Confessions of A Part-Time Heretic: How to Mess Up Trinity Sunday

It is an impossible task.  On the Sunday after Pentecost the church is asked to devote an entire service of worship to the topic of the Holy Trinity.  Volumes have been written, gallons of ink spilled, and wars have been waged over this very topic.  Yet we, the good people of mainline American Protestantism are somehow going to answer the lingering questions from two thousand years of Christian debate in one hour of worship and a 20 minute sermon.  We will do this with weak and polytheistic analogies.  We will read ideas into the Old Testament which are not there.  With good intentions, we will twist the words of Jesus into a Trinitarian pretzel to make him say what we want him to mean.   We will be wrong.  The Trinity is not a fidget spinner to keep us occupied for a week until the blasé world of “ordinary” time rolls down the center aisle.   The Trinity is one way to talk about God and maybe God deserves better than our haphazard, folksy dissections this Sunday morning.

I once read that the surest way to venture into heresy when discussing the Trinity was to “begin discussing the Trinity”.  As a part time heretic, I recognize the irony.  Our language is limited.  We only have a finite number of words to express certain relationships and concepts.  The words we do possess are approximations of the reality we’re trying to represent.  Nothing we say, no matter how close we think it comes to the truth, is an accurate depiction of how the man we knew as Jesus relates to the Israelite God mentioned in Genesis.  With that being said, what do we know?  Using the Bible as a guide, we take Jesus at his word.  It’s something like a father/son relationship but yet it’s not.  The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit.   God’s identity is known in (at least) three different ways.

Out of these attempts by the gospel writers to provide the early church with contextual language; the Doctrine of the Trinity was born.  From own Jesus’ words and greetings in selected New Testament epistles; the church shaped a complex theological doctrine.  As Paul writes in this week’s epistle lesson, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

I don’t believe that Paul or the Corinthians believed in what we call the “Holy Trinity”.  Instead, I think this is how they talked about God.  Far from being a doctrine, this was their everyday language. The God-discourse of the early church demonized the language of the working class people.  It was not enough to speak of God but to speak of God correctly.  Even though God was already at work, we invented something and called it holy.

The Trinity (our word) is God’s prevenient grace on display.  Isn’t God already “Holy” without our labels?  When we write it up and try to explain grace with hokey analogies, it’s like we’re trying to take credit for things God has already accomplished.   I’m not sure that’s a good idea.  Give God the credit God is due.

Somewhere this week, somebody needs to speak.  Let them use their words.  We do not need to clean up or explain their language when talking to God.  There are no formulas, diagrams, or charts for making sure the right personage of the Trinity hears what we need to say.    When it comes down to it, God is God and God knows.