Friday, 25 May 2018

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.

Well it seems to me that is a matter of opinion as to what qualifies as holiness. To some people it is going to church; to some it might mean avoiding certain bad habits or adopting certain outward religious practices. Some think clergy are, by default, some kind of holy person. Trust me, when I say that this idea is patently false! Growing up, I knew people who adhered to so called “holiness traditions.” They willingly and consistently lived the mundane, everyday aspects of their lives according to a strict interpretation of Christian Scripture. It was a willing setting aside of any aspects of humanity in order to be more like what the scriptures called for in a follower of Jesus.

In the Hebrew Scripture Isaiah 6 we find that the prophet finds himself utterly, inescapably human in the presence of his vision of God. The death of the king is no mere historical marker, but a sign that things are about to change in Judah. Although Uzziah, in his fifty-two years of reign brought Judah to new heights in terms of prosperity, influence, and power, he forgot that he was an earthly king and not a divine one. In the writer of first Isaiah’s experience of soaking in the presence of absolute holiness he was given a powerful reminder of his own humanity.

It’s as if he looked around at the angels and the smoke and the trembling temple and the songs and the tongs and concluded, “One of these things is not like the others.” And even though he was made guiltless, cleansed and a flaming, searing coal of mercy and forgiveness blotted out his sin, the whole episode is an object lesson. It was an object lesson in a one unavoidable, undeniable truth: God is holy and we are not. We are human. Or as we like to say, “We’re only human.”

So how do we understand our humanity, how do we understand our triune God – the Trinity. Since earliest days, humans have tried to know the nature of God and the nature of themselves. An impossible task, we know, to put the ocean into a paper cup. But we are human. We are curious and passionate, and we desire this God-ness, this goodness, because we want to go beyond who and where we are. It’s hard to talk about the Trinity without falling into something the church has declared heresy.

A doctrine of the Trinity may not be in Christian scripture, but the authors of scripture give testimony to the Trinity in the life of the faithful. We start with the “God is one” confession of our Jewish ancestors. Yet this God has been known in different ways, from the awesome God of nature who led the people Israel, through to the humble servant Jesus the reconciler, to the powerful wind of the Spirit that breathes new life into the world. Knowing God in a triune way gives gifts for spiritual and community life. Father, Son, Holy Spirit are distinct, yet undivided.

There are many images used to try and help one understand the Trinity and I will leave you to find the one that helps your understanding. I like the image of the Trinity as a Dance myself, but I would like to take as an example a sports team for this piece of writing. The players have a common purpose and work together to achieve a goal and a victory. Maybe it’s easier to consider the image of a marriage, where two are joined as one, hopefully in love, and hopefully working throughout their lives to form a more perfect union. So much more is God imaged in this way, a union of three persons who fit so completely together that they are One.

The metaphors, though, carry us only so far. The community of faith has consistently turned to praise as the most suitable response to encounters with this God. “Holy, Holy, Holy!” cry the six-winged seraphim. Whatever tales theologians tell about life in the Trinity, our experience is rooted more in awe, in wonder, in holy Mystery than in understanding. In the Lord’s temple, all say “Glory!” Or for me I desire to participate in the dance that is the Trinity.

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