Last week on a nationally syndicated radio show, there was an interesting interview with Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist and renowned string theorist. In his book “The Hidden Reality” Greene reveals, “Recent discoveries in physics and astronomy point to the idea that our universe may be one of many universes populating a grander multiverse.” (1) He adds, “We’re trying to talk about not just the universe but perhaps other universes — but all within a logical framework that allows us to make some definitive statements.” In other words, Greene asserts that our reality (our universe) confined by the current laws of physics, may not be the only reality, which exists and that another reality may be parallel to our own. The scientific community is dabbling in the realm of mystery it seems. For some folks, Greene’s theory may seem a bit far-fetched, for others it offers a plausible explanation to creation’s complexity and it may even bump up against faith.
This trend in scientific exploration is relevant for this Sunday, (Trinity Sunday) because it reveals that science is beginning to explore mystery as a means to describe that, which cannot be measured. Imagine the possibility that science and religion are not at odds, but together share the wrestling with mystery. Brian Greene admits that religion and science are both seeking answers to the mysteries of the cosmos, and he asserts that difference seems to be that one is seeking answers to the how (science) and the other is seeking answers to the why (religion).
For Christians, one of the greatest mysteries of our faith, though it poses a challenge for us, is the mystery of the Trinity. The church throughout her history has used language, poetry, art, and song to try to describe the mystery of the Trinity. The language of the creeds has been one of the most referred to sources for affirming the doctrine of the personae of God as (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Today’s gospel reading, (baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), is one of only a few scriptural references that specifically mentions our Trinitarian understanding of God. There are other veiled references though throughout scripture that points to our understanding of the Trinity. We find those references primarily in the narratives of God’s work in history (Creation, Redemption, and Sustaining).
Tradition has been the primary arena in which the church has struggled with the mystery of the Trinity. In the early church opposing understandings of doctrine, sometimes resulted in struggles over ideals that became known as heresies and thus, the Creeds evolved as a means by which the Church could affirm her faith. The Church has over the centuries, lived faithfully into the mystery of God by trying to understand God’s nature and God’s active work in the history of creation. The church has used language, poetry, art, and song to try and describe God’s active work in history as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and further to explore the inner life of God as The Lover, The Loved, and the Love they share.
We begin to understand God’s nature through revelation. In other words, we come to know God in how God relates to creation. Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian asserts, “It is the character of the divine life, which makes revelation mysterious; it is the logical character of the divine life which makes the revelation of the mystery possible; and it is the spiritual character of the divine life which creates the correlation of miracle and ecstasy in which revelation can be received.” (“Systematic Theology, Vol I p. 156) The key here is the divine life of God, the interrelatedness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We know God through God’s relational nature to us. Allister McGrath asserts in “Christian Theology: An Introduction,” “the one God played three distinct yet related roles in the great drama of human redemption.” We know these persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and they are manifested in the actions of creating, redeeming and sanctifying. We know God as Creator: “In the beginning, God Created … and God saw that it was good.” We know God as Redeemer: “The Lord Jesus Christ: Son of God, God from God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father, through him all things were made; for us and our salvation he came down from heaven, incarnate, crucified, died, buried ; and was raised on the third day.” We know God as Sustainer “The Holy Spirit: the Lord, giver of Life, who proceeds from Father and Son, who spoke through prophets.” It is God’s work in creation that points to the very nature of God; the Inner life of God, a relational community of interrelatedness: The Lover, the Beloved, and the Love they share.
For me, one of the most challenging courses in seminary was Christian Doctrine however, because of the patience and humor of The Rev. Dr. Robert Hughes I managed to do well in the course. Dr. Hughes, “Bob” as he preferred we call him, explained in simple terms, the relational nature of God’s inner life. He said that the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is a relational community of love, and we use the language of love in an attempt to explain the relationship. He said that God is “The Lover (Father) – the one who loves, that God is The Loved (The Son) – the one to whom the love is directed, and that God is the Love (Spirit) – the Love they share.” We use this language in an attempt to describe the very nature of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but it is woefully inadequate.
We may remember our Sunday school lessons on Trinity Sunday when our teachers attempted to explain the Trinity. They may have used phrases like, “Three in One,” or they may have had us make crafts like shamrocks or the triquetra (an ancient symbol consisting of a triangle and three arched circles) to help us understand the Trinity. Poetry, art and music offers a beautiful means to provide meaning to mystery. Icons in the Eastern tradition have for centuries, provided a means for people to express the mystery of God.
On the cover of today’s bulletin is a 15th century Trinitarian Icon crafted by a Russian painter Andrei Rublev. The icon is the artist’s attempt to capture the mystery of the inner life of God. It features three figures gathered around a table and he uses the table setting because table fellowship has always symbolized relationship because, one normally did not eat with someone with whom there was no relational connection. This icon is a picture of loving community. You may notice that each figure’s face is similar in shape and features. You may notice that each figure is lovingly bent toward one another. If this picture was printed in color, you would notice that each figure shares the same colors in each of their garments, yet there are subtle differences. This subtle feature points to the unified, yet distinct natures of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Rublev icon represents one artist’s rendition of his understanding of the Inner Life of God.
I want to point out one unique feature of this icon. Look closely, and see if you notice that from the viewer’s vantage point, there is an empty place at the table where the three figures are seated. This symbol is the most wonderful part of the mystery of God. That seat is ours. We are invited by God to join in the relational love of God shared in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21 NIV) We are invited by God to come and know the nature of God, because God has acted and acts now inviting us to participate in the inner life of God, the inner life of love, grace, forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation.
Exploring the nature of the Trinity is not an exercise in science, it is a poetic journey of love seeking to understand the mystery. We cannot treat our faith, as scientific and measurable; a distinct set of facts that must defended. Faith is living into the mystery, which cannot be measured. Faith is resting in the experience of God, accepting the initiation to join God’s inner life of love. We are invited to take our seat at the table. When we accept the unexplained, and accept the mystery of God and God’s love, we are then free to proclaim “Glory to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever, Amen.”