In the doctrine of the Trinity we are faced with how little we are able to understand the greatness and complexity of God. We begin our worship service each Sunday morning “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” but the Bible tells us there is only one God. “Hear, O Israel,” says Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” One God. That was simple enough for a few thousand years. But then Jesus came saying things like “I and the Father are One,” and at the same time, praying to the Father, even as he died. Then Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit, so we have another distinct person. Yet, insisted Jesus, still one God.
So have you got that? Do you understand? Of course you don’t understand. This is God we are talking about here, and why would anyone think they would be able to understand God? We have in the Bible convincing eyewitness accounts of people who experienced the presence of God. That much we can know. But to know ALL about God, and to understand God fully, is not something we can reasonably expect to manage.
However, we have all experienced God in our lives, and we have experienced God in three primary ways. And those three ways that we know and experience God, are also the three ways that we know about God in the Trinity. There are three persons in the one God that we believe in, three articles to the Creed, and three parts to this meditation– each having to do with how we know and experience God.
#1) GOD THE CREATOR. Some might want to argue the point about how all of us have experienced the presence of God. You might say, “I have never ‘felt’ God’s presence. I believe in God, but I am not like some people who talk about how they just feel that Jesus is with them every step of the way.” Well, I’m with you on some of that. I have heard some amazing stories of how people feel, and even hear and see God’s presence. But I don’t have any stories like that to tell.
However, we can all point to the effects of God’s presence. How? Well, to begin with, you are here, aren’t you? In the first article of the Apostle’s Creed, we say we believe in “God the Father Almighty, CREATOR of heaven and earth.” In the catechism we learn that means we believe that “God has created me and all that exists, that he has given and still preserves to me my body and soul with all their powers, and that God provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need…” Everything we have and are is the result of God’s creation, whether or not we feel that or acknowledge it. That is how we first experience God– as God the Father, Creator of everything.
The Lord God Almighty has given you everything. That is one way we experience God. But the Lord also takes things away, doesn’t He? Have you ever had anything taken away– a blessing, a hope, an opportunity, a job, your good health, a loved one? Directly or indirectly, it is God who gives everything, and, in the end, it is God who takes everything away, or allows it to be taken away. Job in the Old Testament, after losing everything said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Getting things taken away is always painful, and we then ask “Why God?”
But we may as well also ask why God gives us anything in the first place, or, why did he even create us? Out of love, you might say, and you would be right. But what if that love is not returned, but is despised and rejected– what then?
I have read about the huge and elaborate birthday parties some wealthy parents give for their children. These parties can cost over $10,000. As you might well imagine, these children, who for years have been on the receiving end of this kind of extravagance, often turn out to be quite spoiled. An article I read described one father who was having a hard time with his soon to be 16-year old daughter. He was pleading with her to accept his offer of either a brand new car for her birthday, or, a $15,000 birthday bash with all her friends. But this spoiled daughter was in no mood to negotiate, and was defiantly insisting on getting both. The father said, “Please won’t you take one or the other; that is all I can afford right now, and haven’t I always given you everything?” His daughter replied, “Yes, daddy, you have always given me everything, and so what makes you think you should stop now?” Yikes! Aren’t you already feeling sorry for the poor guy who is going to marry that little princess? The point is, when we are allowed to always receive and never asked to give, we do not become grateful and content. Rather, we just want more. We can become ruined and lost souls, without character or virtue or discipline or love or gratitude.
But now imagine another daughter, a pre-schooler, also in a foul mood. The mother says, “Here sweetie, do you want this?” But the toy being offered is taken by the girl and thrown on the floor, with loud and defiant crying. “How about this?” says the mother offering a book, but that is also taken and thrown on the floor, with more tears. Then the mother, picks up the toy and the book and threatens to take them away. Then comes louder cries and stomping of the feet. “Okay,” says the mother, “one more chance,” returning the book and the toy, only to see both thrown on the floor once again. Now finally, the mother has had it. She picks up the book and the toy, takes them away, and goes about her business, ignoring the even louder cries. The little girl’s fit goes on and on, but the mother pays no attention. Finally, the little girl sees that she is getting nowhere, and goes up to her mom quietly and asks for a hug. The little girl is quiet now and wants her mother’s love. Now, she is ready to obey her. Do you see what happened? Only by getting something taken away was the little girl’s attitude changed.
“The Lord giveth and the the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” How can we know what is best for us? That little girl did not know what was best. She didn’t even know what she wanted. The Bible says we are all such foolish and sinful little children before God. God not only sees much more than we do, but also has all eternity to make things right, even if we think things are not fair or right at the present moment.
Let us trust God in what he gives and in what he takes away.
This is the first way we know and experience God– as Creator and Giver and Judge, and One who will, in time, because of our sin, take away all that He has given. (continued…)
Deuteronomy 6:4 — Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
John 10:29 — (Jesus said), “I and the Father are one.”
John 16:13a — (Jesus said), “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
O Father, my hope; O Son, my refuge; O Holy Spirit, my protection. Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.
—Eastern Orthodox Church Liturgy