Why I do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity (and why I think that matters)
This is not exactly a new theme for me. Some of you will recall my sermon a couple of years ago titled, “Why stop at three?” (Which apparently was as much about God as it was my family.) If I think back farther I can recall 8 years ago being examined for ordination and being welcomed by one pastor on the examination group who dubbed me “Servetus.” (Google him, Michael Servetus, and you will see that Calvin had him executed, most any established religious authority of his day would have done the same so no bad rap for Calvin exactly. I do maybe share some in common with him, if nothing more than a penchant for questioning established “right” answers.) Servetus himself had Trinitarian issues and while I’m not willing to lump my opinion in with his whole cloth, we are barking up the same tree (so to speak).
There are many levels to my comment, “I do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.” First of all what exactly do we believe in? As faith statements go do we believe in doctrines? …scripture? …the church? I don’t believe so (pun intended). I believe in the living God, a God attested to in Jesus Christ by scripture and hopefully through the church and its teachings. All of these things are important and to certain degrees even necessary – but the belief statement is in the living God – not the methods of revelation and the resulting wrestling with what that faith calls me to be and do in the world.
But today I’m picking on the Trinity not these other aspects of our faith in the living God. I’m dwelling on the Trinity because it seems to be dwelling on me. I don’t want to get bogged down so let me just say give the gist of my thought. I believe in a triune God – the living God – but not the doctrine of Trinity. I find the doctrine problematic on many levels. But the biggest one is this – it gets us caught up in the wrong task. It gets us caught up in naming what we can precisely say and understand about the mystery of God and the nature of God and reconciling two (perhaps) contrary claims in monotheism and the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Spirit (you know… the Holy one). Yah that’s all its trying to do… just a simple task – well… that just can’t be done. It is trying to name that which makes no sense and isn’t meant for us to be able to comprehend. It’s why the actual words of the doctrine gets us going in circles with persons and substances and being (none of which mean in English what they meant for the Greek and Latin theologians who first used them) and three in one that is neither separate or completely unified. The doctrine is a razors edge and as I see it not one worth walking. We cannot comprehend the mystery of God’s being – just let it be, just let God be God.
Rather than trying to pin down the being of God in human words what seems more fruitful is to focus our energy on precisely how the knowledge of the Triune God is a true gift to us that is missed by the works of doctrines. The gift is that God is communal in nature. Depending on how you count there are in the area of 100 – 200 names and metaphors for God in the Bible (thus the opening comment, why stop at three). What becomes clear is that God is more than any single set of words can articulate. Jesus tries some in John’s gospel… and it’s not clear what exactly he thinks he’s saying except this – the nature of God is in relationship. God is three in one – neither distinct or all one. And God created us in that image.
The Genesis language of creation says that God created humankind in God’s image. Not that God created one person as the image of one God. But that a communal God created the community of humanity in the image of God. We are created to work together – neither distinct nor all one being.
I believe in God that is attested to in many ways – a living Lord at work in vital ways in the world and whose nature is mystery beyond the simple fact that God is communal and God is love and we are created to reflect that – to be that – in the world.
There is an old understanding of the Trinity called perichoresis. (dance-around). The triune image of God is three persons dancing in a circle that emphasizes the indwelling and interdependence of being. This is a Trinity I can love and learn with – for we created to join the dance and extend the dance – an ever bigger community of God. We dwell with and within each other and God as we join in the dance of God’s being that is love. We do not need to explain the Trinity, we need to live it. This is why it is important that we do not make the Trinity into a concept that we believe in – a set of right words to intellectualize God – but rather a reality to live. For to name a triune God is to recognize that even God does not live and work alone but by God’s own nature God lives and works in community. This is the nature of God. It’s our nature too. Thanks be to God.