|Salem Lutheran Church||
|Salem Lutheran Church||
Recently I read a short book on the trinity that made me rethink the meaning and importance of the trinity. The Threefold Art of Experiencing God, by Christian Swartz challenged me to understand the trinity as an expression of how we experience God. We experience God in a threefold manner and therefore we use the doctrine of the trinity to talk about our experience. Let me explain.
God has reveals himself as creator. God’s fingerprints are all over creation. One does not have to be a Christian to encounter this kind of revelation. However, on the basis of this revelation alone, nobody will come to the realization that the Creator is the Father of Jesus Christ.
The Son, who is Jesus and who brings the revelation of salvation, has a different character. It is in Jesus that we definitely see God for who he really is. We see God seeking to forgive and reconcile the world to him. It is in our relationship to Jesus that we receive salvation and eternal life.
Swartz refers to the Spirit’s as God’s “personal revelation”. This is the experience of what God objectively has done for us in Christ becoming a subjective reality. Through the Holy Spirit, the “Christ for us” becomes the “Christ in us.” Without a personal appropriation or revelation by the Spirit, there is no full revelation of God.
These three experiences of God make up the totality of God. The fullness of God is revealed to us in God’s actions. And, Swartz states, the trinity explains in part the differences between us.
The most telling example of this is that we base our knowledge on our experience of God. The revelation of God in creation is the source of science and scientific understanding. The revelation of God in Jesus is the authority and witness of the scripture. The revelation of God in the sphere of the Spirit is the knowledge we have in personal experience. Taken together, all three of these sources of knowledge move us towards a greater understanding of the mystery of God. God’s hand is in all three.
Unfortunately, often we loose sight of this triune nature of God. We might find ourselves as liberals – rooted in the experience of the God of creation. Liberals are strong on social involvement and science but find themselves at odds with evangelicals and charismatics. If we experience God only as creator we run the danger of syncretism which means a mixture of religions.
On the other hand we might find ourselves as evangelicals, rooted in the saving acts of Jesus. Evangelicals are strong on the Bible and doctrine but are at odds with the charismatics and liberals. If we are limited to experiencing God only as Jesus the savior we run the danger of becoming dogmatic or rigid in our understanding of God. For example, the Pietistic movement, while it originated as a reaction against the established practices of the orthodox church, gradually became “orthodox” themselves.
Finally, if we might experience God primarily as Spirit and in a personal way, we are charismatics. Charismatics are strong on spirituality and personal experience but find themselves at odds with the liberals and the evangelicals. If we are limited to experiencing God only as Spirit, we run the danger of spiritualism when spiritual experiences become more important than the standards of scripture.
If we find ourselves experiencing only one part of God to the exclusion or diminution of the other parts, we are in error and in conflict with what the Christian church has long held as the truth of God. God, in his fullness, is three experiences: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Because we are individuals we experience God in individual ways. It will help us to remember that our friends and neighbors have experienced God that may be different than our own. Rather than trying to correct them, it may be better to realize our own limitation. We may have something less than a complete understanding of God. This diversity is inherent in the way God chooses to work in his kingdom.
We do our best when we avoid trying to manipulate other to believe exactly as we believe. We grow when we try to learn from those people with whom we disagree. We learn when we welcome conflict, dialog, and the opportunity to wrestle with differing experiences. So let us this Sunday come together to worship God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Pr. Peter Soli
Pr. Joel Guttormson