“Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.”
It’s Trinity Sunday this week – the only feast of the Christian year that’s dedicated to a theory rather than to a person or an event. Today’s quote is from the Athanasian Creed, which includes the classic statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, best paraphrased by English novelist, Dorothy Sayers, as “The Father incomprehensible. The son incomprehensible. The whole thing incomprehensible”
If you weren’t brought up in the church you could be forgiven for not knowing much about the Trinity. Even so, it was the most important theory about God to come out of the first global church council, held in 325, and, ever since, it’s been the key thing distinguishing the teaching of the church from Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians and Islam!
I remember many years ago my friend, Sheikh Mansour Leghaei, saying to me that if we could just get over the Trinity, there would really be nothing to separate Christians from Muslims. Indeed, it’s the most divisive idea we have ever produced, and most of us can’t make sense of It anyway. Why then do we hang on to this theory, let alone celebrate it? A bit of history …
It all started in Baucalis, Alexandria in the year 313, where a priest named Arius was teaching his flock that Jesus was like God – indeed, that Jesus was ‘homoiousios’ (to use the Greek word), meaning that He was made of a ‘similar substance’ to God. One of his parishioners made a complaint to the bishop, Alexander, saying that Arius was denying the faith. Alexander put the case into the hands of his capable Archdeacon, Athanasius, who agreed with the parishioner. According to the New Testament, Athanasius said, Jesus was not just godlike, but was God. Jesus was not simply ‘homoiousios’ (of similar substance to God), but was ‘homoousios’ (of the same substance). The debate that followed raged for almost a century, became the basis of three world-wide Church Councils, endured the reigns of three emperors, and wasn’t completely settled until well after both Arius and Athanasius were dead!
Homoousios or homoiousios – of like substance with the father or of the same substance – what’s the difference? Most church-goers, then and now, wouldn’t see a lot of difference, but that doesn’t mean the differences aren’t significant. My dad used to say that the electrical circuitry in our house – both correctly wired up and incorrectly wired – looked pretty much the same to him. Who cares whether we have it exactly right? Well … when you find yourself sitting in the dark, you start to care.
So what’s the difference? Well … for one thing, Arius’ position – that Jesus is like the Father –makes sense. A human being surely cannot be God, without God ceasing to be God. It therefore makes sense to see it in terms of a hierarchy. God, the Father, is at the top of the ladder and Jesus, the Son, is on the next rung down, with the Holy Spirit on the rung below that. The beauty of this hierarchy is that there’s room too for Mohammed and Buddha and any number of other godlike figures on the lower rungs. It makes sense. Athanasius’ position, on the other hand, never made a lot of sense. The idea that Jesus could be God, while the Father to whom He prayed was also God at the same time …
Holding the two theories side by side, it’s hard to believe that Athanasius won the day. Even so, while Arius’ concept of God made sense, I believe it was Athanasius who was true to the New Testament. Indeed, I’d suggest that what Athanasius did, in all his paradoxical language, was to preserve for us the mystery of God as revealed in the Scriptures, whereas Arius simply followed the logic of his day.
Someone says ‘I find it hard to believe that Jesus could be God’, and our natural response might be to try and tell them something more about Jesus. I have a feeling Athanasius would have turned that challenge on its head! ‘What sort of God do you envisage, such that you do not think Jesus could be this God?’ For when someone says ‘I find it hard to believe that Jesus could be God’, they must have a predefined concept of God, such that they cannot approximate Jesus to that concept.
If you were an educated Roman citizen of the fourth century, whose mind had been shaped by the thinking of the great Greek philosophers, you probably grew up with a rather coherent concept of God as a distant ‘force’ that had been there from the beginning of time and which embodied eternal logic. You probably believed that your disembodied spirit was moving towards that God. If this were your concept of God it would be rather hard to envisage how the man, Jesus, could be that God, for Jesus was certainly a man.
What if your concept of God was the Hindu god, Shiva – god as the eternally active cosmic birther and destroyer? You’d find it equally hard to see how Jesus could be that God. Or what if you start with an Islamic concept of God – one who is so completely holy and transcendent to be beyond our world? How do you equate Jesus with that God? But, says Athanasius, what if, instead of starting with a pre-defined concept of God, we start with Jesus? What if we admit that we probably know nothing about God, except what we see and hear in Jesus? What if we take as our starting point ‘Jesus is God!’?
