Monday, June 18, 2012

what is the Trinity and why does it matter? pt. 2

Andrei Rublev's famous icon of the Trinity

In three blog posts I can't say much about the holy Trinity. There is nearly two-thousand years of wisdom, captured in pages and pages of books and sermons and prayers, hard earned through untold hours of wrestling and reflection, before us. All I can do is select particular issues and limit myself to a few things about which I hope I have a helpful word to share.
That being said, as we pick this series back up, I want to think this week about one practical implication of the Christian belief that God is Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity depicts the life of God as, above all else, relational. God is a community of persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who live in union as one God. That's what the icon of the Trinity above is trying to illustrate, using the story of Genesis 18, where the Lord appears to Abraham through three visitors.
Of course this strong emphasis on the 'three' in "three-in-one" can be taken too far. We believe in one God, not three gods. But it is a God who lives as a communion of three persons. To repeat an analogy from last time, God's life is like a dynamic dance with three partners, a fusion of movements and relationships interacting and coming together to form something beautiful. Relationship is at the core of who our God is.
Now, if human beings are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27-28), then our lives ought to be images of God's life, to mirror the kind of intimate relationships that are at the heart of the life of God.

One theologian draws all of this together clearly when he writes that Christians need a new definition of the word "person."
We need to understand that a person is not just an individual but "someone who finds his or her true being in communion with God and with others... The human person is someone who finds his or her true being in relation, in love, in communion."* We are all designed for loving relationships with God and our neighbor. For the Christian who believes in the Trinity and believes that human beings are made in the image of God, this is what it means to be a person! Any other definition, anything that leaves out this picture and tries to frame our identities simply in terms of individual liberties or self-fulfillment or whatever else, is not a Christian definition.

Now remember, Nance, you said this was practical.

And it is! This theologian goes on in the following pages to apply this definition of "person" to our understanding of marriage. For many people, he suggests, marriage is a legal contract between two individuals who are looking for personal fulfillment, to realize their potential, and to meet their own deep needs. Too often, when someone's partner can't satisfy these enormous demands, the relationship disintegrates--they're just getting in the way of the other's dreams and happiness. Such a relationship can't be sustained because it lacks the mutual self-giving, the deep, intimate communion we are designed for, the kind of loving relations we see in the Trinity. If we come to marriage with different expectations of ourselves, that we aren't meant for personal fulfillment but for relationship and communion with others and with God, then a different sort of union takes place. It's a union where I have no grounds for asserting myself and my hopes or needs over against my wife. Those aren't the goals we're aiming at anymore. We are created in the image of the Three-in-One God, and our true fulfillment looks like the self-sacrifice and faithfulness that marriage demands.
Maybe this doctrine isn't so impractical after all.

Next week we'll wrap up with "what is the Trinity and why does it matter? pt. 3."

* This quotation is from James Torrance's fantastic but difficult little book, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace, pp 38-39. Torrance's book is one of the main influences on this series of posts.

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