Friday, May 28, 2010

Random Reflections on the Trinity

Even many non-Christians are probably familiar with the basics of the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, the Doctrine that talks about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But even many devout Christians would probably confess that they do not fully understand the Trinity. For me, the Trinity is a mystery we must ponder.

This coming Sunday many Christian Churches will be observing Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost and a Sunday to celebrate, reflect upon, and scratch heads about the Trinity. Here are some  random reflections that might get you to scratch your head.

One of the Professors in my D.Min. program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary argued in our Reformed Theology Seminar that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not biblical but it is essential. I think what he meant was that nowhere in the Scriptures does the word “Trinity” appear and while Scripture in places talks about God in terms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is no fully developed Doctrine of the Trinity. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a creation of human reason as we have sought to make sense of, understand, and somewhat systematize Scripture.

I have recently been thinking about the Doctrine of the Trinity in terms similar to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle states that one cannot determine the mass and the velocity of an electron at the same time. If one determines it mass, there is no velocity. If one determines the velocity, there is no mass. Similarly, if we focus on any one “person” of the Trinity then we can no longer see the Triune God. But if we focus on the “Triune God” then we can longer see any of the individual “persons” of the Trinity.

Another analogy I find helpful is that of determining whether light is a wave or a particle. If God is at all like light (Jesus is, after all, proclaimed to be the light of the world) then perhaps our understanding of light can serve as a metaphor for our understanding of God. Sometimes light seems to behave like a wave. Sometimes light seems to behave like a particle. Neither understanding, even combined, fully explains the nature of light and in a sense light is still a mystery.

While the Doctrine of the Trinity can (sometimes) help us make sense of the way God behaves in Scripture, I am becoming increasingly convinced that it does not give us a complete picture of or fully explains the nature of God. The Doctrine of the Trinity helps us to conceptualize and understand the mystery of God, yet God still remains a mystery we must ponder, a mystery that invites us to marvel at God with the same childlike wonder of the Psalmist in Psalm 8:3-5, only more so.

In his book The Journey to Truth, George F. Garlick, Ph.D., discussing the work of Dr. Michio Kaku, writes “the best way to understand the mystery of light is to admit that light is not a part of this world, but instead has its source in the fifth dimension. Kaku concludes, ‘This alternative theory gave the simplest explanation of light; that it was really a vibration of the fifth dimension.’” (p. 108) Just as physicists are beginning to understand light in new ways, maybe it is also time theologians begin to understand God in new ways beyond the Doctrine of the Trinity.

It has been a while since I last read Carl Jung, but I think he argued that the Doctrine of the Trinity was not psychologically complete, that what humans need psychologically is not a Trinity of Father – Son – Spirit but a Quarternity of Father – Son – Spirit – Wisdom/Mary, and that for Roman Catholics the Doctrine of the Assumption of Mary comes close to fulfilling this function. While this is a somewhat esoteric argument, here is a link to an equally esoteric article about Jung’s theory of the Quartentity.

The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, Ph.D., offers a thoughtful analysis and some words of caution about Jung’s Quarternity and the possible inclusion of the feminine within the Trinity and the Quartentity in her article THE SHAPE OF GOD: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity.

I generally believe that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we might find, that we often find more grace in our search for understanding than we do in adopting a posture of dogmatic certainty. Therefore I posit the above reflections as questions, discussion starters, and head scratching conundrums to help us think about, reflect upon, ponder, and ask questions about the Triune God and the Doctrine of the Trinity. And I have not even mentioned perichoresis!

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