There is no such thing as the Holy Trinity. There is a means of referring to the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy the Spirit which Christians call the “Holy Trinity”. We don’t know if that’s what God calls God’s relationships or if the Trinity exists anything at all as we describe. My inclination is to believe God functions beyond language terms and classifications. It’s our word. No one’s gotten a message back from God as to whether God agrees with our system or choice of terms. Yet we, the church, live and die by three in one, one in three.
We do love our religious vocabulary. Everything has to have a term. If we can label something we can control its use and outcome. By labeling the Trinity (and other aspects of God’s work and identity) we are trying to control God. God can only work in the predefined, pre-determined Trinitarian ways. If you control who has access to God, for most of human history, you were the biggest kid on the playground.
We’ve made up elaborate theologies to help us describe how we think God relates to God’s self. The truth is this: our most complex Trinitarian theology and ideas are guesses. If string theorists, who are searching for a mathematical language to describe the origins for the universe admit that their work is theoretical, why do Christian theologians speak with such confidence when it comes to the presence and work of the Holy Trinity? There’s faith and then there’s arrogance. The means in which we’re describing God’s relationships are not real. Aren’t we the “don’t put God into a box people?” Current Trinitarian explanations are just another box, limiting how encounter God. Is it impossible for us to be honest: We really have no idea how any of this works.
The Trinity is a (semantic, logical, cosmological, theological, psychological, and philosophical) construct, a theological conjecture; created by flawed and fallible Homo sapiens who want to understand something no one really understands: the way God relates to God’s self. The word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible. God, Jesus, nor the silent Holy Spirit refers to themselves as a Trinity. The readers of scripture are never privy to discussions of substance and form between the members of the Godhead as we’ll later find in minutes of the historic councils of the church. Matters important to defining Christian orthodoxy seem to be of little matter to the deity, the deity’s son, or the spirit whom we debate or celebrate in art.
We, the Homo sapiens in question, came up with the word, developed something that sounded rational and applied it to God. For something completely man made, built on a inferences and interpretations of a handful of scripture, we created Orthodoxy from nothing. From Jesus’ teachings about family, fathers, relationships and the spirit; we made hard and fast rules about heresies that still divide the church. Trinity Sunday, far from being something to be celebrated, looks to me to me to be a day for caution and prayer. This is what happens when we make up our own doctrines and start selling a fake news story to the church that God created a rigid hierarchy which really started on our own whiteboard. The truth is: God was nowhere to be found when we made up the Trinity and turned it into a tool to isolate, annoy, and explain God’s expansive love in terms of a dysfunctional family.
Let’s be careful with what we’re celebrating and explaining on Trinity Sunday. Maybe, like Lucy coming home to Ricky, we still have some explaining to do. My gut tells me it doesn’t involve eggs, clovers, or anything about a doctrine we made up. I think we need to stop making things up, reading stuff into the text, and even qualify the fancy patristic writings we’ve inherited, because it may be not be all it’s cracked up to be. The Trinity works best when we remember it’s really a theory. It works because we make it work. Love, on the other hand, is a doctrine. That’s something you can prove. Jesus wouldn’t let go of love. Nor should we.
Richard Lowell Bryant