Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday: God is love

Today various branches of the Christian faith reflect upon the central theological doctrine of The Holy Trinity.

I am not personally interested in abstract jargon about the trinity. Nor do I believe that the trinity is a literal description of the divine ontology. The Trinity is a religious symbol and all such symbols are poetry not prose; metaphor, not factual declaration. The Trinity is a symbol about our experience of the divine, and not a literal/factual description of the deity.

This particular metaphor is multifaceted, it means a number of things. But what I want to focus on is the claim that "God is love." C. S. Lewis once wrote that The Trinity allows us to say that God is love. This is because, Lewis argued, the Triune God is NOT a person, but a set of relationships. Lewis took this too literally for my taste, but his point stands, love is a relationship and it is in love that we find the divine.

Two New Testament teachings explain this: The first is Jesus' declaration in Mark 12 (and Parallels) that the greatest commandment is "to love God with all one's heart mind and soul," which, for Jesus, is done by "loving one's neighbor (everyone) as one loves oneself." For Jesus - this is abundantly clear in the gospels - one loves God by loving one's fellow human beings.

The Second passage is 1 John 4:16. "God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him." Again, to touch the divine, love your fellow human beings.

Never mind whether you believe in some god or other. Atheist, agnostic, theist, or whatever ... surely it is true that in loving each other, in caring for one another, in working for peace, reconciliation, and understanding we come into touch with that which is sacred, holy, divine. Nothing more need be said than that.

And it is this that we celebrate this Trinity Sunday: The healing and empowering force of love.

I've always found the following hymn a powerful presentation of this theme:

Here are the Lyrics:

Where compassion and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us reverence and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other.

Where compassion and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where compassion and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages.

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  1. I agree with your thoughts on love. I'm not very religious, but I do love.

  2. Thank you Roger.

    I've come to think that whether one is religous or not; whether one prays, goes to church, believes in a god .. or one does not, is not a crucial question.

    However, whether one loves or not; whether one is committed to justice or not .. that is absolutely essential!

    It means far more to me that one embrace love and justice, then that one embrace a creed or a religion.

    For my own part: I have strong religous sentiments, but in a non-creedal and pretty unorthodox way. But that is my own peculiarity I guess.

  3. Not to sound like a jerk, but I think about Karl Marx's powerful statement often: "Religion is the opium of the people".

  4. I understand Del. I don't think you are being a jerk at al.

    Marx, presumably, meant that religion dopes people up so they don't question society. That someties happens. And Marx had a point.

    However ... Marx was far too superficial here. Though religion can and sometimes is an opium, it's usually far more passionate; for both good and evil.

    Rather than dope us up it usually stirs action. Think of crusades, inquisitoins, witch burnings, the Christian right. It gets people to passionately stir up emotions to defend the status quo at all cost.

    But equally, Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King jr, and many others have been inspired by their religions to love, fight for equality, inclusion, justice, human rights, and peace.

    So I would say that religion is far more often a strong stirer of passions (both evil and good) than an opiate ... though it can be that too.

  5. A belated comment! Thanks for including the beautiful hymn ("Ubi Caritas") sung by the King's Choir in Cambridge. I had heard this choir sing in Cambridge and had forgotten the touching majesty of the experience. So also, as we wrestle with the articulation of faith we forget by abstraction what we are talking about. You said that C.S. Lewis spoke of the Holy Trinity as a set of relationships. To go on from there: it is the prime symbol that expresses the belief in integration and co-inherance at the heart of reality. W. T. Stace found the essence of mysticism as ineffable unitive experience. That experience apprehends something of the sense of the Holy Trinity, I think. So also do the uplifting voices of the King's Choir.

  6. Not to be petty (and yet I am being), but "love is the answer" did not go over well with my religion professor in graduate school. The final test was oral, and as we discussed many things, when she asked me to sum it up, I said, "I sounds simple but it's really not. It's "love." To love as completely and unconditionally as Jesus, or the modern example found in the recently departed Mother Teresa, is perhaps the hardest thing to do, but it is the action with the most power. It can change everything." Sitting at our tiny table in the cafe, I could see that my teacher thought my answer lacked "critical thought," which when I think "critically" about love, I think her perception was absurd. I try to love, try not to judge, I self-examine when I notice my own strong emotional reactions, and I am so far away from accomplishing any kind of all-encompassing love. Love is the answer, but that does not make it an easy answer.

  7. Thank you for the comments Ross.

    I am quite interesed in this idea of the divine being ineffable. I think that taking that seriously very probably means something like: God can be lived, or sung about, not intellectually grasped - at least not in plain language and concepts.

    Too me the main point of the trinity has always been this idea that Ultimate reality is relational and not some isolated and separate being; God is dynamic; not static. I like the way you expressed that.
    This is why, I think, we can't take our symbols too literally.


    Very interesting story ... thank you for sharing.


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