The Triune God
I was just reading this essay by Jürgen Moltmann, the German Protestant theologian and an adamant defender of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
I have heard many of these points before, though doubtless they didn’t convey the point as well as Moltmann does, that we are created in the image of community: to live as separate persons who operate as one, reflective of the creative power of God, who is the timeless community. That’s all very well and good. What stands out for me in this particular work of his, is the following statement:
Regardless of the terminology we use, we hold that God is no single Lord in Heaven who rules everything, as a temporal ruler would. Nor do we mean some sort of cold power of providence who determines all and cannot be affected by anything. Remember, the triune God is a social God, rich in internal and external relationships.
That’s significant to me, because, at first glance, it appears to go against cherished orthodoxy. God as anything but the sovereign Lord and ruler of all things? Surely not. Surely we hold dear to the utter sovereignty of God who does indeed rule over everything?
I think the significance of the paragraph is its qualifier: He does not rule as a temporal ruler would. If we are to understand the thoroughly true claim that Jesus is Lord, we must also understand what that Lordship is, and how it has been conducted. The Trinity is not just relevant to a world steeped in injustice, but is absolutely essential to it. As one member of the Trinity suffers, then in unity God Himself has suffered. The theology of the cross is the crucified God, the God who proves His greatness by becoming the least, and by allowing Himself to suffer as humanity suffers. The relevance then, comes, from the truth that God is both crucified and resurrected; made to suffer, and then triumphant in liberation. This lies at the heart of hope for all those who have been oppressed.
As Moltmann claims, and I agree, Christianity loses everything that makes it challenging, exciting, and interesting, if we renounce our Triune understanding of God. Without it, Jesus becomes a decent human being with profound moral teachings and an exemplary life. And of course, as many of us would hasten to argue, there is nothing wrong with this kind of example. However, if we are to explore the deep mysteries of the Christian faith and how it speaks to a fallen world, then Jesus must be so much more than a great human being. He must be the ultimate mystery Himself: the mystery of God made flesh, and the God who conquers by defeat.
Jesus is Lord, but He also assures us that He serves us even as we serve Him. Some of you might remember a while back I referred to a quote by Gandhi, who said that it means very little to worship a God who died and was resurrected 2000 years ago, but that it means much more to worship a God who dies and is resurrected daily. I appeal to the truth of that statement, for the suffering and death of an eternal God must surely mean, however mysterious the way it happens, that the Triune God holds in His memory the bitter taste of the blood He shed for our sakes. And if the memory of that blessed death holds an eternal crucifixion, then surely the resurrection holds an eternal hope for liberation.
“We who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread.” We are a relational community, ourselves forged in the image of the God who is an eternal community, the living outworking of relational love. As Paul tells the Corinthian Church, we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, as a true community does. Yet, at any given moment, people around the world are simultaneously rejoicing and weeping, even within the body of Christ. Therefore, we lament for the way things remain, and rejoice for the hope we have in Him. The mystery of our faith is one of divine sadness, and divine comfort.
We recently celebrated the Christmas season which, for all its secularised and commercial underpinnings, reminds those who trust in the Gospel that the God of the universe once came to us in the form of a helpless child amidst the bleak setting of poverty, terror, political corruption, and infant genocide. Far from being visited by kings in the midst of a still and quiet region, as the old carols would have us believe, Jesus comes to us as the blessed Emmanuel, God with us, among the injustices that are every bit as true to our time as they were to Bethlehem upon His arrival. The Christmas night is more than beauty; it’s about the Incarnation, the incomprehensible paradox that an infinite and eternal God would become a finite, temporal human being, to be the light of the world through the trials of darkness.
The Incarnation, just like the Cross, are more than symbols. They are the reality of the God who, in His own suffering and liberation, suffers with us, and liberates us.