God

Trinity Sunday

 

 

Genesis 1:1-24a

Psalm 8

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday can be exciting and perplexing. For some pastors, it is an occasion to dust off some of their theological knowledge from seminary and maybe stretch laypeople’s intellectual muscles. For others, it is a nerve-wracking time. Knowing all the inadequacies of popular Trinitarian analogies, they are full of concern about having something to say about the Trinity (and having something relevant to say). While the church certainly needs to learn and remember the Trinitarian affirmations found, for instance, in the Athanasian Creed, there is also the need to speak to the moment. This is the tension as we arrive at Trinity Sunday.

Part of the struggle with Trinity Sunday is that it is only one Sunday in the calendar. This can give the impression that there is only one day each year when Christians explicitly talk about the Trinity. This can make the Trinity seem like an obscure theological topic or a theory about God.

Rather than seeing talk of the Trinity as an opportunity for a doctrinal lesson, it might be better to understand the Trinity as how Christians name God. That means that we do not need to hunt for hints of the Trinity buried in the Bible because we see Trinity as the way to understand the Bible’s words about God (and the church’s words about God). In this way, the Bible is always speaking in a Trinitarian fashion, even if it does not explicitly do so.

This can free us to see more in the texts for this week. When we consider the Genesis and Psalm passages, we might get a sense of the completeness of God. In Genesis 1:1-2:4a, we are offered a tale of overarching design that is finished on budget and on time. God creates through speech in an orderly fashion, and God even rests after observing that everything that has been created is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Likewise, the Psalm highlights God’s sovereignty over all creation, extending even to the cosmos itself (Psalm 8:3).

Yet, this is not the entire story. Paul encourages the church at Corinth to live in peace and offers, by way of doxology, the grace, love, and communion of God. These words form the conclusion of 2 Corinthians, but they are open-ended, gesturing toward a story which has not reached its conclusion. Similarly, Matthew’s gospel ends with the risen Lord sending out the apostles – filled with doubt and faith – into a world filled with doubt and belief but also promising his presence “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). When read together, these passages speak of a God who is active in history, beginning with creation and continuing all the way to the eschaton.

Moreover, we find a God who draws us into the divine life. In Genesis, human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Psalm 8 echoes this, noting that human beings are “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). With the earlier mention of divine presence, we find an intimate connection between God and humanity along the path of history – God joining us on a pilgrimage to the fullness of God’s presence.

To say that we are joined with the God who is communion and life can speak into the despair of the present time. Such communion should be present among those who bear God’s image, and this grace and fellowship should be offered to others as a sign of human dignity grounded in the imago Dei. In this way, we ought to find solidarity with those who are oppressed and those who are hurting and those who are suffering.

Finally, Trinity Sunday stands as a moment to realize the tension in our speech about God. On the one hand, our words cannot fully grasp the depth of the divine presence (even if we use words such as “power,” “majesty,” or “sovereignty”). There is a qualitative difference between anything in creation and the God who is creator. On the other hand, our words are not utterly useless either. If that were so, then all prayer and worship, all praise and lament would be meaningless. Despite their limitations, our words do mysteriously point toward God.

Herbert McCabe once wrote, “We can use language to say what God is so long as we always realize that we do not know what our words mean.”[1] “Trinity” is part of our language about God, presenting both a limitation and an invitation. Seeing the horizon of our own speech about God and God’s mysterious ways in the world, we are nonetheless called to communion with God and to live in solidarity with all other bearers of God’s image.

[1] Herbert McCabe, “The Trinity and Prayer,” in God Still Matters (New York: Continuum, 2005), 57.

Icon by Kelly Lattimore

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