“The eternal dance of reciprocal love”
Sunday 16 June 2019
Every now and then, when I was the Parish Priest at Tamborine Mountain, I received unsolicited bizarre correspondence that was put into the Rectory letterbox. Towards the end of 2009 I received one of these interesting pieces of correspondence According to the date on it, my correspondent wrote it on 11 November 2009. I decided to hold onto this document for several months for reasons that will become obvious.
Let me quote the contents to you:
Our creator God is coming
25 March 2010
From God himself
God is love: God is coming to save us
foods only “Why”
God is pure: so must we be pure
No eating flesh and blood of animals, birds, or fish. Other.
The grammar makes it a little hard to decipher, but you get some gist of the message.
Now most of you would have twigged that the appointed date – 25 March 2010, has been and gone. And unless I missed something somewhere, God did not come in any manner obviously different from the way that we ordinarily experience God’s presence in our lives.
And yet, according to my pamphleteer, this information about God’s coming on 25 March came from God himself.
So what might this teach us about matters divine?
Well, as I reflected upon what I might say in my sermon today on Trinity Sunday, this document reminded me that it is important not to make too many claims about knowing the mind of God.
It seems to me sometimes that some of the great controversies in the Church’s history surrounding the nature of God as Trinity give us examples of humans making great claims about knowing more than is possible about the mind of God, about God’s very nature.
That is not to say that we don’t need to grapple with the issues surrounding the nature of our God as Father, Son and Spirit. It is just to say that we need to be very careful about making too strong our claims as to what God is like in Godself.
The theologians of the early centuries of the Church sometimes give the impression that they considered that Greek philosophy of the time gave them all of the tools they needed to give a fairly exact description of the nature of God as Trinity. Subsequent reflection on these efforts to express the inexpressible have taught us to be very careful about absolute claims in this regard.
These days, thanks to the developments in linguistic philosophy during the twentieth century, we are much more aware of the fact that that the sort of things that we say about God can only be expressed in metaphorical language. In fact, even the word God is a type of metaphor for the Christian God.
For example, I can point to the organ over there and say: “There is an organ”. There is a one-for-one relation between the word “organ” and the “object organ”. But I cannot point anywhere and say: “There is God”, with the same one-for-one relation.
One of the important things for us to recognise about metaphorical language is that it does not have this “one-for-oneness” about it. In fact, when we use a metaphor to name or describe something, we are only using some of the meaning of the metaphorical word to cast light upon that which we are naming or describing. For example, if I say that Fortescue is a gem of a bloke, you probably assume that I mean he is valuable or attractive, not that he is a hard little object that is probably overvalued. The great 20th century French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, expressed this reality by saying that when we use a metaphor to say what something is, we must also hear the whispered “is not”.
What this means is that all religious language is metaphorical because we cannot use any words that give us a “one-for-oneness” relation when we are talking about our God who is beyond words.
God is a rock, but not hard and mindless;
God is our father, but not male;
God is a king, but not an autocrat;
God is trinity, but not three Gods.
So what might the metaphorical suggestion of the word trinity be? Some theologians suggest that the inference that we can draw from the metaphor “trinity” is relatedness. In other words, they are saying that God in Godself is essentially relational. The dynamic of Father and Son and Spirit within the Godhead consists of an eternal inter-relationship of love, sometimes described imaginatively as an eternal dance.
So what does this understanding of the Trinity mean for us? Well firstly, it fills us with the confidence that we are loved unconditionally by God because it is the very nature of God to be relational and reach outwards in love to the whole creation. The only reasonable response on our part to this deep, abiding, unconditional, undeserved love on the part of God is praise of God. This is commonly referred to in theological terms as doxology – praise of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We express this in many ways in our prayers and worship – like the Gloria that we sing on Sundays and the doxology: Glory to God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit: as in the beginning, so now, and for ever. Amen.
The other thing that it means for us is that we are called to share the experience of that being loved, being valued, with one another and with those we meet.
One of the ways that we do both of these things is through our common worship and our reception of the sacrament, the communion that Jesus has left us.
Another way that we share the experience of being loved unconditionally is the efforts we make to love others, to see the face of Jesus in those we meet, live and work with. In so far as we live in loving relations with others, we reflect the very heart of God who is relational, who is Trinity.
Let us pray:
God our creator,
you have made each one of us in every part.
Bless us through and through,
that we may delight to serve you to the full.
Bless our eyes, that we may discern the beauty you give.
Bless our ears, that we may hear you in the music of sounds.
Bless our sense of smell, that your fragrance may fill our being.
Bless our lips, that we may speak your truth, and sing your joy.
Bless our hands, that they may play, write and touch as you guide them.
Bless our feet, that they may be messengers of your peace.
Bless our imaginations, that we may be fired with wonder in your truth.
Bless our hearts, that they may be filled with your love.
Bless us through and through,
that we may delight to serve you to the full,
through Jesus Christ, who took our nature to make us whole. Amen.
1. How often do I sit in quiet solitude and reflect upon the greatness of our God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit caught up in an eternal dance of reciprocal love?
2. How do I go about responding to this great God of ours through simple acts of giving glory in worship and action towards others?
Father Allan Paulsen