Trinity and love

I wrote most of this with Trinity Sunday coming up, Trinitatis in the church I grew up in – but I didn’t get round to finishing it. Ah well.

The Scriptures for this Sunday as indicated in the Revised Common Lectionary (see or are, as often, rather appropriate: Proverbs 8:1-3 and 22-31 speaks of the existence of personified wisdom, חכמה, σοφία, and her existence from the days of creation, prior even to the earth (vv22f). Psalm 8 is perhaps the classic psalm describing divine majesty, the glory of God, and this is expressed foremost through the language of creation, just as in Prov 8. Both Prov 8 and Ps 8 are celebrations of God as God, something that cannot be dictated, indeed must not be forced: it is an expression of an attitude that can only come out of meditation and reflection on life.

(Of course, those of us who are a socialists – for how can you be a Christian and not be a socialist?! – always need some extra effort to overcome the feeling that such praise of God will frequently have a tendency, because of human weakness, to slip into an attempt, however subconscious, to try and ‘butter up’ God: after all, that is what we use praise for in classic relationships of unequal power; it is the language of the subordinate towards the always potentially dangerous fat git on the throne. But that is not so here – or at least, it should not be understood that way, though no doubt it frequently is. But that is another story.)

Read in the context of the praise of God, the creator, Romans 5 and John 16 develop this thought further, each in its own way: Romans 5:1-11 in working out, within the greater Pauline scheme of things, how Jesus as the Christ has changed the relationship between God and humankind (a difficult text in many ways, but we’ll leave that to another day), and John 16:12-15 announces the Spirit. I’ll leave all that for the moment, for what I was really thinking of is love.

We can all wax lyrically, or should I say about theologically about the trinity: or rather, systematic theologians can do that – and I am happy to leave that to them. It seems to me though, simple theologian that I am, that the ‘fact’ behind the historical development of the doctrine of the trinity is quite simply that it is very difficult to express the divine. The witness of our spiritual forebears speaks of God, of Jesus the Christ, and of the Holy Spirit – and they are all expressions of the divine, indeed our experience of and history with the divine. But: if we take the incarnation in particular seriously, or rather as a the key to it all, it seems to me that one fundamental thing is important: trinity is love.

Trinity is love because at the core of it, without wanting to diminish the importance of the Spirit, is the incarnation: the very act of the divine engaging with the painful reality of human life. We read this, in the Christian tradition, first of all as an act of love (and I won’t get into the story of the atonement here either). What is important here is that love is painful, risky, dangerous. It is decidedly not the warm fuzzy feeling we are supposed to get in church, smiling sweetly at each other. Love is hard work (well, sometimes smiling can be hard work, too, but that is another story yet again). Love is difficult.

This is implicit even in the more classic forms of expressing what love means, such as this one by Mechthild of Magdeburg (ca.1207-ca.1294):

If you love Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment, then you will not only speak of compassion, but act with it. Compassion means seeing your friend and your enemy in equal need, and helping both equally. It demands that you seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner, and comfort him and offer him your help. Herein lies the holy compassion of God that causes the devil much distress.

There is a good piece by a blogger in the USA (“Wormwood: Cogito Ergo Sum Episcopalian”), which reflects on the pain of love: love is sacrifice, love is dirty, painful, messy. Love is dangerous: it can get you beaten up or killed. Hans de Boer once said, I remember from a talk some 25 years ago, that if you are a Christian and you don’t get beaten up by Nazis every now and then, there is something wrong with you.

(Perhaps I’ll talk a bit about Hans de Boer some other time; he is not all that well known, but a remarkable figure. There is a little bit of biographical information here at this University of Waikato website, in the context of the rise of Neo-Nazis in New Zealand. It doesn’t mention things like the fact that his wife was tortured to death in front of him by Vietnamese soldiers, with US-American ‘adivsors’ watching – extraordinary rendition is nothing new. But that, too, is another story.)

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