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Experience of God as Trinity

On Trinity Sunday 2003

15 June 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

Today’s feast of the Trinity is very unusual because it celebrates a doctrine rather than an event. If you think about it, most of our Christian festivals recall something that happened in the story of God’s revelation of himself in history. We remember the annunciation to Mary, the birth of Jesus, his death, resurrection and ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Much of what we learn about God is revealed to us in the form of story - the story of the people of God in the Old Testament, the story of Jesus in the Gospels and the story of the early Christians in the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles.

Then comes this festival of the Holy Trinity, a theological definition of who God is - not based in any particular event but rather a conclusion drawn from the entire drama of the interaction of God with the human race. Nevertheless, we can trace through the pages of the Old Testament how the people of Israel and Judah came to believe that there is only one God who is the source of the universe and of all life in it.

This was a long and gradual process but also a very significant one. When it is believed that there are many gods, each tribe and nation can have its own patron deity - each supporting its tribe in war against other tribes. But if there is only one God, then he is God of all tribes and nations. We are all children of the one Father; we are brothers and sisters with obligations to each other. In this context religion becomes something universal in which men and women are stretched to a vision of life bigger than self or family, community or tribe or nation. It gives us a vision of the wholeness of things and calls us to make a contribution to that wholeness.

The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that God is one, and that at the same time he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Judaism and Islam share with us the insistence that God is one but do not accept the divine nature of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament we read about the Word of God and the Spirit of God active in creation and coming to the prophets - vehicles of God’s interaction with his people. But it is only in Christianity that the Word and the Spirit become persons in an eternal relationship with the Father, an interpersonal relationship of love given and received.

The Trinity may be a doctrine rather than an event, but it is out of human experience of God that Christians found themselves forced to the conclusion that while God is one, he is also three persons in one God. The Bishop of London is fond of saying that God is persons in community - and so are we. As we live and grow as persons in community we share something of the life and character of God himself. It is in our interaction with each other that we are refined as human beings. The story of our lives is the story of our becoming more like God in this way - or, indeed, less like God if we choose to reject the way of deeper human relationships.

The doctrine of the Trinity may be difficult to express in words but at its heart lie two great events - the Divine Word being made flesh in Jesus and the Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost. We have experienced God as the eternal Father; we have come to know him as Jesus, sharing our humanity; and we know his power as the Spirit who dwells within us.
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