The old man in the sky who makes things happen with the pointing of his finger is the God he does not believe in. In the first session of our Alpha course members were asked if they could put one question to God, what would that be? The question most asked was, ‘Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?’
Behind this question is an image of God as depicted
in Michelangelo’s painting. By pointing his finger, God makes momentous things happen – earthquakes, plagues, victory in battle and so forth. In the Old Testament there are many stories of God working doing just this.
Actually, as a Christian, I don’t believe God works this way in our world today. I do believe that God has decisively entered into the destiny of the cosmos and every one of us through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus. But as for day to day matters, be they famines, huge inequalities, wars and sectarian hatred, pollution, the health of my loved one, these things are our responsibility. We continue to pray but the answers we receive are mostly in the strength to carry on and to serve lovingly.
From the beginning of their faith journey, the Jews believed it was impossible to define or describe God. They were forbidden to use the word ‘God’, instead when they needed to speak about the almighty they used various sets of letters, mostly unpronounceable to indicate the divine. The word ELOHIM made up of vowels and no consonants is one commonly used in the Old Testament.
With respect to seeing God, they believed that even a glimpse of God would mean certain death. In the rare visions of the divine presence that are recorded in the Old Testament we have amazing vistas.
Moses was confronted with the divine in a blazing bush which was not consumed by the fire. He asked God to tell him his name. God’s answer was ‘I am”. That can also mean, I am here, I am present, I exist.
The first chapter of Ezekiel describes an encounter with the divine. The amazing vision is like nothing on earth. Fire, flashes of light, many-headed and many-winged, noisy creatures accompanied by wheels within wheels. These wheels whose rims were made of eyes, could move in all directions in unison with the winged creatures. When din died down and the smoke cleared Ezekiel saw seated on a sapphire throne what looked like a man whose lower half was flames. He believed he was in the presence of God.
Elijah’s vision of God was different again. He
witnessed a gale, and then an earthquake and then a fire, but God was not in any of these. Instead God came to him in a gentle breeze and a still, small voice.
With the coming of Jesus there is something else.
Jesus says he is the Son of God. More than that he says that he is God. He is the way, the truth and life.
And what about the Spirit who has been there from the beginning. It is the Spirit who is brooding over the roaring waters –Genesis 1.2. In the New
Testament the Spirit emerges from the shadows. Now we see him as a person in his own right. Present in the baptism of Jesus, and active in the formation of the church, and personal in bringing courage and comfort to individual Christians.
This was a puzzle for the early Christians. But soon some of their leaders were talking about the
Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Not three different gods, but three Gods in one. In the first century AD, Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr were writing about God the three in one. It was in 325AD that the Council of Nicea adopted the Nicene Creed and since then the Trinity has been central in almost all Christian denominations, including Roman Catholic and Orthodox.
I like the doctrine of the Trinity because it is inconceivable. In the world of human intelligence and perception the Trinity is clearly beyond our understanding. It is not an idea that we can domesticate. It is not possible to put God in our box – the church’s box, in our personal box. The almighty presence in the universe cannot be cut down to size – it extends beyond the reaches of human knowledge and understanding. And that is how it should be. No matter how we imagine the divine, he/she/it is always different, bigger, more mysterious. We know only what we have been shown. In Jesus Christ the awesome power in our universe has shown us his/her face.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He gave them what we now call the Lord’s prayer. The oldest and shortest version of this prayer is found in Luke 11. Jesus says start like this; “Father (Abba – means Daddy), hallowed (or honored,
respected) be your name”.
On the one hand Jesus invites the person praying into the intimacy of a child and parent, and in the next breath, he asks that we enter this relationship with respect. When a church or a person talks as if the Divine is in their club, or their pocket, that is
disrespectful. Jesus tells us that God invites us into a warm and intimate relationship but, nevertheless we should approach with awe. In prayer we are touching the wonderfully, amazing heart of the universe. We are being welcomed into a realm of the Trinity which is beyond our imagining.
I have been reading of the wonderful and fearless Patron Saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. He faced many terrors but he did not flinch. Here are the words of an ancient hymn attributed to Saint Patrick.
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
Post script: My friend who no longer believes in God
still believes in the power of love. He writes that “the power of love was central to Jesus ministry”.
Personally, I think it is the greatest power in the
universe and it is the essence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Stan Stewart May 29, 2018
I prepared this for Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018