Over on my contact page Rantz asked for help with a couple questions a student brought to him. First, I think it’s cool that he has this kind of rapport with a student. Second, I think it’s cool that he’d ask me for my input. So, let’s see if I can help. I see three big topics: Armageddon, the Trinity and Biblical inspiration. I’ll start with the Trinity, since Trinity Sunday is this weekend.
Lectionary Sidenote: For those who aren’t familiar, some churches follow what’s called a lectionary. It divides the year into seasons that roughly follow the life of Jesus, punctuated by special commemorative Sunday. For example, Easter – the season not the day – ran from mid-April thru last Sunday, June 4th. Next is a period of “ordinary,” or counted, time that lasts until Advent, or the Christmas season. This coming Sunday, June 11th, is one of those punctuations: Trinity Sunday.
Each week, churches that use the lectionary focus their worship and devotions around a set of themed texts. These texts rotate on a three-year cycle. (The Bible is a big book, you know.) The Vanderbilt Divinity Library has a wonderful on-line lectionary. The readings for this Trinity Sunday are here.
OK, back to Rantz and his student. Here is the question:
The thing she had the most trouble with was the trinaty. [sic] I tried to explain the whole one in the same idea and all that, but she kept saying that since it was God who created Jesus in Mary, Jesus could not therefor be God. I was not really sure how to explain it. Could you assist me with that?
Whew! I pick the easy one’s don’t I?
Show Me the Trinity!
OK, first things first: Nowhere in the Bible is the Trinity isn’t spelled out in nice, neat, mathematical, textbook terms. Oh it’s in there; just not like some would like to see it. Start at the beginning, Genesis. The language used in the creation accounts indicate the presence of all three Persons of the Trinity. Consider this awkward sounding bit: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.’” There is one God, yet we’ve got plural pronouns. This is one early allusion to the Trinity, one God in three Persons.
The Gospels are a bit more clear, particularly John’s. Jesus says stuff like: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?” and, “…just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that [believers] will be in us….” He also talks about sending his Spirit which will be in us. So, the Trinity’s all there, even if it’s not as obvious as we’d like.
Was Jesus Created?
Now let me move on to a misunderstanding expressed in the question above. Rantz, speaking for the student, says, “it was God who created Jesus in Mary.” Not quite accurate from a Christian standpoint. Jesus wasn’t created. Yes, he was born, but long before he was born he existed. In fact, he preexisted creation, living in the eternal past with God the Father and God the Spirit.
What happened in Mary’s womb, is that God was born. The invisible, unseen (That’s redundant, isn’t it?) God of eternity past, put on flesh and became manifest as a baby boy. An illustration: Some eastern religions (Hinduism comes to mind, but I could be wrong.) have this idea of the human soul existing eternally, and periodically that soul takes on flesh. Got it? OK, I’m not sure how much I agree with the idea, but take it and apply it to God. God, existing as eternal spirit, took on flesh and became a man, the guy we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Now, I’m not saying this is any easier to understand, but it is not the same as saying God created Jesus.
Metaphors, Metaphors, Metaphors
OK, three metaphors for talking about the Trinity. Remember: they’re metaphors, so don’t get carried away.
- The triple-point – Science geeks will know this one. Did you know that at a particular combination of pressure and temperature a substance will coexist as a liquid, solid, and gas? ‘Tis true. You can get liquid water, ice and vapor at the same time under the right conditions. The metaphor should be obvious. One substance, three phases; or one God, three Persons – all at the very same time.
- Time – I heard this one on D. James Kennedy’s radio program, Truths that Transform, years ago. He used time, expressed as past, present and future, to illustrate the Trinity. He has this great statement about time, into which he substituted the Persons of the Trinity, but I haven’t found it in print anywhere. (I love some help if you know what I’m talking about.)
- Ceiling fans – I have Jon Reid to thank for this one. Look at a ceiling fan. Three, four, maybe five blades. Turn it on high. Now you’ve got one blade. Seemed to help Samantha (my five year old) when she was asking at bedtime one night.
Trinity – So What?
Last thing: Why does the Trinity matter? I’ll let Sarah Dylan Breuer say it for me. From her lectionary blog:
The doctrine of the Trinity says that God’s eternal nature is as relationship — that God was, is, and always will be Love. And love isn’t about understanding; it’s about trusting, and committing, to someone who is Other, different, incomprehensible. Because when we claim to love because we think we comprehend, we are only loving what’s also in us. We call that “narcissism.” Love requires an other.
So the doctrine of the Trinity gives me hope for our Christian community. We are made in the image of the God who is Love. We are made in the image of Love. Love is what we were born for, and the universe arcs toward it. Love is our home, to which God is calling us. We don’t need to understand. We need to listen. Indeed, when we think we understand, we stop listening.
I’ll stop talking now, and see what you have to say about this.