It’s tempting to avoid things that are hard.
Talking about the doctrine of the Trinity is hard. Which is why there is a longstanding and only partially humorous tradition in Anglican circles of asking the intern or theological student to preach on Trinity Sunday. It’s a strange and uncharitable mix of hazing – because talking about the Trinity is hard – and avoidance – because talking about the Trinity is hard.
But this is a time for rising to meet things that are hard.
And, the Trinity is vitally important to all of us who call ourselves Christian. It’s not just an abstract theological concept, best kept for academics and bible-study keeners. I firmly believe that all theology is practical theology, and the Trinity is an important way of framing our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our God.
It’s not by accident that the appointed readings for Trinity Sunday begin with a reading from Genesis, about the beautiful, deliberate, joyful process by which the world and everything in it was made. It’s important to remember that this isn’t meant to be read as history or as science, or even as disembodied theology. This is an inspired text that seeks to reveal something deeply true about God, and about us.
Because having joyfully and deliberately ordered everything that is, God joyfully and deliberately creates humanity in the image of God. In a sense, we’re made to be like God – but at the same time, to understand that we are part of the created order and are not God.
I’m persuaded that the best way to understand what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God is to understand that we’re created with a unique and defining capacity for relationship. It’s not our intellect, our creative abilities, our physical form, or anything else that makes us like God. Instead, it’s our ability to deeply and lovingly enter into relationship with one another and with God. To find ourselves in a profound way, even as we give ourselves away.
This is, perhaps, best understood in relation to the fact of the Trinity. We understand God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit – not because God is masculine or feminine, but because these are revealed and distinct persons in the Godhead. Which means that God is, deep in God’s own being, relationship.
We often say that God is love. Which is true, but incomplete. Because love first requires the possibility of relationship.
So, at the heart of a deeply mysterious revelation is a simple truth: that God cannot be understood apart from loving, mutually self-giving relationship.
And, it follows, that the extent to which we are able to be like God will depend upon the extent to which we choose to participate in loving, mutually self-giving relationship with God and with one another.
Which is why the whole rabbinic tradition and Jesus himself tell us that the greatest commandment is this – to love God with all our heart and soul and being, and to love each other in the same way.
This is not prescriptive. God doesn’t issue this command so that we might be punished if we fail to live up to it. Instead, it’s descriptive. This commandment describes the only way to truly live a life that is fully human.
In at least 500 American cities across all 50 states, and at least 18 other countries around the world, peaceful protests are taking place. Because the brutal killing of George Floyd was evil, and laid bare for the world to see the deep roots of systemic racism that continues to work against Black, Indigenous and people of colour. Not just in the United States. Not just in Canada. But here. Even, and sometimes especially, in the church.
That’s a hard thing to say, but these are the days for speaking hard truths.
And as with all social justice movements, these protests aren’t just about George Floyd – he has come to symbolize something. Deep wrongs that must be righted.
Because this isn’t about some kind of modern, liberal understanding of social justice or equality. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity helps to understand why these things go right to the very root of what we believe. If our humanity itself is rooted in our capacity to love and live in properly ordered relationship with each other, then it is necessarily true that a system that doesn’t work for some of us, doesn’t work for any of us.
Which is why racism is evil in the truest sense of the word. It draws us away from the love of God, from the lives we were created to live. It demeans and defiles and corrupts. It prevents us from being fully human.
And this is why these protests have spread across the world. Because our deepest sense of self, our very souls, tell us that we can and we must be better. Our very humanity is at stake.
So may we affirm in the strongest terms that black lives matter. May we be given the grace and courage to rise to meet the hard things that the days and weeks ahead will undoubtedly bring. And may we see that our calling to be the people of God demands that we actively work for peace and justice among all people, fearlessly entering into relationships marked by mutual self-giving. For that is where we encounter the Triune God.