My then eleven year old daughter – a bright and imaginative girl who I’m quite certain came from the same Divine imagination that created unicorns and Portuguese music – finally asked me the mysterious question that everybody eventually asks and nobody completely answers: “Sooo… one GOD but three… huh?” We sat and talked long enough about this great and magical idea of the Trinity to make me think she needed to play more video games. Eventually she and I both left the table realizing that it’s not about getting it, but maybe about realizing that we can’t; just look for GOD in faith, realizing that there’s more to GOD than we can quantify, qualify or understand. I thought that was a parenting score, if I may say so myself.
So I can’t explain the Trinity, obviously, but I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m glad. I dread the day that we can tidily box the essence of GOD up into neatly labeled compartments with the smug demeanor of people who “get it.” Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. This is not to say, however, that I’m coming from what may seem like the other pole of “don’t care to over-think this so I’ll just lump everything in the Jesus bucket.” If you are unfamiliar with this particular bucket, I urge you to listen to your local Christian radio station’s music for a small taste of it. Everything about the essence of GOD, every act, every purpose, every title seems to actually be “Jesus.” As best I can tell, this is far more a trait of Christian culture than it is of any particular denomination, but since Christian culture pervades across those lines, a little thoughtful inventory wouldn’t hurt any of us.
So why does it matter? That seems to be the first and most obvious question. Why does it matter – what we think of – or maybe even if we think of – the Trinity in our prayer and our worship?
Let’s start here at the seeming impossible – defining the Trinity…or at least paying homage to the identity and essence of the Trinity with our limited language. The Trinity is all that is in the very essence of GOD’s identity about community, interdependence, and risky love. The Trinity is about the creative impulse, new life, rebirth, the tension of true beauty as it appeared in the dawn of time, worked out through the cross, and appears now in our now-and-not-yet world. The Trinity is about restoring what is broken, returning what is lost among the seen and unseen. The Trinity is about co-creation and collaboration. About turning expectations inside out, turning over tables and over turning hearts. And all within the interwoven desires and work of GOD-the-Mother-and-Father, Christ-the-Son, and the Holy Ghost, each with their respective roles and essences. To steal shamelessly from the evangelical theologian Stanley Grenz in Theology for the Community of GOD:
The ‘Father’ functions as the divine program for creation. The Son functions as the revealer of GOD, the exemplar and herald of the Father’s justice, love, and grace for creation, and the redeemer of humankind. And the Spirit functions as the personal divine power active in the world, the completer of the divine program.
Not the most poetic explanation (ah, the poetic theologians… so jealous the Lutherans have one) but a solid and expansive one.
What does this mean for worship? For prayer? For the daily inhaling of all that is divine and sacred?
I’m throwing this out there for consideration: If we aren’t acknowledging the essence of the Trinity – creative, redeeming, moving, relational, mysterious, inconvenient, interdependent, giving of salvation – then it would stand to reason that we are worshiping an artificial god that we’ve created to satiate our felt needs. When we make our worship all about the Jesus we can relate to – our brother, redeemer, savior – or when we attribute to Jesus all the welcome work of the Trinity without the more dangerous invitations of the Spirit or the bigness that is the GOD-head, we create our own safe, comfortable, satisfying and wholly incomplete god — our golden calf. We practice a kind of self-help that may have some beautiful therapeutic value and even some possible overflow to our neighborhoods and relationships, but ultimately we fail to participate in the radical transformation in our own lives and in our communities that comes when we abandon the Jesus-GOD and embrace the interdependence and overturning life of the Trinity and the Trinity’s co-creative work.
This is more than creative praxis or scholastic theology. This is about thoughtful participation in the ongoing Story of GOD and celebrating that in our worship. But even greater – it’s about seeking to undo our limited understanding or overly-concrete expectations of GOD and purposefully moving into a collaborative life with the Trinity. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I encourage you, even I beg you, to consider the mystery and the great overturning that is waiting in this kind of life, in this kind of prayer and worship.
How do you honor and acknowledge the Trinity and the work of the Trinity in your worship? In your prayer? How do you empower those you serve to see the world through this lens?
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