For centuries, people have been trying to explain the theological doctrine called the Trinity. How do we talk about God being composed of three persons who is yet one God? Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was an early church leader who was a serious and imaginative theologian puzzled over this understanding of God.
There is a story about Augustine and it begins with him walking along the seashore pondering this complex idea about God. Along his walk he stopped to watch a child who was carrying a cup of water from the ocean to a small hole he had dug in the sand.
Augustine asked the child, “What are you doing?”
The child replied, “I am trying to pour the entire ocean into this whole.”
Augustine laughed and said, “That’s impossible.”
The child looked back at Augustine and said, “And it’s impossible for you to fit the Trinity into your little mind.”
The story concludes that the child vanished for it was a heavenly messenger from God.
Just as it was difficult for Augustine to understand the doctrine of the trinity, it is also difficult for us to fit this understanding into our brains. From the beginning of time, people have tried to articulate who God is and how God works in our world. We use human words to try to define a God who is bigger than all of our imaginations. The doctrine of the Trinity is a way that Christians have tried to articulate their understanding of a God who moves beyond our comprehension.
What we can understand from all of this is that we worship and follow a God who acts outrageously in love and mercy for the world God created. This God cannot be contained by one being or person. This God is not restricted by our expectations, explanations, conclusions, or our illustrations. This God bigger than our comprehension is entirely present to us and comes to us in multiple forms. Sometimes God shows up in human form or sometimes God comes to us as a blowing spirit. This wild God cannot be packaged up into one human-sized package.
Madeline L’Engle, the children’s book author was a sound theologian in her own right. In grappling with the Trinity in her book Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons & Idols, she writes the following words:
The Trinity, like any other concept about God, …is a groping attempt to explain wholeness to a fragmented race of mortals. “We worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity” reads the creed which ends with “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible…Yet there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.” Dorothy Sayers adds “The whole thing incomprehensible,” to which I add, “Thank God!”
When we claim the name of a triune God, we are making a radical confession about a God who is beyond our understanding yet understands us. Thank God.
When we try to open – not just our minds – but our bodies and our spirits to a triune God, we find that the God we worship and serve calls us into relationship. Our God is a divine community. Our God – the incomprehensible mystery of three in one -is the very definition of relationship.
God is crazy about us. God loves us. God adores. It also means God expects so much from us. Our God created us to be in relationship with God, each other, and this amazing world God has made. God is madly, deeply, incomprehensibly in relationship with each and every one of us. Again and again, God continues to seek us out.
This means that God seeks a relationship with the nurse who ends her shift at Community North utterly exhausted. She takes home the work from the hospital because she can’t shake the grief for the patient who died even though there are five more to care for. This crazy God is hovering over her, advocating for her welfare and the well-being of her patients. The Triune God guides her to do the next right thing and provides a peace that passes understanding.
This God that is bigger than our comprehension is seeking a relationship with our politicians, activists, and bloggers. God is moving in each of these individual helping them discern what they should do or say as they consider the consequences of their actions. As they consider the impact of their decisions, God blesses them with a relationship bringing an abundance of wisdom, compassion, and hope. God speaks to them as the eternal and ancient Word that brought all into being out of goodness and for goodness sake. God reminds them that the omniscient and all-knowing force of the universe, the God of our Forebears, desires kindness and mercy and commands participation in bringing about goodness for all – which is justice.
Our God who is crazy for us calls us to be crazy for one another. We who are created in God’s image cannot exist only on our own. We are called to be in honest and holy relationships with each other. We are called to share one another’s burdens. We are called to rejoice when one of us rejoices. We are called to weep when one of us weeps. And when the going gets tough, we are still called to be in relationship with one another even when we have wounded or been wounded. It is only together that we begin to live into the full blessing of relationship with our incomprehensible God. May it be so.