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THE TRINITY Eugene Peterson

July 26, 2012

The Trinity is a concept developed a long time ago by early Christian thinkers to describe their total God experience consistent with their observation of the world around them as well as viewing their own lives and relationships within that world. They used words and language of that time that do not always speak to us today. To some, the Trinity is no longer helpful, or at the very least, is a vague concept trying to describe who God is.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, Christ Plays in a Thousand Places, argues strongly that Trinity is even today the most satisfactory way of understanding the Christian life even in modern times. It still describes our own total God experience in this post Galileo, post Newton, post Darwin world of ours. Peterson is comfortable with the terms Father, Son and Holy Spirit as different aspects or persona of God realized in our daily lives. But he ties those terms to Creation, History, and Community as corresponding areas in our experience where God shows himself to us today.

I welcome Peterson’s emphasis on the now. To me, what Peterson is saying is that the God experience is not just something that happened to the disciples two thousand years ago. It is in the present tense. And it still has three aspects. First, rather than say that God is IN creation, God IS creation. God IS the universe of galaxies and stars and atoms and quarks and energy and motion and mass, including even (some people would say especially) our small planet with its myriad evolved life forms that include at this moment even ME! God is not the creator who wound things up some billions of years ago and then deigned to intervene now and then. God is creation itself, a current process happening now, even within me. And that is what I understand – however dimly – when I say God the Father.

Second, God is also in those sequences of happenings that we call time. And as human beings we write stories of our experiences and call it history. Stories that include pain and suffering, sin and death, with grim stories of war and conflict as well as stories of heroic and sacrificial behavior – stories of love. Our stories of Jesus tell us that God is in all those stories, that each of us has the potential to transcend our human origins as we live our own stories. God is very much a part of our humanity as we live day by day – if we will only recognize and accept that presence. And that is what I understand when I say God the Son.

But, third, I am not alone. I live in community with others. My life has meaning only in relation to other human beings, with other life. We are all related to and dependent upon one another. Husband-wife, parent-child, friendships, loyalties, commitments, on and on. It is in relationships and dependencies that we begin to sense the meanings of life and the potential we have of becoming more fully human. And God is a part of those relationships and the communities that develop. And that is what I mean when I say God the Holy Spirit.

So the Trinity is not an old-fashioned description of God. Trinity is a present guide to living a Christian life. It reminds me that I must live my life (1) as a part of God’s glorious creation, (2) as a living God-connected human being within my lifetime (that’s my history), and (3) with loving spiritual connections within the communities of other human beings.

Loren Bullock
April 6, 2011

Following is an extract from Christ Plays in a Thousand Places, by Eugene Peterson, Eerdmans (2005) pp. 6-8

“Early on the Christian community realized that everything about us – our worshiping and learning, conversing and listening, teaching and preaching, obeying and deciding, working and playing, eating and sleeping – takes place in the “country” of the Trinity, that is, in the presence and among the operations of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

“‘Trinity’ has suffered the indignity among many of being treated as a desiccated verbal artifact . . . Trinity is a conceptual attempt to provide coherence to God as God is revealed variously as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our Scriptures. God is emphatically personal; God is only and exclusively in relationship. Trinity is not an attempt to explain or define God by means of abstractions . . . but as witness that God reveals himself as personal in personal relationships. Under the image of the Trinity we discover that we do not know God by defining him, but by being loved by him and by loving in return. . . . The personal and interpersonal provide the primary images (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) for both knowing God and being known by God. This is living, not thinking about living; living with, not performing for.

“So [we] are set in this Trinity-mapped country in which we know and believe in and serve God: the Father and creation, the Son and history, and the Spirit and community.

“There is far more to Trinity than getting a theological dogma straight; the country of the Trinity comprehends creation (the world in which we live), history (all that happens to and around us), and community (the ways we personally participate in daily living in the company of all the others in the neighborhood). Trinity isn’t something imposed on us; it is a witness to the co-inherence of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and the co-inherence of our lives in the image of God ( where we are, what is happening, and who we are as we speak out and act and engage in personal relations with one another).

“Trinity maps the country in which we know and receive and obey God. It is not the country itself, but a map of the country. And a most useful map it is, for God is vast and various, working visibly and invisibly. Left to ourselves we often get lost in blind alleys, get tangled up in thickets, and don’t have a clue to where we are. The map locates us: it provides the vocabulary and identifies the experience by which we can explore God when there are no signs pointing to him, when there are no clearly lettered labels defining the odd shape or feeling that is in front of our eyes.

“There is also this to be said about a map. Even though a map is an artifact, something made, it is not arbitrarily imposed on the land. It comes out of careful observation and accurate recording of what is actually there. It is required that maps be honest. And there is also this: maps are humble – they don’t pretend to substitute for the country itself. Studying the map doesn’t provide experience of the country. The purpose of the map is to show us the way into the country and prevent us from getting lost in our travels.”

inhere” to dwell, exist, belong
inherence” one’s innermost being: elemental, essential, inborn, indwelling, innate, integral, intrinsic
co-inherence” the integral parts of or the co-existing parts of one’s most innermost being.

From → Beliefs

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