God is meant to be encountered

  • May 19, 2010
Trinity Sunday (Year C) May 30 (Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15)

Nearly every Christian home has a Bible — sometimes it is read with regularity, but often it is little more than an adornment. Unfortunately even many of those who read it do so in a superficial or literal manner.

In fact, there are numerous surprising passages in the Bible, ones that might challenge our own understanding of God. Many theological and spiritual currents flow through the Scriptures and not all of them are in total agreement with one another.

The passage from Proverbs is a case in point. Unlike the Genesis account of creation in which God alone is mentioned, the figure in Proverbs, Lady Wisdom, describes creation as a companion and an observer. A parallel passage in the Wisdom of Solomon (7:23-8:1) portrays Wisdom as a “breath of the power of God” and a “pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty” and implies that she actually takes part in the act of creation. Similar terms will be used to describe Jesus in the first few verses of John’s Gospel.

Both Proverbs and Wisdom represent a theological movement that arose in the three centuries before the coming of Christ. This theological school reinterpreted the religious traditions of Israel in the light of the influence and impact of Greek philosophy and science.

All language about God is symbolic and metaphorical for the infinite and ineffable cannot be fully contained in any definition, word or image.

The authors of these two works, and others like them, were not afraid to ask questions in light of their own experience and the cultural influences around them. Nor were they reluctant to use feminine metaphors in speaking of the divine and creation. Rather than feeling threatened they saw an opportunity to continue a conversation — a conversation that continues in our own time. Open-minded conversation is the only way that we cleanse ourselves of unhelpful and obsolete intellectual and spiritual baggage. The reward for such courage and trust is a deeper, richer, more life-giving understanding of God.

A new vision of God is evident in the letter to the Romans. Paul rejoices in the access to God that people can now enjoy through Jesus Christ. Peace, hope and the sharing of God’s glory are all part of the package.

But the greatest gift of all is the love poured into human hearts — the knowledge that we are loved and the ability to return that love. This gives meaning and hope to our own struggles and suffering and gives us the strength that we need.

These gifts are not dangled in front of us as a reward after death for a virtuous life; they are offered to us now through our faith in the one who was sent and what He stands for. God is meant to be encountered and experienced.  

The Lord was certainly correct — most of the time we just cannot handle the bigger picture. If we could see into the future we might be overwhelmed or paralysed with fear. We are given just what we need for the present and never more than we can bear.

Truth is something that unfolds over time and the spirit walks with us to act as a teacher and guide. Jesus insists that God will gift His followers with the same spiritual consciousness and relationship with God.

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus promised His followers personal friendship with Him and the opportunity for both Jesus and the Father to dwell within them. What a wonderful promise — why doesn’t it seem to match our experience? The simple fact is that we seldom make room within for the divine presence.

The promises that Jesus made to us don’t just happen. The human ego with all its selfishness and fear does not work well with God’s spirit.

Those who desire this promised relationship with God must begin the process of emptying of self and walking the path of compassion and service.

Belief in the Trinity means far more than parsing the notoriously difficult fine points of Trinitarian doctrine.

For our purposes we can describe the nature of the Trinity as a relationship of communion, sharing and love between its three persons. This is also the paradigm for authentic human behaviour — in other words, how to be like God.