I remember the day I started teaching the new RE GCSE curriculum to my year 10’s. My intention was to ease them in on the first day. So what better way to start than to begin with the first topic of the curriculum: the Trinity!! The looks on their faces throughout the lesson – complete confusion, skepticism and pure bafflement- was a sight to behold. (In case anyone from OFSTED is reading this, yes, I had a starter, made my objectives clear, the class was pupil-led, higher order questions were used, I constantly checked their progress etc). But what happens when you are teaching a class about a mystery? How can progress be made in a class where 1+1+1 equals not 3 but 1!
Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, a day that celebrates the nature of God as three in one: Father, Son and Spirit. Three persons in one God. Not three gods in one God but three “persons” in one God. Each person is the same substance as each other (consubstantial – remember when we had to start saying that in the creed!!!) but they are not the same person.
Before you throw down the phone or ipad in total dismay, the best example I can compare it to is the three forms of H2O – ice, steam and water. Each of them are still H20 but they are obviously completely different. Steam is not ice or water, ice is not steam or water and so on. So the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (just like ice, water and steam) are different to each other but they are one God (just as ice, water and steam are H2O no matter what form they take).
Now, you may still be tempted to switch off from this blog but the question I always ask about any mind-bending, head-bursting, brain-teasing divine doctrine is this – what difference does it make to our every day lives?? And I have asked it many times and I did not come up with an answer. Instead, it was answered for me. Let me explain.
We are told in the Bible that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). I think this is the single most important definition of the essence of who God is. God is love; not has love, not shows love, not gives love but IS love. John also tells us that love is from God. So love, its nature, its expression and its desire originates from God. The butterflies in your stomach, the quickening of the heartbeat, the deep desire to spend the rest of your life with someone whom you love, the vows spoken on your wedding day, the constant commitment to the other, the deep sharing between a parent and their child, the selfless actions to ensure a child will grow to be who they truly are meant to be; the emotions, feelings, desires, cravings, longings and commitment that are the essence of love have their origin in God.
But not in an aloof, far-off and distant God somewhere “up” in heaven “looking down” on us. No, in a triune God – three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who live in, move in and have their being in constant and complete love. They exist for each other and with each other. Their very existence is to love each other and to love us.
John’s letter also tells us that the Father sent the Son into the world so that we might live through him. The Son was sent in love to love us. So the Son became a human in Jesus, whose every action and word was love – the poor, the outcast, the prostitute, the beggar, the sinner all encountered this love. But in a shocking and incredible event, the Son (in Jesus) gave his life in total love by dying on the cross.
But love didn’t stop there. The Father lovingly raised the Son to new life showing us that love conquers everything; the very worst that we can do as humans and even death itself.
But love still didn’t stop there! The Son, Jesus, promised his followers the third person, the Holy Spirit, to be with them and help them bring the Gospel of love to all whom they met. Then the Son returned to the Father (what a welcome that must have been!) so as to allow the Spirit to come.
Then on Pentecost, as we saw in last Sunday’s blog, the Spirit poured out gifts (what else do you do when you love someone??) to give the disciples everything they needed to carry Jesus’ message of love to the world. But why?? Why all this loving??
Well, let’s look at another truth in the Bible. We are told in Genesis 1 that we are made in the “image and likeness” of God. In other words, we are made like God. We have been created by love to love. Think about it – what is the one thing at the heart of so many of our songs, so many poems, so many films, so much of our culture? Yes – love. If what I have just mentioned in the list are not about love, they are often about the absence of love: falling out of love, being cheated on by someone who we thought loved us, the longing to love someone who does not love us (Adele would have no albums without this!!) and so on. As humans, love takes up a lot of our thinking, feeling, believing and living. Why? Because we are made in the image of true love. Why did everyone love Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s funeral? Because it was about love!!
As well as this, we have another deep need – to belong. We are not meant to be alone – nobody is an island. Deep within the very essence of our being is the deep desire to belong – whether it is with another person, to a family, to a group of friends, social grouping, whatever it may be. Regardless, this need lies within us because we have been hardwired for it by the Trinity – the three persons belong to each other and for each other. They cannot exist apart from each other – they are not God if they do. The live in a communion of love. So we want the same in our own lives.
So why is this all important? Well, I think for two reasons.
Firstly, the teaching about God (Father, Son and Spirit) reminds us that we have been created out of love and our very nature is to love. Don’t be offended – God does not need you. God did not create you because God was lonely or bored or needed something to do. You were not created by God to see if you would live a good moral life, if you would say the right amount of prayers or go to Mass every Sunday. No, you were created because you were wanted by God, you were deeply desired by God so that you could be loved and so that you would be able to share in the love between Father, Son and Spirit. They wanted you to be in on it. They wanted you to know this life-changing love.
Please think about this. Really think about it.
If a parent has let you down or has betrayed all your turst – know that you were deeply loved before they even thought about you. If you have been hurt by a friend or a partner and the pain just won’t go away – remember that you are worth more because of this first love. If you hold a secret that you are ashamed to tell others, know that this love knows your secret and loves you nevertheless. If you constantly compare yourself to others and wish you looked like those in the pictures you pour over on social media, know that this love made you unique and delicately put you together like a work of art.
You see, this love is the basis of your whole being, your whole identity and your whole reason to live. If we could truly believe in this love, if we could dare to be open to this love, our lives would never be the same again. No insult, hurt, pain, slander, slagging or person would even come close to getting at us.
Secondly, the Trinity is important because they help us to know what the true meaning of life really is. And you know what it is. Look at two recent examples from the news. How many thousands are taking to the streets to protest against the death of George Floyd? Have you also noticed the resolve of people throughout the Covid-19 crisis to support each other, reach out to each other, raise money, clap the NHS staff and pray for each other? Where does this come from? From our deep-down belief that the real meaning of life and the essence of true humanity is togetherness, community, unity, oneness. That everyone should be treated equally. That people matter, whether it is black lives or white lives. We are one.
That brings us back to the main belief about the Trinity. The three persons, even though they are different, are one. The live in a communion, a unity and a oneness of love. We really are made in their image. What we want, they want. Where there is injustice, racism, prejudice, homophobia, poverty, human trafficking, suffering, starvation or addiction, our objections and protests and right actions is a reflection of their love crying out for community, unity and oneness.
Next time you pray, bless yourself slowly in the name of the Father, the the Son and the Holy Spirit and allow yourself to be surrounded by and to be part of that incredible love.
1+1+1=1. Easy, isn’t it?!