Another Look: Our Relational God
This Sunday upcoming is Trinity Sunday, the day that bridges the two main divisions of the Church Year. We have been walking through the life of Jesus from Advent to Pentecost since last November. Now, we begin the days of “Ordinary Time,” when we live out the faith daily as Christ’s church, embraced by the Good News of salvation and filled with his Spirit.
About Today’s Art
“Many scholars consider Rublev’s Trinity the most perfect of all Russian icons and perhaps the most perfect of all the icons ever painted. The work was created for the abbot of the Trinity Monastery, Nikon of Radonezh, a disciple of the famous Sergius, one of the leaders of the monastic revival in the 14th-century Russia. Asking Rublev to paint the icon of the Holy Trinity, Nikon wanted to commemorate Sergius as a man whose life and deeds embodied the most progressive processes in the late 14th-century Russia.
…From the earliest times, the idea of the Trinity was controversial and difficult to understand, especially for the uneducated masses. Even though Christianity replaced the pagan polytheism, it gave the believers a monotheistic religion with a difficult concept of one God in three hypostases — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not only the uneducated population but many theologians had difficulties with the concept of the triune God; from time to time, a heretical movement, like Arianism, questioned the doctrine, causing long debates, violent persecutions, and even greater general confusion. Trying to portray the Trinity, but always aware of the Biblical prohibition against depicting God, icon painters turned to the story of the hospitality of Abraham who was visited by three wanderers. In their compositions, icon painters included many details — the figures of Abraham and Sarah, a servant killing a calf in preparation for the feast, the rock, the tree of Mamre, and the house (tent) — trying to render as faithfully as possible the events described in the text. (Genesis, 18:1-8)
The Holy Trinity
The Church’s belief in the triune God — we believe in one God who is three persons in one essence — is foundational for Christian faith. This teaching is fully spelled out in the Athanasian Creed. Of course, this doctrine is a mystery, transcending human mathematical logic. However, it is perhaps the most practically important fundamental teaching of the faith, for it clarifies who the true and living God is, and what he is like. In particular, it reveals that he is a personal, relational God.
This God who acts is not only a God of energies, but a personal God. When humans participate in the divine energies, they are not overwhelmed by some vague and nameless power, but they are brought face to face with a person. Nor is this all: God is not simply a single person confined within His own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom ‘dwells’ in the other two by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union.
• Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Dioklesia), The Orthodox Church, p. 209
This mutual indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity has been known as “Perichoresis.” We use a word that comes from this — choreography — to describe the art of dance. The image brought out in the term perichoresis is that of dynamic movement and loving interaction, as in joyful dancing. As Peter Leithart describes it:
The unity of the Tri-unity should not be understood as “sitting together,” as if the Persons were merely in close proximity. Nor should perichoresis be understood as a static containment, as if the Son were in the Father in the way that water is in a bucket.
Rather, perichoresis describes the Persons as eternally giving themselves over into one another. It is not that the Father has (at some “moment” in eternity past) poured Himself out into the Son, but that He is continually pouring Himself into the Son, and the Son into the Spirit, and the Spirit into the Father, and so on. To talk about God’s “perichoretic” unity is to talk about a dynamic unity, and to talk about a God who is always at work, always in motion, pure act. It is to say that the life of God is peri-choreographed.
Furthermore, through this knowledge of God, we come to know who we are as human beings. For we are created in the image of the triune God. As Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV) affirms:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Our social programme, said the Russian thinker Feodorov, is the dogma of the Trinity. Orthodoxy believes most passionately that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a piece of ‘high theology’ reserved for the professional scholar, but something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian. The human person, so the Bible teaches, is made in the image of God, and to Christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only the light of the dogma of the Trinity that we can understand who we are and what God intends us to be. Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Trinity.”
• Ware, p. 208
As human beings, we relate to one another in the “dance of life” on this planet. The relationships between the three Persons of the Trinity — dynamic, interactive, loving, serving — form the model for our human dance steps. Unfortunately, through sinfulness we corrupt the dance into a choreography of conflict.
However, now through the Gospel, Christians have been brought into a special relationship with the triune God. Through Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, and by the regenerating action of the Spirit, we prodigals have been brought home and embraced by our Father. Gathered into the household of faith, we now enjoy the feast of the fatted calf, and participate in the dance party that is taking place in the Father’s house. In this way we exemplify the reality and nature of God and bring his Good News to a world that has forgotten how to dance.
- The true and living God is a personal, relational God who created us to be like him (Gen. 1)
- The most important aspect of life is holy and healthy relationships (Gen 1, 2Cor 13)
- As humans, we are created to live in relationships that are fruitful, exemplifying the goodness of creation and pointing to the new creation. (Gen 1, Ps 8, 2Cor 13, Matt 28)
- God’s family, the church, is to be the ultimate exemplar of such relationships, living out the grace, love, and fellowship of the Holy Trinity in the world. (Matt 28, 2Cor 13)
I encourage you to take a few moments today and throughout this weekend to meditate on these Scriptures and contemplate the significance of the triune nature of God. Go further into these questions:
- What does it tell us about who God is and what God is like?
- What implications does it have for we humans, created in his image? W
- hat does it say to the church, God’s ambassadors here in this world?