Christians believe in one infinite God. When we speak of God as Trinity, we are dabbling in metaphor to try to make sense of how scripture describes God at work. This one-God-in-three-persons confounds any who spend too much thought attempting to remain monotheistic. We often describe God as Father, Son & Spirit, which best demonstrates that God is a profound relationship of love that holds all things together. Or to get away from gendered language (God is not literally male), we describe God as Creator, Redeemer & Sustainer, which demonstrates key ways we have experienced God in our lives. The early church experienced HUGE controversy over understanding Trinity, with people cut off as heretics for their creative attempts to understand God as Three-in-One. Before you get up in arms about such excommunication as unnecessary, it mostly had to do with whether Jesus was always God, or never God, or just became God during his lifetime. What was at stake was how to keep Christianity monotheistic. The creeds of the church were designed by large groups of Christians who wanted to move towards a uniform way to hold together our beliefs about how God is eternal and yet put on flesh to dwell among us.
St. Athanasius was a 4th c. Egyptian bishop who fought against the reigning orthodoxy of his day that Jesus was not eternal (this was called Arianism). Athanasius became almost mathematical in his explanation of how God is Trinity, and the Athanasian Creed, (eventually adopted as the church’s understanding of Trinity) is an almost 500-word description of how God is Three-in-one. For Athanasius, and Christians ever since, what’s at stake is that the heart of Christian faith is that an eternal God would really put on flesh to really become one of us, and that something profoundly changed in human history because of this. What’s at stake in Trinity is that God’s very nature is love, that Christ’s very existence among us was salvific, and that God really and uniquely dwells in the hearts of those that enter covenant with God through the repentance of sins and connection in Christ. If at any point Jesus is not also eternal Christ, the whole thing falls apart.
Wesley deeply believed the Athanasian Creed, and yet over time he stopped using it among the Methodists. This was not because he was anti-creed. The Athanasian Creed begins and ends with an insistence that the only way one would be saved and not eternally damned was to think this particular way about Trinity. Wesley’s own experience had proven to him that intellectual knowledge about God was not enough to transform a heart. Dr. Andrew Thompson writes of Wesley’s point, “we experience present salvation most fully through the transformation of our affections, the quickening of our spiritual senses, and the inculcation of inward holiness…it’s about being drawn close by the Father, enlightened with holy love by the Son, and convicted each day by the presence of the Spirit.” (Check out Thompson’s article below).
I’d encourage you today to spend some time contemplating God as Trinity. Rather than worrying over whether your opponents have the right intellectual knowledge of God, meditate on how you are enveloped with your enemies into the eternal love of God-In-Relationship. When you despair over brokenness and death, look past what you see to find joy in the Father whose judgment is Love and whose M.O. is new creation. Instead of getting caught up in anger or indifference over the jerks who have hurtfully insisted on the superiority of their Christian creeds, set your focus on the eternal and sacrificial love of Christ for all. And before you leave a snarky comment responding to someone who thinks differently than you, get lost-and-found in the Holy Spirit’s moment-by-moment urging in your heart away from self and towards God.
P.S. this week’s comic was inspired by my discovery of our Magic Eye book collection from my childhood. The magic eye image in the comic was created at an online Magic Eye generator website!