Why We Need the Trinity
MAY 14, 2013
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches me that my longing is neither a fluke nor a cruel joke. At the very center of reality stands kindness, not despotism. At the very center of reality stands my hope for loving and being loved.
In her brilliant essay “The Dogma Is the Drama,” Dorothy Sayers offers a mock catechism about what modern people believe. Here’s what she thinks most people think about “The Trinity”:“The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible,” and the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by the theologians to make it more difficult – nothing to do with daily life or ethics.
1 – Making Sense of … Everything
However, in a world that virtually despairs of a guiding metanarrative or grand vision for reality, Christians point to what G. K. Chesterton calls, the “holy family” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Before anything else was, there was a Trinity of perfect fellowship. Therefore, the Creation itself is neither a falling away from an original undifferentiated “All,” nor the compensation for something missing, as if God was lonely. God, therefore, does not wind up in some sort of cosmically dysfunctional codependence with us. There is good news in the classic premise that God does not need us. Our existence depends on God’s existence; not the reverse.
2 – What about Me?
What’s in this doctrine for me? A great deal of personal comfort. My deepest longing is to love and to be loved. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches me that my longing is neither a fluke nor a cruel joke. At the very center of reality stands coherence, not impersonal chance. At the very center of reality stands fellowship, not a riot of egos in conflict. At the very center of reality stands kindness, not despotism. At the very center of reality stands my hope for loving and being loved.
3 – Living Together
In particular, the doctrine of the Trinity offers help in building relationships with a healthy understanding:
a) of how to explore intimacy but also protect integrity, and
b) of how to live both with hierarchy and with equality.
As to a)
How to explore intimacy and also protect integrity: As early Christian theologians formulated: the Father and the Son live in perfect union by the Spirit; but the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. There is both intimacy of relationship and integrity of person. The deepest of human loves consists in the enjoying of nearness while allowing for an independence of existence. We can aspire to such love because of a theology that says “the Word was God and the Word was with God,” and that the Son is both “the radiance of the glory of God” (i.e., the same as God) and “the exact imprint of God’s nature” (i.e., different from God).
As to b)
How to live both with hierarchy and with equality: None of us can escape some sort of hierarchical relationship. Some have more of something, and some have less. Whether it’s money or power or authority or talent or intelligence or wit. Whatever. To some degree, all of us find ourselves in over-and-under relationships. Absent a Trinitarian model of mutual deference by Persons of equal worth, we can drift into relationships of crushing dominance or crippling neglect.
4 – Caring for “Each” and for “All”
Catholic sociologist Werner Stark maintains that the Catholic impulse is to think of the church as an organic whole, while the Protestant impulse is to think of the church as assembled individuals. Because of the equal ultimacy of the “one” and the “many” within the Trinity, each impulse without the other is flawed. The challenge of shepherding God’s flock is to minister in such a way – in the nitty-gritty of messy church life – as to reflect the facts:
That our Shepherd loves the whole flock and each sheep (compare Jn 10:16 with 10:1); that we are distinct brothers and sisters of a worldwide family; that each of us has a unique “new name” and a singular common name (compare Rev 2:17 with 3:12); and that the Temple in which the Lord now dwells is both corporate and individual(compare 1Co 3:16-17 with 6:19).
God is for each, and God is for all. In a fallen world, we have difficulty working it out. But when we try, we cooperate with that which is most fundamentally real: the incomprehensibly lovely reconciliation of the “one” and the “many” in God’s own being.