God gives us His promise of friendship

  • May 16, 2013

Trinity Sunday (Year C) May 26 (Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15)

How does one describe that which is infinite and beyond human comprehension? In other words, how do we talk about God?

The biblical writers used symbols and words taken from everyday life, just as Jesus did when He taught about the Kingdom of God. They are merely aids to our understanding, signs pointing beyond and should not be taken literally. We look for the message embedded in the story or symbol. In the self-description of Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, for example, the writer used the language of craftsmanship and construction. Wisdom described herself as the constant companion of God and as an assistant or master builder present during all of creation.

We needn’t rush to add another person to the Trinity — that is far from the purpose of wisdom theology. This theology arose during the three centuries before the coming of Christ in a culture permeated with Greek philosophy and science. Many Jewish writers used their creativity to wed both Greek thought and the religious traditions of Israel. The message in this and similar passages is clear: creation is intelligible and rational, the product of the wisdom that flows from God. There is reason, order and beauty in the created world. The created order and humanity are also a source of delight to God.

Who is Lady Wisdom? She is not necessarily separate from God but a manifestation or aspect of the divine. In the Jewish tradition the Shekinah described a localized presence or Spirit of God that was sometimes thought of in feminine terms, a similar concept with the figure of Lady Wisdom. God is always present and active both in the world and in the lives of human beings and is certainly not a cold and aloof Deity. Other passages of biblical wisdom theology reveal that the Spirit of Wisdom is willing to dwell within any receptive and humble heart.

What does it mean to be “justified by faith”? Having faith does not mean assenting to a correct theology or creed. It does not describe how to “get saved” and it is not meant to disparage good works. Faith is being in an open and trusting relationship with God. In this relationship people are empowered and transformed by the Spirit. Openness to grace and a willingness to respond are essential. An important part of that attitude is how we meet the struggles and difficulties of life. If we react with anger, bitterness and hardness of heart not much “justification” occurs. On the other hand, meeting these challenges with patience, determination, love and hope moves the human heart and soul into closer harmony with God.

The disciples of Jesus were distressed at His impending departure from the Earth and probably had a million questions they wanted to ask Him. Jesus reassured them that there was no need to rush — the Spirit would soon come to continue the work and lead them into all truth. We can understand this as a continuous process — we never possess the entire truth but are led ever deeper into the mystery. As in the passage from Proverbs, the divine presence was not absent from the world or from human lives.

Seeking to understand and to be enlightened by God is not presumptuous but is our birthright as Christians. The various biblical images that describe God give us some hint about the mystery of Trinity. The three Persons of the Trinity are in a relationship of love and sharing. In John’s Gospel Jesus invited us to share in this relationship as intimate friends. God is not stingy — all that Jesus has God will share with us. Far more fruitful than struggling to define the Trinity is to share in its life. Perhaps people set their sight too low.

The invitation and promise of friendship with God is a golden thread running throughout all of the Scriptures. Rather than waiting anxiously in hope of being with God after death, perhaps we can journey as a people filled with the reassuring indwelling of God.

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