Thoughts after Trinity Sunday

c. 1400
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Last Sunday was “Trinity Sunday” for churches that follow the liturgical calendar. Since worship on Sunday I’ve been thinking about the Trinity. That’s part of the point of the liturgical calendar, isn’t it? To nudge us into thinking about and paying attention to various aspects of our faith.

The nudging function of the liturgical calendar is particularly helpful for the Trinity since the Trinity is not something most of us (protestants, at least) spend much time thinking about. It’s difficult to think about the Trinity.

Someone asked me once how you knew when you were thinking theologically. My fairly flippant reply was, you’re thinking theologically when your head hurts. Mostly that statement is not true. But it does apply to the Trinity. It’s a hard concept to understand. So when most of us try to think about the Trinity, we get frustrated rather quickly and give up.

It makes sense that it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to understand the Trinity. We might think of the Trinity as a doctrine. Doctrines are things we are supposed to understand. Doctrines explain things, help us make sense of religion.

But the Trinity isn’t a doctrine.*

The Trinity is.

It isn’t an abstract concept.

The Trinity is.

The Trinity is?

Yes. The Trinity is.

The Trinity is not a concept to be understood or a doctrine to be learned.

The Trinity is.

When we think and speak about the Trinity, we are thinking and speaking about God. Not a concept of God, not a doctrine about God but God. And that is, of course, why we can never fully grasp the Trinity. Everything we think and say about the Trinity is partial, less than, incomplete. It is not possible for us to fully grasp God.

Most of us, to keep our heads from hurting, live day to day with small, partial images of God. God as father. God as Creator. God as judge.  We live with small images of Jesus. Jesus is my savior. Jesus as teacher, Jesus as my friend. We live with small images of the Holy Spirit. Spirit as helper. Spirit as guide.

I’m not trying to be critical when I say we live with small, partial images of God. This is a reflection on our limitations as humans. The difficulty comes when we forget that our images of God are partial and small. We get ourselves into trouble when we are content with small, partial images of God- when we reduce God to our size.

The best thing about the Trinity is that it stretches us, unsettles us, makes us grapple with who God is. Contemplating the Trinity reminds us that God is big and complex and that we cannot know everything about God. The Trinity keeps us from settling for a tiny God.

So friends, let your head hurt a little bit. Contemplate the triune God big, complex, unknowable. Marvel and be grateful that we know anything at all about God.


*Just to be clear. I am not saying there is no such thing as a doctrine of the Trinity or a doctrine of God. There are. But neither of these doctrines completely explains their subjects. God is more than a doctrine. The Trinity is more than a doctrine.

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