The Holy Spirit and the Trinity

In theological texts the doctrine of the Trinity is often dealt with as part of Theology Proper. Personally however I find it more logical to deal with it as part of Pneumatology. For it’s not until the Holy Spirit is explored more fully that the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity can be explored more fully. And indeed one of the more debated aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity – the filioque clause – is focussed on the Holy Spirit. So, I tend to deal with monotheism as part of Theology Proper, the doctrine of the Incarnation as part of Christology, and the doctrine of the Trinity as part of Pneumatology.

The daily Trinitarian prayer of John Stott

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control

Holy, blessed and glorious trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.

Almighty God, Creator and sustainer of the universe, I worship you.

Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of the World, I worship you.

Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God, I worship you.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, Amen.

Trinity analogies from John of Damascus

I love these Trinity analogies from John of Damascus, particularly the last two: “Think of the Father as a spring of life begetting the Son like a river and the Holy Ghost like a sea, for the spring and the river and sea are all one nature. Think of the Father as a root, and of the Son as a branch, and the Spirit as a fruit, for the substance in these three is one. The Father is a sun with the Son as rays and the Holy Ghost as heat.”

Eternal Trinity by Catherine of Siena

Eternal Trinity,

Godhead,

mystery deep as the sea,

you could give me no greater gift

than the gift of

yourself.

For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed,

which itself consumes all the selfish love

that fills my being.

Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness,

illuminates the mind with its light,

and causes me to know your

truth.

And I know that

you are beauty and wisdom itself.

The food of angels,

you gave yourself to man

in the fire of your

love.

– Catherine of Siena

What do Muslims find most difficult about Christianity?

I recently asked some Muslim friends, “What is the one thing you find most difficult or offensive about Christianity?” and whether this related to belief or behaviour.

The overwealming majority answered that it was the Christian affirmation of the divinity of Jesus that they found most difficult, with many expressing their objections to trinitarian and incarnational understandings of God.

Some comments suggested elements of misunderstanding, even bewilderment, especially when it came to the crucifixion and what God was supposed to have achieved through it. But even where that was the case I doubt better understanding would have bridged the fundamental gap. It was clear that the gospel itself, the good news of God among us, was the issue. Our primary teaching is the primary offense.

Even so, the responses were respectful and a number expressed appreciation for the question, one even suggesting a reciprocation in kind. Most surprising to me, many expressed positive experiences with Christians, as Muslims, again making it clear to me that it was the good news of God among us which was the most significant stumbling block.

How do we overcome this core difficultly that Muslims have with Christianity? Clearly not by education alone, for the primary problem is not ignorance. Clearly not by hospitality alone, for the primary problem is not hostility either. Clearly something more is required. Personally I suspect nothing less than a new experience of God, a sign that surprises.

What is the difference between the Trimurti and the Trinity?

I have frequently heard non-Christians assert that the Trinity of Christianity and the Trimurti of Hinduism are equivalent “triple god” concepts.

This, however, is a gross misunderstanding.

Yes, the number three features promenantly in both teachings, but that is where the similarity largely ends.

Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer) are temporally differentiated. Not so with the Father (God above us), the Son (God among us) and the Spirit (God within us). They are equally active in every age. In the beginning, in the end, and in between.

In essence, the Trimurti concept and the Trinity concept run perpendicular to one another, as I have tried to capture in the diagram below. Only if Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were equally active in the acts of creation, preservation and destruction could they more genuinely said to be equivalent.

trimurti

Of course, this is somewhat academic as the Trimurti concept is not generally accepted by Vaishnavites or Shaivites with Hinduism. In my experience the Trimurti is more often bought up by non-Hindu, non-Christian westerners as personal justifications for different paths altogether. My plea is simply this: if you want to follow a different path, fine, but please refrain from misrepresenting the paths of others as you go about it. Do as you would be done by and all that.

 

The Sacred Marriage

Sacred marriage - trinity,  incarnation and reconciliation

This image, or at least the beginnings of it, came to me as I was coming down from the Blue Mountains this afternoon.

In essence, it’s a Christ centered reinterpretation of the sacred marriage, though, in retrospect, it could equally function as a Christ centered reinterpretation of the tree of life.

There are some obvious references to the Trinity and the Incarnation, but it also captures my understanding of the reconciling power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Scriptural inspiration includes the following quotes:

Revelation 21:1-4 – “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

1 Timothy 2:5 – “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Matthew 23:11-12 – “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

2 Corinthians 13:14 – “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Note: I have retained the traditional “Father” and “Son” language, despite the problematic gender bias, as I find the alternatives on offer are generally awkward and struggle to capture the inter-relationships within the Trinity adequately. That being said, here is an alternative interpretation and you’d like to discuss the gender language issues further I’d invite you to continue reading The sacred marriage in Pagan and Christian dialogue.

Myth Busting

It is often said that Trinitarian teaching was absent in the earliest, most ancient forms of Christianity, that it was a creation of the Council of Nicea. And yet, while you’ll never find an explicit articulation of Trinitianian teaching in the New Testament, there are more than a few implicit reflerences for those with an open mind. Take this line for example:

“For though him [that is, Christ Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Ephesians 2:18

So, what’s your take on Trinitarian teaching?