June 1, 2015

The Communal Life of God

            The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday, which we celebrated yesterday.  It cheered my heart to see many Baptists posting icons and reflections on this mostly ignored liturgical celebration.  Perhaps we are discovering we are part of the larger Body of Christ after all.  The Trinity is the chief confession we make as Christians, and it is indispensable to faith formation and practice.

Masaccio, 1401-1428?. Holy Trinity, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            I taught my Sunday School class yesterday, and we had a grand conversation about “telling it slant” (Emily Dickinson’s term) in attempting to describe the triune life of God.  Some left glassy-eyed, but contemplating the ways God comes to us ought to prompt a sense that it is beyond easy calculation.  We usually go off the rails when we try to “count” the Trinity in any literal numerical way.
            Some will contend that the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in Scripture; however, the three-fold cadence of God’s history with creation suggests that from creation to redemption to the hope of consummation, God as creative power, saving love, and ecstatic transformation is constant.  Indeed, God plays all the roles in the drama of salvation, as Alister McGrath writes.

Trinity Knot Symbol, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            The early practice of Christian baptism and the offering of benediction In the New Testament illumine the growing awareness that how one thinks of God has shifted from the simplicity of the Shema, which declares, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God is one.”  Christians did not recant this foundational affirmation, but recognized that God’s oneness includes a trinitarian expression.
            Artists and iconographers have devoted their best efforts to visualizing the Triune God, which has raised suspicions that Christians are not truly monotheists.  Yet, these beautiful portrayals give us a sense of the community in which God dwells through self-giving relations.  Indeed, the identity of the three is only established through the differentiation of the Giver, Gift, and Gifting movements of the divine life.

Notke, Bernt, ca. 1440-1509. Trinity, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            Perhaps more than any other doctrine, the Trinity demonstrates that God chooses to be with us.  God does not choose to remain in a heaven that keeps the divine and human cordoned off, but rather shares life with all creation.  That our world continues to be is evidence of this sustaining relationship.
            My business card for Central is a fold-over so that I could get the following information in it.  Ever the professor, I wrote:
Perichoresis is a Greek word that describes the mutual indwelling of the Triune God.  Through the Spirit God invites human participation in the divine life—invites us to share in God’s creative dance.         
The trinitarian life of God is marked by generativity, diversity, and hospitality.  The community of Central Seminary is perichoretic as well.  We strive to embody these virtues as we learn to make our home with one another in God.

            It is the goal of the church to correspond to this self-giving community as we become the image of the Trinity.  Then we will better understand the significance of this doctrine.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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