There is a story about the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo. One day after he had been writing about the Trinity for awhile, he decided to take a break and go walk along the beach. He came across a boy who had a bucket. He would fill up the bucket, run up the hill, and dump the water into the sand. He did this over and over until finally Augustine stopped the boy and asked, “What are you doing?”. The boy said, “I am draining the sea into the sand.” Augustine pointed out the futility of the task, and the boy replied, “Yes, but I will drain the sea before you understand the Trinity.”
Folks, I hate to tell you that if Augustine couldn’t figure it out, we’re not going to figure it out either.
The Three are one. The One is three. It doesn’t make any sense. It is not clear. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. But relating to God as Trinity is a profound experience for me, an experience that gets me as close to the Truth of God as I dare to go.
The point of the Trinity is not to separate out and define the parts: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Trinitarian theology merely opens up to us one way—the primary way—that Christians have worked to understand the vastness of God.
Yes. God is the Almighty Creator who spoke the world into being.
Yes. God is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth who fully embodied the extent of divine love for the world.
Yes. God is present with us today as Holy Spirit who guides and comforts and enlivens us.
It is important that we understand the breadth of the activity and personality of God. The doctrine of the Trinity should keep us from narrowing our vision of who God is and what God does; and this should broaden our understanding about who God loves, and what the work of God looks like in the world.
I don’t often show off with fancy Greek words. But some of them are worth learning. And there is one you need to know if we are going to continue this futile task of trying to understand the Trinity. This particular Greek term was introduced by the Cappodocian monks in the fourth century. It describes the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. The term is: perichoresis.
Creator, Christ, and Spirit relate by means of perichoresis. Like a lot of Greek words, this one is somewhat difficult to explain. There is no English word to use as a direct translation. It suggests the mutual indwelling of the three parts of the Holy Trinity. The idea is that all three parts are equal and their identities are based in each other.
But perichoresis is not a static concept. It has the same root as choreography. There is both inward and outward movement involved in the Divine Trinitarian relationship. Theologian Molly Marshall calls it “the dance that characterizes Divine life.”
To think of the Trinity in terms of perichoresis means that relationship is at the heart of the Divine identity. Relationships are not just something that God forms with creation as God sees fit, but relationship is who God is.
And if God is relationship, that means that we, too, are drawn into the Divine choreography. And our neighbors are drawn in. And all those who love us. And all those who hate us. And the stars. And the soil. And the squirrels that jump from tree to tree and eat from our bird feeders.
The perichoresis of the Trinity means that our God exists in and for relationship. And we, my friends, are made in God’s image. Made to be connected to the people and the world around us.
Ultimately, the Trinity is not a doctrine to be argued and recited. It is not even a concept to be understood. It is a mystery into which we are invited. A dance for all to join.
This post is excerpted from a longer sermon.