View from the pew


Proverbs 8: 1-4 and 22-31 Romans 5: 1-5 John 16: 12-15 Psalm 8


God’ (or whatever we call the ultimate reality behind everything) can be experienced in different ways. That makes some sense. But does the formal doctrine of ‘persons’ etc. still say anything we can believe in?


The doctrine of the Trinity has never made much sense to me. God, who created everything (including Himself!) is our Father but He is also his own Son, and He exists as a Spirit. Jesus was a real human being who died just like we do; but, absolutely uniquely, he came back from the dead and is still alive somewhere else now because he was God too. Indeed, the Son always existed as a part of God from the beginning of time, millions of years before there was a man from Nazareth called Jeshua ben Joseph. (A more accurate version of Jesus’ real name, in Hebrew/Aramaic, not Greek/English). The Holy Spirit is also God, but is not the same as the Father or the Son,(possibly). God is One, but also three. That’s the official view but who actually understands it? Maybe it’s time to let it go.


There is evidence to suggest that those who wrote the Creeds found it just as much of a struggle to be clear about what they mean and they ended up with a fudged compromise. Did they really need to bother? The Trinity as we have it is a late doctrine, and, perhaps surprisingly, you won’t find the actual word in the Bible at all. It was essentially designed to outlaw the Arian ‘heresy’ which said that Jesus was himself created and was therefore less than God. What they ended up with was a God who is in three persons, (though perhaps ‘personalities’ is a better translation), but there is still only one God; there is one ‘essence’ that they all share equally. I have heard massively complicated sermons on all this and at least tried to read some pretty complex books. It may help to see all this as imagery, not as ‘fact’ to be taken ‘literally’. I get that. The breath behind the Universe is relational; co-existent; like people in community. But that isn’t the expected view. It’s theTrinity, as defined by the C4thCE Church that is still required. There is no longer any room for debate about what the idea might actually mean. We just have to accept it.


The readings for today illustrate just how far distant the formal doctrine of ‘The Trinity’ is from the more tentative ideas in the Bible. The OT passage is actually about ‘Wisdom’, almost a fourth member of the team! It is not about a pre-existent Son/Christ: that’s reading back from later beliefs, not being true to the writer at the time. In the OT ‘Wisdom’ is a personification of the moral glue that holds people together. It was mostly taught as advice for living or expressed in poetry. We might now use the term ‘conscience’ or ‘reason’.(Logos can be translated as ‘the principle of order and knowledge’.Perhaps John adapts this idea from elements of both Hebrew and Greek tradition at the opening of his gospel to say that Jesus now represents what Wisdom used to mean). Like a trusted teacher, ‘Wisdom’ guides our essential human ability to choose between good and evil; now Jesus has become that idea in human flesh.


An extract from his sermon‘ Not Your Usual Sermon’ June 9th–August 25th2019