26 May 2013
“We have been justified by faith.” (Rom. 5:1) In the name …
I’m not always a patient man, and a slow computer can drive me crazy. I’m not a very technically savvy person either, and so I don’t upgrade, or clean or delete on my computer as often as I should, which in turn means that my computer can often move along at an agonizingly slow rate. So while I’m waiting for the internet connection or for my emails to open, I’ll often hit the Solitaire button on the computer and play a game. More often than not, as is to be expected, I end up losing the game. I am obviously not a computer programmer who can look at the code and see what a computer is doing. Without being one, I wonder sometimes if when you get stuck in a game of Solitaire and you can’t go any further, I wonder if the unturned card really has a value. Play the game with an actual deck of cards and you lose, you can still turn over the unturned card to see how close you were to winning. But with a computer, does that unturned card have an identity if it’s not actually played?
Without being a programmer, without being able to understand the nature of the machine, I can’t know the answer to that question. And so, if I never learn computer code, or if some eight-year-old computer whiz never bothers to let met know, I can never know whether that unturned card has an actual value or if it’s just a place holder. There’s an entire school of philosophy called Empiricism that I had to study in college that goes along with this train of thought, that something isn’t real until it’s experienced.
So … did you see on the bulletin or the song sheet that today is Trinity Sunday? The Trinity is the church’s attempt to understand and express the very nature of God. Think computers are a mystery? This in the infinite nature of the Almighty. The Trinity is the theological idea that there are three separate persons in one God. There are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each is unconfused with the others, but somehow each participates in whatever the others do. Each is separate, but always together. And the real conundrum with the idea of the Trinity is that Jesus of Nazareth is the human expression of the eternal Son of God. The catechism answer to this is H2O, the chemical compound of the water molecule. H2O can be a liquid, a solid or a gas, but it always remains H2O. But I think most of us can sense that it’s more complicated than this. For instance, on Ascension Day, we spoke about Jesus returning to heaven and taking His place at the right hand of God (cf. Heb. 1:3). This statement is intended to greatly honour Jesus, but during the first few hundred years of the church some of the most intense Christian on Christian arguments were over the question of whether Jesus was God’s greatest and most special creation or if Jesus was actually God. That’s a logical question if you speak of Jesus seated next to God.
These kinds of theological battles were a lot more common than we today imagine. When Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “‘I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now,’” (Jn. 16:12) He wasn’t kidding. Christianity is a faith based on theology, sometimes more than she needs to be. When Christianity was forming, her principal teacher was the Jewish faith, a Jewish faith still of the Temple era. What a person of faith did was extremely important from sacrifices offered at the Temple, to circumcision, Sabbath laws and kosher restrictions. The emphasis upon what was done was even more pronounced in the pagan religions of the Roman Empire. Pagan ritual was what was most important. The sacrifices made to all kinds of gods were what mattered, not how a person thought about the gods. But Christianity began to define herself by how we thought about Jesus.
When our Bible study group was reading Mark, I pointed out an example of when this began to happen. Everyone remembers the story of Jesus chasing the demons out and into a herd of pigs. When the cleansed man asks Jesus if he can become one of His followers, Jesus says, “‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you …’” But the man departs proclaiming instead how much Jesus had done for him. (Mk. 5:19-20) Jesus was talking about the power of God, but it turned into a story about the power of Jesus. Jesus preached God; the church preaches Jesus. This is why Christianity is defined as a theological faith. It’s not only what we do that defines us. It’s what we think and believe. This is why in today’s Epistle we hear Paul state that “we have been justified by faith.” This means that we are made right with God by the way we believe.
It was this great emphasis upon the way we think about God that motivated the church to eventually embrace the theology of the Trinity. It tied together the various statements about Father, Son and Holy Spirit found in Scripture. It began to make sense of Jesus somehow being the Son of God. And Christians of every denomination all profess that this theology is revealed by God: not by Jesus during His ministry or even after His resurrection, and not by unaided human wisdom. We believe in the Trinity as the continuing revelation of God among us through the presence of His Holy Spirit. “‘He will guide you to all truth,’” (Jn. 16:13) says Jesus to us today.
I can’t know if the unturned card has a value in my computer Solitaire game unless someone reads the code for me. We can’t know the nature of God until God reveals Himself to us, and that’s why how we believe in Jesus is central to our faith. We may not fully understand Trinity, but this is how we have come to believe in God because we believe that the Holy Spirit as God has revealed this about God. This is a theology that makes sense of the reality that Jesus has brought God physically into the world. In Jesus we experience God and to make sense of that we have to talk about the Trinity. Without the idea of the Trinity, the words “our Lord Jesus Christ” make no sense. Trinity for all its unknowableness is what makes God knowable through the life of Jesus and in the continuing revelation of the Holy Spirit. We may only be seeing the shadow of God’s ultimate nature, but it reveals to us that God in His innermost self is most profoundly about relationships. Trinity reveals that God defines His nature in Himself as relationship and in part through us as relationship. May we rejoice in that thought and strive to be worthy of that God, by praying in the name of the Father (+) …
Fr. Randolph Calvo