Lake Hart, SA, 2016

Exploring Trinity

Week of Sunday May 26 - Trinity Sunday
Gospel: John16:12-15

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

I arrived at Booleroo at 8am, just in time for breakfast as the bakery opened. A farmer came in to get the paper and a Farmers Union Iced Coffee. He asked where I'd come from.  "Melrose, this morning."

"You don't come from there."

"No. Rode up yesterday from Adelaide. Going to Burra today." (It's about 150 miles to Melrose from our place, and another hundred to Burra.)

"Jeez! What's wrong with you?  You must hate yourself, or something!"

I tried to explain the joy of long rides; how enlivening it all is. I could not, of course, and he went out to his Toyota shaking his head over the mad mug from the city.  Some things can only be found in experience. Even then we may not understand them. It's more a case of longing for, and pursuing, a mystery. Sometimes it wraps itself around us in a life giving embrace. At other times it's like being hours on a bike in the rain, and with a head wind; why do I do this?

Trinity is not a doctrine to be believed. It is a relationship to be experienced. If we do not experience the Trinity that we call God, then it becomes an incomprehensible paradox of obscure philosophical smoke and mirrors. The farmer is then the one holding the truth while we go round in circles: What's wrong with you?  You must hate yourself, or something!

If we talk with the same apparently unsophisticated farmer in terms which he experiences, we may be humbled by deep spiritual wisdom born of many hours contemplation alone on the land. This profound wisdom is not often divined by a desire to work out coherent theology of God. It comes from a desire to live faithfully with God, and to make sense of the issues he faces on the farm....  or in the factory, or with family at home.

I think missing this insight is why the doctrine of The Trinity has always left me feeling like the afternoon physics lessons in school, where I couldn't understand the content, and in which I would frequently fall asleep. Unlike the farmer dealing with life's issues, I was treating the Trinity as a thing to be explained, understood, and adhered to.

It didn't begin like that...   the Gospel of John is being written generations after Jesus. Issues Jesus never thought of have begun to cry out for answers.  "What did Jesus say?" is often no longer a helpful question, because he didn't say anything about some issues people faced.

To ask "What would Jesus do?" rather than what he said, is probably a far more radical question than we who are too well aware of its clichéd overuse can ever appreciate. At least its abuse means we can appreciate the dangers of imagining what Jesus would do; I saw  an election poster last week where the candidate claimed to be endorsed by Jesus himself. Problematically, she came last!

As John faces new questions caused by the absence of Jesus, the thing he does first is… trust! I think that is where it all starts for me. Faith in God is trust that even without Jesus, God is still with me.

If that is so, muses John, as he wonders how to face a situation, then...  ... then when the Spirit of Truth comes he will guide me into all truth! It doesn't matter what this "Spirit" is; not at first, nor is there any thought of "Trinity." What matters is the decision to trust—to even contemplate the reality of—the surprising instinct that this is what Jesus would do. I think that is something like where the long development of the insight of Th Trinity begins.

I'm not saying this merely as a theory; it reflects an experience of my own.

In his book Theology and Culture, Paul Tillich says somewhere that all created matter is capable of being revealing of God. This is because it bears God's imprint. That made sense to me as I read it. We experience it when we feel a sense of God in the sunset, or walking along the beach, for example.

What absolutely stunned me was my next thought; out of context and unbidden: that means the sexual love of two men for each other can be revealing of God. Indeed, I barely thought this at all. It was simply there; knowledge and certitude that was given to me. I didn't work it out; there was no reasoning involved; it was simply there.

Afterward, I worked out the details. I put it against the teaching of the church, and reconsidered the words and actions of Jesus; all the things we do when we "test the spirits." The details are like the doctrine of the Trinity. They are the implications, and the checks and balances which flow from the first insight, and from the decision to trust it.

The Uniting Church was soon to be embroiled in bitter controversy over the place of gay and lesbian people; I needed intensive study to hold onto the insight, to validate my trust in it, and to find the limits beyond which it was no longer helpful.

We can see John doing that in his situation.

The Spirit will lead you into all Truth, (16:13) but surely this is not carte blanche to proclaim what I like. That would be really dangerous!

No… he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears… he will take what is mine, Jesus said, and declare it to you... (16:14) And remember… all that the Father has is mine. (16:15)

As John meditates on what he has seen, and its implications, Father, Son, and Spirit begin to be woven together; a unity not coming from dry doctrine, but from the hard ethical questions of how to survive the drought, and whether to use genetically engineered seed, or grow barley that will be used to brew alcohol. Trinity becomes alive even for the farmer out in the paddock.

He stands and looks at the baring ground in the scrub; land he and his father have tried to steward over fifty years, but which is still thinning and dying. Land he knows is Ngadjuri land, not his. But land that is surely God's—Trinity again—which inspires him with awe and feeds him.

He feels his inadequacy in the face of climate change; how to live gently on the land, and wonders at the cost of speaking up for the wind farm that his neighbours are campaigning against. It doesn't do to be unpopular in town; enough things got said already when he hired those Afghani kids as rouseabouts last shearing. What would Jesus do? Is there any point in doing the right thing if it loses the farm? "Is it worth dying for, Son?"  Dad used to say it almost as a joke.

And like many a farmer at such times, he closes the tool box, whistles up the dog, and takes a long walk round the scrub to "check the sheep." Far longer than it needs. And comes back for tea with a certain settledness in his soul. Knowing what to say at the town meeting with Origin, decided on getting the kids back for shearing, and somehow… not that he would put it this way… wrapped and held by the Trinity which is God.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

Bill Schlesinger 17-06-2019
I find it interesting that the text talks about the 'spirit of truth' - πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας - breath of uncloudedness (feminine gender). I remember the hymn line - 'Unclouded day.' Getting the wool out of one's thinking seems to match up.

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