Trinity


Isaac Newton rejected and argued against the Christian idea of the Trinity. This fascinates me. That particular facet of Newton’s life and belief came out in a biography I just read, Isaac Newton by James Gleick.

We have this popular picture of Newton’s physics describing a mechanical universe and the physics of Einstein, among others, describing a quantum-mechanical universe whose rules are more subjective and strange. The picture is partly right. To say that the physics of Einstein overthrew the physics of Newton goes too far, because Newton’s description of a universe in which time, space, and force are discretely measurable quantities was essential to provide context for what Einstein found. However, Einstein’s quantum-physics discoveries opened the door to finding whorls of wonder at the interstices of the more Newtonian picture of a clockwork world.

Of the two, we tend to marvel at physics more directly because of Einstein. The reality that results from his revelations includes strangenesses that playfully stretch the mind. Space bends in ways we can’t see, as we are bent along with it. Time dilates, and is experienced differently by different observers. Light is both a particle and a wave. Certain aspects of reality do not assume their properties until we look to see what those properties are.

The idea of the Trinity says that God is a person, but more than that, that God is three persons in one. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all different realities of God expressing the role of Godhood in different ways that scripture portrays, yet all of these realities are also God—of whom there is only one. Embracing this seeming paradox is another case of playfully stretching the mind, offering an example of the kind of intellectual joy that the Christian way affords.

In fact, there is no paradox at all in the notion of the Trinity. The challenge lies in recognizing how big God is, and how far above creation he stands. If God created everything, then God also created “oneness” and “threeness.” As the creator who has authority over these concepts, God does not have to be bound by them. Logically, the ruler of “oneness” and “threeness” can elect to be both one and three at the same time.

Newton, a man endowed by God with a special mind able to see the mechanisms in creation in ways that had never been explained before, certainly can be excused for not caring to accept the Trinity. He did not yet possess the cosmology that conditioned later explorers to more readily embrace the weird.

For me, the challenge of the idea of the Trinity is comforting specifically because of its challenge. We find that the picture of the creator that emerges from 2,000-year-old scripture is at least as rich and exciting as what we can discover about the universe that this creator created.

Scripture


What is scripture? Among other things, it’s food. Second Timothy 3:16 says scripture is breathed by God. Genesis 2:7 says human beings are breathed by God. Just as our biological bodies need biological matter for sustenance, the breath of the divine within us needs sustenance that is comprised of the breath of the divine.

In my book, I stated that one activity that perhaps naturally should be part of a Sabbath day is reading scripture. I feel as though this might be the most invisible line I wrote. The church-attending Christian who reads that statement might say, “Yeah—I know I should read the Bible.” The non-Christian who reads it might say, “Yeah—I know you people read the Bible.”

In my life, one constant has been books. I love books, love the sharing of mind and the fellowship of ideas that books make possible. I read a lot of books. From that perspective, let me offer a view on what makes the anthology we call “the Bible” very different from other books, modern or ancient. It is this: Other books have a floor, a point where I know I have plumbed the depth of all the author has to say. With some books, it can take careful reading to reach this floor, but the floor is there. With the Bible, I have never reached this floor. I re-read and reflect further, and I discover yet more relevance and meaning.

The Bible was not dictated by God. It doesn’t make that claim. The Bible is the light of God refracted in various ways as it shined through the differently shaped lenses of different human writers over time. When we give humble attention to the study of scripture, we are looking back through those lenses in search of that light.

Last week, I felt a familiar undertow of anxiety, and for the first time ever, I knew immediately what I was missing—what I had gone too long without. I sat down with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for 45 minutes or so, and let myself do nothing but think about what it means. The light of this study spread through my mind and through my day, and changed things.

You won’t feel an appetite. That is the difference between spiritual and biological sustenance. Go without biological food, and you will develop a strong hunger. Go without spiritual food, and your spirit will simply go dormant. When this happens, your emotions and your force of will try to shoulder the weight that your spirit ought to carry instead. The inability of emotions and will to adequately manage this weight describes most of the problems in the modern world today.

Permission


In chapter 5 of Luke's gospel, there is a scene where Jesus helps Simon Peter catch a whole lot of fish. Simon had just spent a disappointing night on the lake. Jesus told him to push back out, go to the deep water, and let down his nets. Simon did, and the haul was huge.

What was going on here? Our inference is that Jesus produced the haul directly, but this is not stated. What if Jesus instead gave permission?

Imagine this:

Jesus, while watching from the shore, noticed a part of the water where the fishermen didn't go. He had noticed it on other nights before this one. He had even asked Simon about it, without being satisfied by the response.

Why did no one fish there? Perhaps because it was such deep water. Casting about with nets in that area was too much effort with too little hope of gain, Simon might have said—having long since become convinced that any smart fisherman knows better than to go there.

In other words, what if this story is not about Jesus’ ability, but Simon’s limitation?

We all carry so-called “knowledge” of this sort that keeps us trapped. We live in a world that was carved up by others before we set out into it, and we accept their prodding about the ways to move through it. We fear the exclusion or rejection that might come from choosing a different way. Simon might have been willing to be a less-effective fisherman for the sake of being an acceptable fisherman.

But then things change. Something happens, something shifts somewhereso that the merely human rules are revealed to be no longer true. In fact, this always happens. This world is ever in flux, and only the Creator is on the cutting edge. As a result, the ones nearest the Creator’s work will always risk looking like fools, until the old and tired rules are seen for what they are.

"God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise," wrote Paul in First Corinthians.

What did Jesus give to Simon on the lake? I am only speculating, only painting a picture. But I can imagine Jesus noticing the slight way Simon glanced through a tense expression toward that one area of the lake. Jesus said to him, Go. He said to Simon that the best part of his heart knew something better about the lake than what the habits of other fishermen were telling him.

Eventually, Simon Peter would follow his heart much farther—all the way to apostleship, all the way to leadership and martyrdom.

In giving permission, Jesus validated Simon. In validating this man, Jesus began to unlock his power.

Blessings Go Bad


Blessings go bad. Certainly not all of them do this, but many blessings have a lifespan, an expiration date.

Or maybe it’s more true to say that we go bad. We cling to the blessing tightly enough to strangle it, fearing to trust that the lack addressed by this blessing has now been fully and finally answered.

A person saved from drowning does not have to keep wearing the life preserver on dry land. A person mended through surgery does not have to make a home in the hospital room, turning a place of recovery into a place of captivity.

God began the Ten Commandments with an introductory statement, a declaration of the kind of God he is. In the book, I call this the “zeroth commandment,” and I devote a chapter to exploring it. God announces himself as one who sets captives free. In his declaration, the freedom God cited to Moses and his people was freedom from a blessing.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” said God in Exodus 20:2. The Israelites had been in Egypt because God delivered them there to save them from a famine. The book of Genesis tells this story. Once fed, they could have left. Instead, they stayed—eventually becoming slaves.

How many of the burdens in our own lives are like this? How many are good things that have grown confining or wearying because their season has passed?

When Jesus healed an invalid, he told the man to carry the mat he had been laying on, but he also told the man to get up and walk (John 5:8). That is: Carry your gratitude with you and the memory of what God has done, but don't linger—move. Strike out upon the liberation God has provided.

Use the blessing. Build upon it, pass it on, leave it behind... and in this way, discover the full measure of that blessing’s value.