St Stephen Lewisham
3rd June 2007
Trinity Sunday – God-Pictures
The Church’s year is divided into two parts. From Advent to Pentecost we think about the saving work of God in Jesus Christ. Now for six months we shall hear and think about other aspects of our Faith.
The Church chose this Sunday of the second-half of the year as Trinity Sunday to make us ask ourselves ‘What is God really like?’. After six months studying what God has done for us we need to be better-informed about what God is really like. We need to understand why He chose to become Man in the Person of Jesus Christ, God the Son.
So let’s here are some word-pictures which Christians have used to describe God’s nature. They are only pictures mind you. Pictures (like your photograph, or the Queen’s portrait, or the painting of a Swiss landscape) will give people an idea of what those objects look like. But those pictures are not themselves the Queen, or you, or the landscape. And the same is true of God-pictures: they can help us get some ideas about God; but to know God we need to say prayers to Him, read about Him in the Bible, become part of the Church on earth, and try to do His will. If we neglect such things then God will prove to be, in words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘a God who hides Himself’.
All of us here believe that God exists. So let’s not waste any time going over the evidence. Instead, let’s take a look at human beings, created ‘in His image’, and see what clues it provides about its Creator.
Two things stand out immediately. Each of us is a wonderful piece of design. That suggests that our Creator is Someone who prefers order to chaos. Secondly, everyone dies, sooner or later. That suggests that Death plays a part in God’s plan for Creation..
But unlike animals and plants, who also share design and mortality, we humans have three unique virtues: we reason, we love and know right from wrong. In some humans, of course, such things are very limited. However, properly taught, everyone can develop what little they have. If Mr A. finds ‘putting two-and-two together’ (or reasoning) difficult; or Miss B. finds other people hard to love; or Mrs C. always puts her own interests before others – all are witnesses to the existence of these virtues, simply by being a recognizable exception to it.
Such virtues lead us to recognize that God possesses them too – though, of course, to an infinitely greater extent than even the most rational, loving and upright person amongst us does. Nevertheless every rational thought, every act of love, every righteous deed of ours witnesses that the God who made us must be rational, loving and upright.
But that doesn’t enable us to know Him. People who worked for a mega-size corporation might come to believe that the Boss is loving because he cares for their welfare; but that’s not the same thing as knowing him personally or being in any sense ‘in communion’ with him.
Once God is understood to be rational, loving and righteous, He reveals to us that His Being is what we might call a ‘society’: a Trinity of three Persons in one Being. From all eternity God the Father begat God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit proceeds (again from all eternity) from the Father, through the Son. And yet, as we are taught, there are not three Gods, three Sons or three Holy Spirits, but one God, eternally co-existing in three Persons.
For God is not Three in the same way that God is One. Try looking at it in this way (remembering of course what we said about the limitations of word-pictures). Here’s an everyday example of a three-in-one.
Consider a family: a father, a mother and one child. For some purposes they must be treated as three separate persons, each with his or her particular needs. They all have to eat; they all need to sleep; they all need clothes. So if you were running a refugee camp you would say that for the purpose of feeding, sleeping and clothing you need to cater for three individuals. But at the same time, they are one family with at least five relationships co-existing, – each one must be taken into account: Father, Mother, Child, Husband, Wife. Looked at as One family it is just as important that they should be treated as a single unit together. To suppose that you will have provided for them merely by supplying them with adequate food, shelter and clothing, whilst at the same time separating them from each other, will have been to make a great mistake.
Now let’s apply that word-picture to the Trinity. For some purposes we must think of them as a Unity; for other reasons they must be regarded as a Trinity – not because, like a family we shall do them harm if we ignore either their Three-ness or their One-ness but because, in the case of Almighty God we shall do our faith in God irreparable harm if we ‘divide the Substance or confuse the Persons’. We shall stop believing in Him.
However, God, in His wisdom, has anticipated this difficulty. He caused His Son to be incarnate with us human beings, sharing our mortal nature through his birth of the Virgin Mary. This He did, as St John tells us, so that ‘whoever believes on [His Son] should not perish but have everlasting life’. If you want to know what God is like, then get to know our Lord Jesus Christ, through the scriptures, through prayer, but equally through receiving His Body and Blood in the Eucharist as we shall all do later this morning.
Through faith in Christ Jesus we humans can begin to share in His Eternal Life. Doesn’t it all begin to look, if I may so put it, more than a little suspicious? A God who, we have decided, is well-disposed towards us, appears to be faced with the insuperable problem that death will make all of us cease to exist as earthly beings, and sin will separate us from Him eternally. What sort of love is that?.
But just suppose that from the very beginning He had a plan to include us into His Divine nature as supernatural and immortal beings. In Christ he has reconciled us to Himself’. Thus, at one stroke God has solved the problem of death and sin in the created world.
But how can we know whether we are becoming more God-like? Well, that’s the particular task of the third member of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, otherwise called the Spirit of Truth. He will ‘guide us into all truth’, Jesus promised. He ‘enables us to have a right judgement in all things. But to what shall we liken Him?
Well, Scripture gives us some clues. Wind and fire are two word-pictures of the Spirit. You cannot see the wind, but you know that it is there. Properly used it can become Power. Equally, you cannot touch flame without getting your hand burnt – but you know it means ‘fire’. Properly used, Fire, like wind turns into Power.
They used to call the Holy Spirit ‘the Comforter’ but that word has changed its meaning today. ‘Comforter’ used to mean ‘someone who gives strength’ but nowadays it often means no more than ‘a shoulder to cry on’.
A better word for the Holy Spirit might be ‘The Hidden Enabler’ or ‘The Invisible Power’. As with those ‘hidden things’ that many people take for granted nowadays, they are quite unaware of His existence. But their unawareness doesn’t make Him any less real. The Book of Wisdom tells us that ‘the Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world’. God the Holy Spirit shares with happiness or fulfilment or satisfaction, the property of being found, not by looking for Him, but rather by allowing Him to find and dwell in us.
So there are a few of my word-pictures about the Persons of the Trinity. Our job, yours and mine, is to discover the word-pictures that ‘work best’ for us and share them with our fellow-Christians.
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