Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lord of the Non-Sense

Jesus promised us a great many things.  He promised us peace when we needed it.  He promised us an easy yoke, and a light burden.  He promised us a deep sense of blessing as we strive to follow him as our Lord.  Yet he never promised us a full and exhaustive grasp of the eternal mysteries of God.   And that reality comes to the forefront on this particular day, Trinity Sunday, where our minds are directed to contemplate what is both the center of our faith and a paradox that stretches any sense of rationality nearly to its breaking point: We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost... So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.” These words are taken from what is commonly called the Athanasian Creed, a statement of faith that articulates what we believe about the Holy Trinity in a nearly perfect fashion.

But, like any articulation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, it simply doesn’t make much sense, does it?  2,000 years after Jesus walked the earth, exploding humanity’s understanding of what it means to be God, we still don’t know how to make heads or tails of the Christian proclamation that God is Three in One and One in Three.  And saints and sages much smarter than I have tried throughout the ages to articulate this Mystery in ways that make sense, but none of them have ever been truly satisfactory.  It’s a fool’s errand, to attempt to grasp the mystery of the Holy Trinity within the boundaries of rationality and intellect.  It just doesn’t work.

And you know what, I’m totally cool with that.  I’m totally cool with not knowing everything there is to know about God.  I’m totally cool with admitting my own inability to grasp a Mystery that truly should be beyond my comprehension.  And I’m cool with it because, at the end of the day, it’s not my job to make sense of the mysteries of God.  At the end of the day, the best thing that I can do is to get caught up in a sense of grateful adoration, becoming enraptured in wonder, love, and praise, being thankful that a God beyond my comprehension would desire intimacy with me.  In a way, entering into a relationship of intimacy with a God beyond our comprehension is much like falling in love with another human being.  There is simply no way we can know every detail, every facet of the person we love, even if we spend our entire lives with them.  As we grow in love, we certainly learn new things, things that may surprise or shock us, things that may leave us scratching our heads, things that may even confound and test our love.  But our love remains even as we will never, ever exhaust the mystery that is another human being.

So, why should it be any different with God?  Why do we feel the need to understand God’s mysteries before we are willing to enter into a relationship of intimate love and vulnerability? The truth of the matter is that any God who can be fully understood is not really a God worth worshipping, is not really much of a God at all.  Any God who can be fully understood, whose deep mysteries can be articulated and circumscribed by such an insufficient thing as language, is a God worth tossing into the wind.  It’s foundational beliefs like this one, that God is Three in One and One in Three, that remind us that the truths of God are not our truths.  They are not for us to make and mold as we see fit, jettisoning them if they don’t fit into the nice, neat little boxes we create for God.

The truths of God are first and foremost gifts, things given to us, things that we receive with a spirit of humility and thankfulness. Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. What was true for the disciples then is still true for us today, that there are some things in the economy of God that we simply cannot bear the full reality of.

Much like falling in passionate love with a person who still has qualities and facets unknown to us, those first disciples and then the early Christians found themselves caught up in rapturous adoration of a God they confessed to be Three in One and One in Three. And that confession was a response to the movements of God and the experiences they shared of meeting God in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, no matter how much that confession stretched their brains and challenged traditional notions of monotheism.  As inheritors of the Jewish tradition, their commitment to the God of Israel was unquestionable.  And yet, after encountering Jesus of Nazareth, they felt the best way to respond to him was to worship him.  And we have the Apostle Paul’s testimony this morning, himself once a violent defender of Jewish monotheism in the face of the early Christian movement.  But something grabbed hold of him, set his heart ablaze, and he became a driving force for the early Christian movement. “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God…God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Whatever grace and love the God of Israel was giving to the people, it was given not just by divine decree from the Father, but by the workings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Even if it made little sense in the traditional scheme of monotheism, Paul directed his worship and affections to the Son and the Spirit while remaining committed to the idea that there is only one God, now known to be three persons of divine equality and glory.  Paul, you might say, was caught up in love and adoration of God even if these new experiences of God stretched his intellectual and rational understandings of what exactly this God was.  And though this might be the paradox that trumps all other paradoxes, our faith itself is predicated on paradoxes that test our comprehension, forcing us to be a people of humility who should worry less about how comprehensible our faith is, and more about seeking to share in the glory of God, to be transformed into the image of the Son, and to thrive on the power of the Holy Spirit.

In my studies, I’ve found few writings better than St. John of the Cross that articulate what it means to live in relationship with a God of Mystery.  Perhaps his words will speak to you in ways my own cannot: I came into the unknown and stayed there unknowing rising beyond all knowledge. I did not know the door but when I found the way, unknowing where I was, I learned enormous things, but what I felt I cannot say, for I remained unknowing, rising beyond all knowledge. It was the perfect realm of holiness and peace. In deepest solitude I found the narrow way: a secret giving such release that I was stunned and stammering, rising beyond all knowledge. I was so far inside, so dazed and far away my senses were released from feelings of my own. My mind had found a surer way: a knowledge of unknowing, rising beyond all knowledge. And he who does arrive collapses as in sleep, for all he knew before now seems a lowly thing, and so his knowledge grows so deep that he remains unknowing, rising beyond all knowledge. The higher he ascends the darker is the wood; it is the shadowy cloud that clarified the night, and so the one who understood remains always unknowing, rising beyond all knowledge. This knowledge by unknowing is such a soaring force that scholars argue long but never leave the ground. Their knowledge always fails the source: to understand unknowing, rising beyond all knowledge. This knowledge is supreme crossing a blazing height; though formal reason tries it crumbles in the dark, but one who would control the night by knowledge of unknowing will rise beyond all knowledge. And if you wish to hear: the highest knowledge leads to an ecstatic feeling of the most holy Being; and from his mercy comes his deed: to let us stay unknowing, rising beyond all knowledge.

*A sermon preached on Trinity Sunday 2016 at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM.  The texts were Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Romans 5:1-5, and John 16:12-15.

No comments:

Post a Comment