19 June 2011
Trinity A (RCL)
Genesis 1:1 — 2:4
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
A lot of preachers don’t like preaching on the Trinity: perhaps because they know they will never explain it (that’s sort of the point of a mystery, isn’t in?). So, one wonders why the Church developed the doctrine in the first place. What does it explain? There is language that hints at the Trinity in the New Testament, without expressing a completely worked-out doctrine. It’s too bad we don’t read the passage from 1 Corinthians we had last week (12:3ff). I think that is the clearest Trinitarian language in the NT (besides the passage from Matthew we read today — which could be a later insertion). There are varieties of gifts, but one spirit; varieties of services but one master; varieties of work, but on God who energizes everything in everyone.
The divinity of Christ was probably the first big concept to be worked out. If Christ isn’t both fully human and fully God, then Christ can’t fully save the full humanity. And if Christ is fully divine, then what happens to God in the incarnation. So, you need at least two person in the Trinity. But how is God’s continuing presence known? Thus the Holy Spirit. But if this is three Gods, then which one is superior? Christ then isn’t fully God, fully incarnate. If it’s three modes of one God, then again we are not really saved, because God isn’t fully incarnate in Christ.
So, the Cappadocians developed the language of three Persons in one substance. We moderns have two difficulties with that. First, the idea of substance is too physical for us. We tend to think of three things made out of the same lump of clay. I suppose something like the physicists mean by energy or field might more closely approximate what the theologians meant by substance — or maybe even “dynamic process.”
The second, and I think more difficult problem we have with the Trinity, is the concept of Person. We think of Person as a discrete entity, isolable from all other entities. Sorta like marbles. We think of Person as Individual, and Individual as the basis of all knowledge and moral action in the world. Our economics assumes as its primary unit the “self-interested individual.” The only explanation we have for why people (plural persons) cooperate is more effectively to further each their own self-interest. The division of labor allows us to make, buy, sell and own more stuff (which, according to this model is the purpose of human life). Mary Douglas calls this “methodological individualism.” Only problem is, it won’t explain great pieces of human living. Why would a first responder be willing to rush into a burning building when everyone else is rushing out? Certainly not self-interest. Not even his or her own self-interest tied to the good of the whole. The answer usually given is something like honor. But honor is a decidedly communal value, not something definable in terms of the individual. Why should we care what others think, if we are self-interested? Methodological individualism can’t explain that.
So, we read the creation story. “Let us make humankind in our image, and after our likeness let us make them. And so God created them in his image; male and female he created them.” The community, the “we” is logically, as well as temporally, prior to the individual. At the heart of the divinity is community. The Father eternally pours himself out in love in the begetting of the Son. The Son eternally gives himself back to the father in love and obedience. The Spirit is the overflowing of that love to take in all creation. There is no Person with the prior community.
So God made humankind in God’s own image, the image of community, male and female, God made us. I always find it interesting that the author of this story does not shy away from using gendered language about God: male and female are included in the image of God. The deepest community of love we can experience (whether straight or gay matters not) is at the heart of the image of the deity. The continual giving outpouring of the love of the community is what makes Personhood possible. Not the other way around.