Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things Aren't Always What They Seem

When I was about thirteen years old we made our first trip as a family out to Delaware. It would be my first time going to the ocean. When it came to vacations, we had a tradition in our family, in which, we could get a few magazines or books at Kroger right prior to going. I remember vividly what I chose. I got a bunch of books on sharks and shark attacks. The trip was long and I read each book, cover to cover. When we did arrive, I fell in love with the ocean; each day of the vacation you would find me swimming. On one of our last days, I became more courageous and swam out further into the ocean. I was just wading in the water, floating around, and enjoying one of my last days of vacation. I was way out; in fact, I was probably a good twenty yards away from the nearest swimmer. But I noticed something odd. As I looked down the entire beach front, everyone was coming out of the water. I thought, What's going on? Just then, I saw and heard the lifeguard shout through his speaker phone, “Everyone out of the water! Everyone out of the water! Sharks! Sharks!” I had never heard more frightening words. I turned around and sure enough, swimming out near a tanker further out were about a dozen fins. Immediately, I swam toward the shore as fast as I could. Only one problem though, all I could think about was all of those shark attack stories I had read as we drove out to Delaware. In particular, I remembered that sharks most often attack in shallow waters when their prey believe that they're safe. I kept pumping my arms; kicking my legs; and finally, without a scratch on me, I crawled up onto shore. Just then, standing above me was the life guard and into his speakerphone he yelled, “False alarm. Just dolphins.” After that, I don’t think I swam anymore before we left to go home.

Sometimes, things aren't what they seem. This is the case when it comes to the Trinity. You think you know God in one way and he turns around and changes things a bit. This was especially the case with first century Jews. They grew up on the words, “The Lord is One.And that was and is true; but it’s not the whole truth. In the first century, the doctrine of the Trinity threw everybody for a loop, and to this day, it does the same. So why is the doctrine of the Trinity so important? Why do we even wrestle with this ultimately mysterious issue? Why not just leave it to the theologians to argue over? The Trinity is so very important because it is the starting point with our view of God. When one doesn't come to at least a rudimentary grasp of the Trinity, their view of God is, at best, shallow and worse, profane. But let's make no bones about it, the doctrine of the Trinity is very difficult to get your hands on or your mind around. It's nearly impossible to put in words. As you know in the early church, the church had to come to grips with what they believed and so, they wrote out different creeds to tell others what they believed, and did not believe. Believe it or not, there is one such creed concerning the Trinity; it is called the Athanasian Creed. One part of it states, “As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.” As you can see, words fail us. Clarity is difficult to find.

We must remember that this doctrine is something our little minds can never fully understand. We must come to the point that we know that God is limitless and we are finite. Yet we have a problem with this; as creatures of the 21st century we want to know everything. In the world, there is some much knowledge that runs about and we have a sense of entitlement that we should know all that there is to know. I like what Dorothy Sayers had to say on the topic. Listen carefully, "Why do you complain that the proposition God is three in one is obscure and mystical and yet acquiesce meekly in the physicist's fundamental formula, ‘two P minus PQ equals IH over two Pi where I equals the square root of minus one’ when you know quite well that the square root of minus one is paradoxical in Pi is incalculable?" There are many things within the Christian faith that fall under the realm of mystery; two, would be, the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ and God’s providence. The doctrine of the Trinity is no different. And this is the great problem that many believers face; if we don't understand it, we won't believe it.

So how can we explain this difficult belief of ours? How do we explain to someone that we believe in one God but three “Persons?” We have all heard different analogies of explaining the Trinity. When our boys were young we bought them a childen’s book that attempted to explain the Trinity as an apple. The Father is the skin of the apple. He is our protector. The Son is the flesh of the apple. He is the one who makes us strong. The Holy Spirit is the seed or core. He helps us to grow. We must, however, remember that all analogies fail when it comes to the Trinity. In fact, all analogies lean toward some kind of heresy. Why? Because God can not be analogous. If you could compare God to an egg, what would that say about him? It is impossible to compare God to anything. Actually, the only thing we can compare him to is us. We are the only thing he made in his image. And yet even we are a faint comparison to the living God. Analogies can be helpful but we must always keep in the back of our mind that they are flawed.

Perhaps just plain words are better descriptors. I like how C.S. Lewis pictured the Trinity. He saw that God, who is triune in nature, as someone who is “super-personal.” We can't even imagine such a person; again, only we ourselves are somewhat of a similarity. I like that phrase he uses, super-personal; God is personal to an extreme. Without being schizophrenic, he is so personal that he can have fellowship with himself! Actually he is more than a person. Meditate on that for awhile. I believe there can be a comfort and an excitement that one can find in such an understanding. One day we will all stand face to face to this ultimately personal Person. More importantly, today we can have a relationship with that Person. That is a joyous and exciting thought!

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