TRINITY SUNDAY: GOD IS NOT A SELF BUT A RELATION

By Andrei Rublev - From https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54421

It’s Trinity Sunday. This is the most significant feast of our God: One God, three persons. This is the very core and most important mystery of our faith. However, it’s a dreaded day for Catholic preachers who is faced with the daunting task of preaching about the Trinity. Because of its utmost profundity, many preachers utilize analogies in an effort to explain in simple language the Trinity. Sometimes preachers use abstract concepts and devise mind boggling framework to explain the trinity. Despite all these attempts, at the end of the preaching and the celebrations, preachers and the congregation in the pews, more often than not, are left more bewildered that they do not want to talk and hear anything about the Trinity.

Sadly, this has become the trend in recent years. In recent years, there has been less talk about God as Trinity. Indeed, God as Trinity has suffered from an overly abstract appropriation, excessive humanism and rationalism. As American feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson comments, “[Trinity] has been neglected, literalized, treated like a curiosity, or analysed with conceptual acrobatics entirely inappropriate to its meaning.  Consequently, the doctrine has become unintelligible and religiously irrelevant on a wide scale.”[1] The German philosopher Immanuel Kant even came to the conclusion that “absolutely nothing worthwhile for the practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity taken literally.”[2]

But on Trinity Sunday, of all Sundays, we should not get discouraged nor run away from talking and proclaiming God as Trinity. Because the Trinity as the very core of our faith is also about the meaning of our lives, about who we truly are and our mission in this world.

The main problem, I think, why we do not get the Trinity is that we try to see, understand and talk about God as trinity according to our human categories and language. No human language or categories can ever fully talk about God. God cannot be colonized by any human faculty. We cannot make God in our own image (reverse creation). We cannot, for example, understand the Trinity as three persons if we use our own understanding of persons as an individual centre of consciousness and freedom. The persons in God is not an autonomous self but a relational self.

The persons in God the Trinity is the person that is totally focused on the other, living totally for the other, welcoming totally the other into one’s own, making room totally for the other, and totally loving the other. Because of this, God is one and three persons. Perfect selflessness. Perfect unity in diversity. As the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century declared:

“[T]the Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Son.”

Thus, when God the Father created the cosmos, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Father. When God the Son–Jesus Christ–redeemed us on the cross, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Son. When God the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and set them on fire in proclaiming the gospel, God the Father and God the Son was entirely with God the Holy Spirit.

In other words, God is a relationship, God is a community, and God is love. God is ever loving and ever helping each other, ever forgiving and ever welcoming the other, ever relating, ever cooperating and ever communicating with each other. Thus, God is not a noun but a verb. God is not static but dynamic.

I am reminded of South African Anglican cleric and theologian Desmond Tutu’s speech regarding the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Tutu said that Ubuntu is an idea present in African spirituality that says “I am because we are”, or we are all connected, we cannot be ourselves without community, health and faith are always lived out among others, an individual’s well being is caught up in the well being of others. [3]

Our relational God designed us in His own image. Therefore, to be a person is to be related. We are not merely individuals, but persons in community. We were created in the imago Dei to be in relation. As American feminist theologian Catherine LaCugna affirms, we are “meant to exist as persons in communion … not persons in isolation or withdrawal or self- centredness.”[4]  As we are created in God the Trinity, we cannot isolate ourselves, nor become fully autonomous, nor disconnect ourselves from others and God’s creation. “I am because we are!”

As God is a community, relationship and love, we ought to live as a community, opening ourselves always to the other, always relating and cooperating with one another. The Holy Trinity is the model of the family, community, relationships and all collective endeavors.  As God is one and connected to each other, we are also one, we are interconnected to each other; we are not just interconnected to each other but to whole of God’s creation. As God is unity and diversity we should be united even as we open ourselves to diversity and celebrate difference.

Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff even declares the Trinity as the basis of liberation,

“From the communion of the three divine Persons derive impulses to liberation: of each and every human person, of society, of the church … Society offends the Trinity by organising itself on a basis of inequality and honours it the more it favours sharing and communion for all.” [5]

While the British missiologist Leslie Newbigin proclaims that salvation can only be found in the Trinitarian communion,

There can be no salvation for human beings except in relatedness. No one can be made whole except by being restored to the wholeness of that being-in-relatedness for which God made us and the world and which is the image of that being-in- relatedness which is the being of God Himself. [6]

The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not what the Trinity is but how God the Trinity lived.  The whole focus of Trinity Sunday is how we experience and participate in the circle of love of the Trinity. The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not whether or not to understand the Trinity but how to live and follow the example of God the Trinity. As the Nike ad declares, “just do it!”

 


 

[1] Elizabeth Johnson, “Trinity: To Let the Symbol Sing Again,” Theology Today 34, no. 3 (1997), 299.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Der Streit der Fakultäten, A 50, 57, quoted in Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: S.C.M. Press, 1981), p. 6.

[3] Giampiero (October 13, 2007). “Breaking News: Madonna’s Malawian Doc. Is Titled ‘I Am Because We Are'”. DrownedMadonna. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007.

[4] Catherine LaCugna, God For us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1973), 383.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 236.

[6] Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995., 70.

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