So what do we know about the nature of God?
We know God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity. And we believe it’s true doctrine.
But. And this is a huge but.
Have you ever tried to explain it?
So ......God is one but has three names? Or is it three forms? Maybe it’s three persons? Yeah, yeah that’s it! Three persons as one God. Or wait, I think there might be three Gods expressed in one form. Or is it the other way around?
See what I mean?
My professors talked about the Trinity a lot in seminary. I even read entire books dedicated to the topic! After years of study I can distill what I learned down to one single sentence.
The Trinity is Mystery. This works for me because I love a good mystery. What I love most about mystery is not the solving of it but rather, the entering.
You see, God has revealed God’s self to us, but God has not revealed all of God’s self. We know, yes, but we only know in part, at St. Paul tells us.
One of the dangers of our time is that we have access to wide swaths of knowledge. The upsides are obvious. We get to know what our favorite celebrity looks like on vacation. We can search anything and come up with an answer (whether it’s right is a different story). We can self-diagnose with the help of Dr. Google, and we can run our own background checks on potential dates, co-workers, and employers.
The downsides are more hidden. As a culture we seem to believe that more information is always a good thing. But I’m not so sure it is. One of the problems I see with this perspective is that we often confuse certainty with understanding.
Before I got married, I was certain I knew what marriage was. Two people enter a lifelong covenant with God and each other. I was certain about that definition. It turns out I actually had zero understanding of what marriage actually meant. I had yet to live it and some things, like marriage, can only be known through experience. The doctrine of the Trinity is another. You can be certain about the words: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and never have a clue what they mean or how the relate to one another. Certainty is not understanding.
Understanding is hard because it requires a willingness to live and explore and ask questions. And then, ultimately, understanding requires a willingness to be comfortable with only knowing in part. Our words are good, but they’re never enough. God is three, but God is also one.
It is Mystery.
I was at a conference for church leaders when a man told a story about the time his son was diagnosed with cancer. One night the father was watching over him in the hospital when his pastor came for a visit. The father asked the pastor why God would allow his son to get so sick. The pastor replied, “It’s not a good idea to do your theology in a hospital.” I almost leapt out of my seat. What! I wanted to scream. What do you mean it’s not a good place to do your theology? It’s one of the best places!
I understand what the pastor was trying to say. He wanted to remind the man that what was true about God before his son got sick was still true. And that’s an important point and not one I want to dismiss. What we declare on sunny Sunday mornings is still true during the dark of our stormy nights. That matters. It does.
But if we can't honestly struggle with the nature of God in the messiness of our lives, then we’ll never understand who God actually is. We can’t understand the Trinity by reading a book or hearing a sermon. The only way to begin to understand the great mystery of God is by opening our lives.
We learn about God like Moses did--out in the desert.
We learn about God like Daniel did--with a lion at our throats.
We learn about God like Jacob did--wrestling with an angel all night long.
We learn about God like Job did--by losing everything.
It’s not a neat definition of God that matters the most, but experiencing God as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. It turns out the Trinity isn’t so much a doctrine to be learned as it is a God to be experienced.
I know it would be easier if we worshiped a God who is one instead of three-in-one. Less confusing, for sure. More certainty would be involved. But then, there would be less understanding too.
None of this is easy. But our God has never been in the business of easy. God is too wrapped up in the business of our lives for that.