Priests are fond of reminding everyone on this particular Sunday, if they choose to actually preach about the Trinity, how hard it is to avoid heresy. The secret is to keep it short. I’m sure that appeals to most of the people in the pews, but we could end up living our Christian lives as though the Trinity was some sort of enormously complicated and “risky” mystery that we had better not try to understand. Now while it is true that we will never understand the Trinity (even in heaven!), we shouldn’t let that stop us from having our hearts and minds expanded if not blown away while we are still here below. Jesus’ whole mission coming in the flesh was to make the whole mystery of God – the Trinity – accessible to us. When Philip complained about just wanting to be shown the Father, Jesus didn’t respond, “Sorry Philip, I know it’s hard to understand, there are a lot of Theological complexities involved, and you’ll never understand anyway so just believe it and don’t worry that it doesn’t mean anything to you.” Jesus actually said, “Do you still not know me Philip? Whoever sees me has seen the Father.” Fortunately, the key to a meaningful encounter with the Trinity has nothing to do with understanding it rationally.
Jesus came in the flesh so that we could enter into a relationship of love and friendship with Him. That relationship is something that abides in our soul even though we can’t see Him, hear Him speak, or touch Him. At Pentecost, Jesus sends His own Spirit to His Apostles in an obvious way. This is the same Spirit that causes them and ourselves to cry out Abba! Father! As we grow in friendship with Jesus He sends us His Spirit and we begin to see the Father. My mind was blown several years ago when I first went to the Holy Land and saw, in a Greek Orthodox Monastery on the Mount of Temptation, an icon of the Trinity. As I looked up at it – it was on the ceiling of one of the main domes – I noticed the Father, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, but I wondered, “where is the Son?” And as I stood there looking up to this image of eternity it hit me like a flash of immense love: “I am a son in the Son.” We are adopted into the Sonship of Jesus. If we are in the Son, the Father’s gaze holds us just as it is fixed on His Son. And that relationship of Love, the dove, the Holy Spirit, is at that moment all there is between us. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” If we plunge into this mystery of immense love we will know and love the Persons without needing to understand how it all works. It is our attitude of faith more than our understanding of doctrine that allows us to live in the Son with the Father united by the Holy Spirit.
I asked my good friend Brie if she could try to recreate this image – I think she’s done an excellent job. I know of no better teaching on the Trinity than to enter directly into these relationships by faith. I hope this image lifts your heart into the mystery it represents.
“You have never seen his face.” Yet Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others say that they have seen him. What is it, therefore, that Christ meant here? He was introducing them to a philosophical teaching, showing gradually that with regard to God there is neither voice nor outward appearance; he is superior to such forms and sounds. Just as by saying, “You have never heard his voice,” he did not mean that God utters sound but is not heard, so by saying, “You have never seen his face,” he did not mean that God has outward form but cannot be seen. Neither sound nor form exists with regard to God. Indeed, in order that they might not say, “You are making a display of knowledge in vain, since God spoke only to Moses” (they actually did say, “We know that God spoke to Moses; but as for this man, we do not know where he is from”), he spoke in this way to show that with regard to God there is neither voice nor outward appearance.1
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA:
We have received the Spirit to enable us to know the one to whom we pray, our real Father, the one and only Father of all, that is, the one who like a Father educates us for salvation and does away with fear.2
It is certain that whoever will become a son of God by the Spirit of adoption will first become a servant of God by the spirit of slavery. For the beginning of service to God is to be filled with the spirit of fear when still a little child [= new convert], since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” … As long as we remain children in the inner man we hold the Spirit in fear, until we reach the point at which we can rightfully receive the Spirit of adoption as sons and become like the Son and Lord of all. For Paul says: “Everything is yours,” and God has given us everything together with Christ. This is why Paul says that, after we have died together with Christ and after his Spirit comes into us, we no longer receive the spirit of slavery in fear (that is, we do not return to the state of children, and we have completed the first stages of faith), but rather like perfect people we have received the Spirit of adoption, in whom we cry: “Abba! Father!”3
Set free by the grace of God from fear, we have received the Spirit of sonship so that, considering what we were and what we have become by the gift of God, we might govern our life with great care lest the name of God the Father be disgraced by us and we incur all the things we have escaped from.… We have received such grace that we can dare to say to God: “Abba! Father!” For this reason, Paul warns us not to let our trust degenerate into pride. For if our behavior does not correspond to our voice when we cry, “Abba! Father!” we insult God by calling him Father. Indeed, God in his goodness has indulged us with what is beyond our natural capacity.4
Paul does not mention the spirit of freedom but passes immediately to the matter of sonship, which obviously includes freedom in it. That much is obvious. However, it is less clear what the spirit of slavery might be. What Paul says here is not only unclear, it is downright perplexing. For the Jews did not receive the Spirit. So what does he mean? It is the letter to which he gives this name, for it was also spiritual, which is why he calls the law, the water from the rock and the manna spiritual as well. … Paul uses the Hebrew word Abba to indicate that sonship given by the Spirit is true sonship.5
The Spirit of adoption … bears witness and assures our spirits that we are children of God after we have passed from the spirit of slavery and come under the Spirit of adoption, when all fear has departed. We no longer act out of fear of punishment but do everything out of love for the Father. It is right too that the Spirit of God should be said to bear witness with our spirits and not with our souls, because the spirit is our better part.6
Since there is no way that God the Father can be said to have died and Christ the Son is said to have died because of his having become flesh. How is it that he who died is always said to be the heir of the life, when heirs are normally heirs of the dead? But of course Christ died in his humanity, not in his divinity. For with God, which is where our inheritance lies, the Father’s gift is poured into his obedient children, so that one who is alive may be the heir of the Living One by his own merit and not by reason of death.… What it means to be a fellow heir with Christ we are taught by the apostle John, for among other things he says: “We know that when he appears we shall be like him.”7
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
Good works can hardly be done without suffering, yet the suffering of the saints is nourished by a great hope. For nothing earthly is promised but rather eternal glory.8
This seems to me to be the last appearance in Galilee, when he sent them out to baptize. And if “some doubted,” herein again admire the Evangelists’ truthfulness. Even up to the last day, they were determined not to conceal even their own shortcomings. Nevertheless even these are assured by what they see.9
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 40. Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (p. 280). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- STROMATA 184.108.40.206. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 209). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 209). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Commentary on Paul’s Epistles.
- HOMILIES ON ROMANS 14. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 210). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 211). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPLANATION OF THE LETTER TO THE ROMANS. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 90.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 312–313). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.