As a Christian, I am constantly trying to think through the contours of this faith I profess to live by. It seems that Christian beliefs are increasingly misunderstood and held to be authoritative by fewer and fewer people. What I find is that the more deeply one considers Christian beliefs, the more radical they appear to be, not only for professed Christians, but for the whole of humanity. To be honest, I also find this with religious belief systems other than Christianity. Thich Nhat Hahn helped many of us understand Zen Buddhism more deeply and the implications of following the way he describes are astounding. So when I speak of going deep into the beliefs of my own tradition, I am not trying to make a case, per se, that they are better than other religious beliefs on offer. I am saying that when I go deeply into the tradition with which I am most familiar, and which makes my life coherent, and with which I have fallen in love, I find myself having stumbled into a beautiful garden hidden in plain view.
So I have been thinking about the Trinity lately. The doctrine of the Trinity is the Christian description of the mysterious, yet very real, nature of God. In describing God as Triune, Christians are saying that God is not a being among other beings, but rather, a Being of a different order altogether than the beings that make up the universe. And yet that Being is not a monad, not an aloof solitary figure off somewhere else deciding on its own to create this or that. Rather, God as Trinity means that the nature of God’s Being is a dynamic relationship of three-in-one. Why three? Because God is not a monad (solitary), nor a dyad (dualistic), but a community of three partners who share mutual love for one another. My favorite description of the Trinity is “perichoresis,” a word meaning “dance in the round.” Through this metaphor, the very Being of God is imagined as a dynamic cosmic dance. This nature of God is true both internally/exclusively – God has a life of God’s own that does not depend on human understanding – but it is also true externally/inclusively because the life of God’s Trinity pours out on behalf of all creation, including all of humanity. The nature of God’s Trinity, which is also God’s Being, which is also God’s Love, is that it overflows. It is this overflowing of God’s Triune Love that humans not only know, but it is the One in whom “we live and move and have our being,” whether we profess it or not.
Recently I read Nancy Ellen Abrams’ “A God That Could Be Real.” In it she describes her own idea of God as that which evolves from human consciousness and is a facet of the universe. To me, her book reads like an attempt to describe “God within the limits of science alone,” which is ultimately unsatisfying because its reifies God, that is, makes God into a thing, which it is not in God’s nature to be. Nevertheless, her book is provocative, especially in the ways it makes connections between trying to think about God in light of the universe as we are now capable of understanding it. In one section, she talks about the scales of the universe, from the smallest quantum scale to the vastest scale of the increasingly expanding universe. Her treatment of how space and time work at the various scales of the universe prompted me to wonder about the Trinity in terms of space and time and I came up with a Trinity of Nowhere/Never, Somewhere/Now and Everywhere/Always.
Might we understand God the Creator (Mother/Father) as at once Nowhere and Never? That is, in the same way that before we existed in the twinkling eye of the universe, our parents existed, but we weren’t there to apprehend them. They existed outside of time, as if never existing. They were an impossibility to us because we were not conscious to understand them as a possibility. And yet they existed because here we are. If God is indeed God, then God exists beyond/before/outside of space and time. This is the God Meister Eckhart referred to in his “Via Negativa” when he said, “I pray God to rid me of God.” He wasn’t an aspiring atheist. He was trying to invoke the God which exists beyond the scope of human imagining and can only be invoked “negatively” by ridding all human notions of God. This God is both Nowhere and Never, at least as human understanding could allow.
But the doctrine of the Trinity won’t let humans remain there because God is also Somewhere and Now, namely, in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the scandal of Soren Kierkegaard’s “Absolute Paradox,” that the God who is beyond space and time also entered space and time definitively in the life of a single unique person. It is a scandal because it is offensive to human reasoning. The absolute cannot also be the relative. The almighty cannot also be weak. The fully divine cannot also be fully human. And yet that is the paradox which Christian’s profess, that God who is Nowhere and Never, becomes, in the Christ, Somewhere and Now. The bridge is built, not from humanity to divinity, but from divinity to humanity. This is the revelatory gift of the incarnation. The “not being” became being, the not-flesh became flesh and dwelt among us. I’m reminded of my favorite quote by Simone Weil, “Creation came about not by a process of addition, but of diminution, such that God plus creation equals less than God alone” (paraphrase). This is “kenosis,” or God’s self-emptying, which makes not only Christ’s existence possible, but creation itself, somewhere (here) and sometime (now).
If God the Creator is God Nowhere/Never and God the Christ is God Somewhere/Now, the Holy Spirit is God Everywhere/Always. A few years ago, I “discovered” the meaning of the Ascension. Perhaps because the Feast of the Ascension never lands on a Sunday, many Christians, including myself, didn’t pay it much attention. Also, it tended to smack of Catholic magicalism according to Protestant bias. But what I discovered is that, without the Ascension, the resurrected body of Christ would have roamed the earth forever, always within a fixed time and place, and never available beyond that fixed time and place. Without the Ascension on the 40th day after Easter, there would have been no Pentecost on the 50th day, no sending of the Holy Spirit, which is the ever-present Spirit of Jesus the Christ upon the earth. The Holy Spirit is Always Everywhere. The question Psalm 139 is rhetorical: “Where can I go from your Spirit?” The only answer is “nowhere,” because the Spirit is everywhere. I remember riding a bus home from college, 15 hours from Portland, Oregon to Santa Cruz, California. We passed through many towns and cities and I had the thought, “No matter how strange this place is to me, it is a home to someone.” No matter what place on Earth, or in the universe, we can think of, God as Spirit has made God’s home there. God is Always Everywhere, even while being Now Somewhere in Christ and Never Nowhere in God the Creator.
Thanks for hanging in there this far with my theological musings. Before I close, I want to emphasize one more aspect of the Trinity, namely, that God is not three different entities that exists differently at different scales of the universe. God is three and one and one in three. All three are always in the one. God cannot be parsed. God is a diversity in unity and a unity in diversity. God who is Never Nowhere is the same God who is Now Somewhere and Always Everywhere. God who is Now Somewhere is the same who is Always Everywhere and Never Nowhere. God who is Always everywhere is also Never Nowhere and Now Somewhere. Try meditating on that! For me, God as Trinity thwarts all Christian, and other, attempts to reduce God to a formula or a slogan or a justification or a talisman. God as Trinity is an entryway into a very real mystery and an equally mysterious reality that is the reality within which we all live and move and have our being.