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The Trinity Experience

May 21, 2016

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday so I’ll be celebrating the nature nature of my wonderful God; one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I have a problem. I find that the statements about the Trinity are easy to say, I say them every time I say the creeds, but they are not so easy to understand. The creeds seem dry but the more I let them into me the more I realise that they are condensed wisdom. So for a way into the Trinity I turn to the Nicene Creed to help me:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

The Nicene Creed was first agreed in 325 AD, then amended in 381 AD and only settled in the form we have in the late 6th Century. It took the best minds in Christendom over 300 years to get to grips with it and arguments still continue.

So, I wonder, if it’s so hard to understand why have it? Why not have either 3 gods, separate but sort of equal? Or why not have one God, and only have Jesus as a very special person and the Holy Spirit as just the power of God? I know the Church certainly tried those alternatives and some Christian groups still stick with them today. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept Jesus one with God the Father.

What inspires me about the understanding of God as the Trinity is that it all seems to have come out of the experience of Christians. People experienced God and stumbled upon the reality of the Trinity. Experience came first and then the attempts to understand that experience. Any Church historian would say this is a huge oversimplification that ignores all the politics and wrangling that went on. Still I feel that it was the awkward reality of the experience of God that led to centuries of debate that led to the doctrine of the Trinity. Without that experience why go through all that? So I still maintain that experience came first.

This may sound strange but it is normal enough. When I get on my motorbike I don’t theorise about it, I experience it. When I meet someone, I don’t theorise about them I listen to them. I experience who they are. I get to know them.

The first Christians started with their experience of One God who created all things. The one who spoke to Moses and the Prophets, the one who sent Jesus. I, like the early Christians, can look at the created world and see the hand of the creator in it all. I know when I look, I see the complexity and order of creation. I see a beauty, and darkness that all speak of a creator, at least when seen through the eyes of faith.

Secondly, the first Christians had, as the name implies, come to know God through the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. They probably started by understanding Jesus to be a special man, the Messiah whom God the Father had chosen to bring people back to him. But it seems that very quickly they found themselves being led by God to pray to Jesus and not just to the Father. They prayed to Jesus and the prayers were answered. Then they studied words, like “I and the Father are one”. Slowly, and steadily they learned that Jesus was God too. But coming from the Jewish faith they also knew that there was only one God. So, Jesus and the Father must somehow be the same God.

Thirdly, the first Christians experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it was the experience of the Holy Spirit that was seen the mark of being a Christian. The Holy Spirit was found to the be the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit was also found to be more than just attributes of God. The Holy Spirit was experienced to act separately but in tune with God the Father, and with Jesus, the Son. So, there must be one God, made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The experience came first and only afterwards came the theology.

Another problem is that each time I try to focus on one of the persons of the Trinity you are directed to the others. I come to God through getting to know Jesus. But Jesus only says what he hears from the Father, and then points us to the Holy Spirit as the one who will work in and through me. So I look to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit fills me with the power of God, and opens my eyes to see the Father in his works, and makes me one with Jesus and the Father. Then I look to God the Father, and find that his nature is revealed to me through the witness of Jesus and through the work of the Holy Spirit in me and in creation. Indeed, I have found that it is the work of the Spirit in me that allows me to see the Creator in his works and Jesus in the people that I meet.

You see what I mean? Every time I try to get to the bottom of who the Trinity is, I end up going around in circles.

What I do know is Jesus showed me who God is, the Holy Spirit lives to make me more godlike, and  through Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, I am one with the Father. I know that God is a community, with each loving the other and looking out for the other. I know that if I am truly a Christian then I am to live as the Trinity lives, in love. I am to share and care.  I know that the Trinity is bound together by mutual love, because I know that God is love and those who live in love, live in God, and God lives in them.

I know that the Trinity is difficult to understand but easy to experience and rewarding to live.

So my advice is to myself is, “Stop worrying about defining the undefinable and experience the living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. It is the experience that came first. I know that it is this experience that is transforming me and the world around me.  By experiencing the Trinity, hopefully I will become humbler too, pointing away from myself, to the good in others.  It is experience of living as part of the Trinity that is a taste of the life of eternity.

  1. Excellent piece. The answer, as you say in your first paragraph is in Nature. Root, branch or leaf – which is the tree? They aren’t – all of them make the tree.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback. I like the tree analogy – I may well ‘borrow’ it for tomorrow! God bless, Nigel.

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