The problem for all of us, I think, is that we begin with a working concept of God, inherited from our culture, long before we develop any real understanding of Jesus. In contemporary white-Australian culture, most of us start with a concept of God as some sort of therapeutic force that warms and inspires, but never interacts with us too aggressively. God is someone or something that cares and strengthens but doesn’t ever get too involved and isn’t really capable of doing much anyway. As one commentator said, our concept of God is like that guy who, when your car is broken down at the side of the road, drives by and calls out ‘hey, bad luck buddy, I hope things improve’ and then drives on – empathetic but ineffective, sincere but remote. If that’s your concept of God, how can Jesus be that God? it doesn’t make sense.
But what if, instead of starting with our pre-defined concept of God, we start with Jesus? What if we say, ‘I don’t know much about God, but what I do know is that He had arms and legs and lived a while in Palestine, liked parties, touched lepers, and gave healing and dignity to people who had never known it, and that He suffered on the cross but on the third day rose again from the dead!’ It’s starting to sound a bit like a creed, isn’t it, and not by coincidence, for that, I believe, was the basic mindset of our fathers and mothers who wrote those creeds! The doctrine of the Trinity was a historic decision to begin our thinking about God with the person of Jesus because we are never going to know more about God than what we see in Jesus.
I understand why many of my Islamic friends and feminist friends and others find this way of thinking repugnant! ‘Are you saying that God was Jewish, and that God had a penis? Are you saying God went to the toilet?’ … I think the proper Trinitarian response to such questions is ‘Hey! That’s not even half of the story! We are saying that God bled and suffered and died in Jesus!’
This is the Christian faith. It’s not simply a different set of beliefs about God. It’s a different way of thinking about God. It’s thinking about God that starts at the human end of God, and it’s recognising that whoever or whatever God is – omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent or … whatever – God is first of all our brother in the flesh, Jesus, who was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, but on the third day …
This is the faith of the Church. This is the doctrine of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – a unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity that is to be worshiped. Amen.
Our Sunday Eucharist
We had yet another wonderful Eucharist last Sunday. Thank you, Andrew and Doug for leading the service with me. Unfortunately, Father Elias didn’t make it. Indeed, I was a bit worried as I did not hear from him until after the event. He is fine though – thanks be to God – and will be back on the fourth Sunday of this month.
This week we’re privileged to have our Muslim brother, Tom Toby, back with us, and I’ll be very keen to hear his thoughts on the doctrine of the Trinity (if he has any). We also have David Baldwin leading prayers and our brother, Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer, giving us his thoughts on Psalm 8. Join us from around 11.45 am on Sunday @www.thesundayeucharist.com, or on Facebook , YouTube, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Let me work your corner
Thank you once again to all of you who support Fighting Fathers Ministries through your prayers and through monthly financial contributions. If you’re not contributing financially and you can afford to, it would be greatly appreciated if you could go to Patreon.com and sign up to either:
- Enrol in the Fighting Fit training program
- Access member-only training videos
- Engage in the members-only forum (see below)
- All of the above +
- One-on-one mentoring via email, phone, or Skype
- All of the above +
- Unlimited training at Father Dave’s Old School Boxing Academy
- All of the above +
- One weekend per month at Binacrombi Bush Camp.
- Saturday, June 3rd – Boxing from 3.00 pm @The Fight Lab
- Sunday, June 4th – Our Eucharist from midday via thesundayeucharist.com or via Facebook , YouTube, Twitter or LinkedIn.
- Tuesday, June 6th – Boxing from 6.30 pm @The Fight Lab
- Thursday, June 8th – Boxing from 6.30 pm @The Fight Lab
- Friday, June 9th to Monday, June 12th – the long weekend @Binacrombi
- Thursday, June 29th to Saturday, July 1st –Binacrombi planning meeting
- Friday, July 26th – Father Dave vs. Glen Collis @ Conca D’oro, Riverwood
Let me close by highlighting three items in the calendar above:
Firstly, I will definitely be @Binacrombi this coming long weekend (June 9 to 12) and I already have a couple of families joining me. Even so, I’m sure we can squeeze in a few more good souls for a BLEST weekend. Let me know.
Secondly, we’ve scheduled a major Binacrombi planning meeting @Binacrombi for June 29 to July 1. This is not a training camp. It’s a gathering of the key members of team Binacrombi. We need to decide on the future of the work there, who is going to own the property and how we are going to fund things long term. If you’re interested in being a part of this meeting, contact me.
Finally, it looks like my fight with Glen Collis is locked in for July 26th at Riverwood. From what I’ve read, Uncle Glen – ‘the people’s champ’ – is a bit younger, a bit bigger, and way more experienced than me, so … yes, this could be my last hurrah, though it could also be the beginning of a whole new chapter. Either way, I’ll be urging all of you to join me at that event, just as soon as I have the details.😊
May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called.
P.S. If you missed the Free Assange rallies last week, I’ve added the wonderful speech given by Stella Assange in Hyde Park, Sydney. Keep praying.