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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Musing on the Trinity

My earliest conception of the Trinity when I was first learning about it was in terms of accessibility. The Holy Spirit is the most accessible as He works throughout the world and on all people. He is diffuse and nonverbal like perfume. He points the way to Christ. The Son is not as accessible but ordinary people can expect to encounter Him at least once or twice in their lifetimes. Others who actively walk the walk with Him will encounter Him more often. He prepares us to see the Father after we depart this life. The Father is to be encountered on Heaven and is thus only accessible to the saints who finished the race. This is of course flawed and deeply inadequate understanding but for me it was a starting point.

My conception developed further after reading Frank Sheed. The rational soul has two faculties, knowing and loving. We know with the intellect and we love with our heart. In God knowing and loving is carried out to perfection. His knowing is so perfect it is yet a separate Person, the Son, also called the Word or Logos. His loving is also perfect, the perfect love that is shared between the Father and the Son, which is yet another Person, the Holy Spirit.

Man, having been made in the image of God, has this analogous morphology of the brain: The verbal left hemisphere of the brain--which roughly corresponds to knowing--and the non-verbal emotional right hemisphere of the brain—which roughly corresponds to loving.

I used these analogies to help me get a handle on the mystery of the Trinity that cannot be comprehended by created beings. The God that we understand is not God.

So now the question is how does a Trinitarian God affect our understanding of the world?

Obviously I’m not qualified to give an authoritative opinion. But here are my thoughts for what they’re worth.

For one thing, our concept of personhood is now to be understood as relational. We understand the Father in terms of His relationship with the Son, etc. We are no longer to think we can know ourselves or be known properly as atomic individuals. We can’t just say I’m a good person who generally does the right thing or who has a good heart. Our identity is inextricably bound up in our relationships, first as created beings in relationship to God, then in terms of our relationships of knowing and loving other people:
other kin relatives
citizen of the state
member of the tribe or nation
steward of the earth

How have we known and loved in each of these relationships?

So here is a good spiritual exercise: think about how you would define yourself through your relationships. What do your relationships say about you?

The first time I tried to evaluate myself in this way was so frightening and humbling that it led to another conversion experience. As I went through my list of relationships with others I saw how deluded I had been in thinking I am a generally good person when not one—NOT ONE—of these relationships bore witness to it the way I wanted. My relationship with God of course was spotty and let’s not get into it. But there was NOT ONE relationship where I could say I’d given my all, that I’d truly loved and truly tried to know the other person and truly given of myself, that I hadn’t let lapse or flounder through hurts and misunderstandings. I could easily believe I was unlucky and misunderstood for any given relationship, but taking all my relationships together as a whole, can I still honestly believe that EVERYBODY MISUNDERSTANDS ME? Am I that unlucky?

And more frightening still to me is the prospect of being judged by my relationships on Judgment Day and not just on a series of actions or works, pitiful as they are. How will I be able to maintain I was a good person if I can’t produce a single relationship that proves it? Woman, you’d better get your house in order while there is still time.

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