I’m studying systematic theology this term. I don’t think I’ve ever studied a subject more difficult to comprehend sensibly than the orthodox understandings of the Trinity. The whole concept is wrapped in paradox and essentially requires a field of thinking all to it itself to be comprehensible. Coming to some sort of consensus on that exceedingly complex subject has been historically challenging for the church. As a friend of mine said, to avoid the vast majority of the historical heresies, just stay quiet about the Trinity.
But (borrowing some ideas I’ve picked up from others) the concept of a triune God, the parts of which are somehow distinguishable, seems to lend itself to a fragmentation of the character of God. I wonder if we don’t separate ourselves (unintentionally) into groups that put an unintended emphasis on what we might think of as characteristics of a particular member of the Godhead.
For example, it seems to me that among Protestants there are churches and denominations whose emphasis is on God the law-giver and judge. They focus on the commandments of God and the punishment that awaits those who don’t obey them. They tend to have an emphasis on the “end-times,” which they expect to be violent and filled with God’s wrath.
It seems to me that there are also churches and denominations that focus on God the Spirit. They emphasize “spiritual gifts” given to individuals. They often emphasize physical, mystical, material, emotional and financial rewards available in this life to those who do or receive certain things. They seem to have an emphasis on a God characterized by mysticism, and certainly less detached than the judge/lawgiver God.
And there are churches and denominations that focus on the Jesus God. They tend to emphasize compassion for the poor and weak, social justice, and good community works. Expressions of their worship tend to avoid an emphasis on either judgment or personal mysticism.
One way of thinking of it is that some churches tend to focus on what God can do to people, some on what God can do for people and some on what God can do through people.
Of course I realize that these thoughts would be unfair stereotypes if applied to individual churches. For example I attend a church affiliated with a Pentecostal denomination, but we don’t have rowdy worship services and the so-called “prosperity gospel” isn’t taught there. I also know Southern Baptists who are focused and devoted to caring for the poor and weak without judging them. There are some Methodist congregations that are “charismatic” and others that are legalistic. If true at all, clearly my observation isn’t universally true.
But I do wonder if as individuals and communities of faith we don’t tend to orient ourselves around a particular constituent of the Trinity, unintentionally elevating that constituent above the others. I wonder if what we see in this division is a product of an imbalanced appreciation of the Trinity.
I also wonder whether that’s even a bad thing.
OK, that’s enough wondering for this morning…