Friday, 8 October 2010

The doctrine of the trinity - have we misunderstood something? (amended)

*Penny - we've got a long one for you!

This is not a rant, nor am I emotionally motivated: this is a rather clumsy way of trying to describe a complex piece of theology where my thoughts seem to differ from mainstream custom.

Linea posted recently about the doctrine of the Trinity, and it's got me thinking a bit more.

An issue that was raised was that of authority and hierarchy: if the 3 persons of God are all equal then how can there be a hierarchy, and if that's the case, then surely the 'traditional' order of patriarchy must be wrong, since in Christ there is no male or female (etc).

As Linea described it, the doctrine of the trinity was developed in an extra-biblical context, to combat certain heresies, and it is a natural extension of scripture, even if it doesn't appear anywhere. Sofa so good, but for me it's become a piece of extrapolated theology over the centuries, and I think, built on in the way that some institutions like to, until it's become a little bloated and wobbly.

In Genesis 1 God is recorded as saying 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

So the question one has to then ask is: does God have arms and legs, head (bald) torso, nipples, and knobbly knees?


To make us in His image, I would suggest that he made us like Himself: with a mind to understand and direct, with a physical form to interact with the world and with a spirit that would be a part of us, and yet unbounded by our physical selves.

In a sense, talking of God in three persons is understandable, but I would suggest it's carrying a concept too far. We can refer to the person of the Holy Spirit because that's God. We can talk of Jesus because He's God in a physical, tangible sense. We can consider the Father because He's God. But as far as I can see, God isn't 3 equal persons, all separate, but instead is ONE God whose attributes (like those he gave us) have different aspects.

What's this got to do with authority?

Our bodies should be in perfect unity, and when they aren't, things go bad VERY fast. So when we stand up our mind instructs our bodies to move and it happens. The body doesn't say "I'm equal to you, and have a choice about this". It just does it because it's in union with, yet subservient to, the mind. We have seemingly little control over our spirits (some wouldn't even recognise a spirit if it passed a hand rapidly through their face!) but Paul talks about the spirits of prophets being subject to their will, so we must assume that our spirits are under some measure of our own control.

So it is with God. There IS a natural order of direction with God, but because He is one there is no issue of either obedience or equality. By separating God into 3 persons we've given Him a slightly schizophrenic appearance, when in fact that couldn't be further from the truth. There is no issue of equality over submission because He is one God.

I wonder if we've actually missed the mark, by focussing on the trinity. This is not heresy, because it wouldn't cause us to lose our salvation, but is bad theology made acceptable by countless generations all reciting the teaching until it's 'true'. When you talk to me in the street and look into my face, I know you're not talking to my body or my spirit, but you're talking to me. I know that sometimes we men talk to women's breasts, but really we do mean to talk to the person too, and not just their bodies.

So it is with God.

Worshipping Jesus WAS worshipping God. Jesus even said that 'he who has seen me has seen the Father' and that was true in a more literal sense than we really think so very often.

Some years back we were entreated to engage in trinitarian worship. I do quite seriously wonder now if this was actually a mistake in the sense of worshiping God as 3 separate individuals. A 'good idea' but not one founded on truth or reality.

It's a little off topic, but while on the subject of authority and unity I'm tempted to compare the state of Man, pre and post fall, for the light it sheds on the unity and oneness of God. I have a little reluctance because, while creationist in outlook, I suspect the creation story in Genesis to be more like a drawing - an artist's impression - than a photograph. Right at the beginning of when Adam was created he was alone, and it was his task to rule, to name the animals and birds and to work in the land. God recognises the size of the task and Adam's weakness, who being like God in form, was not like God in power, and so created a helper to work with him in the task.

Would she have been equal to him in value? I'm sure the answer is yes - she came from his own body and was truly one with him.

Did she have the same role as Adam? From his reaction on meeting God after the fall, I don't think so because there was a hierarchy of blame formed.

What was the result of the fall? That amazing unity, which we sometimes experience in our marriages, was broken. A part of the curse of sin was that, instead of there being a perfect harmony and order between equals, the man would rule over his wife. It's also interesting that in verse 16 of Genesis 3 in the NLT version the woman's desire would be to control her husband. And so we see men and women today, one wishing to rule, while the other seeks to control.

And maybe this is at the root of our failure to understand the true nature of the trinity. We see God in our image, as 3 separate persons, divided. Yet we must make them all equal and no-one in charge, because to have an authority structure would make them fallen and broken like us, because we cannot see the image of perfect unity, working together as a single being.

Comments/discussion/disagreement is very welcome provided it's not wrapped up in long words I don't understand or obscure references I can't check. If I don't answer it may just be that I simply haven't got the spare time and energy to research and write back - this has taken more than 90min to type, even though it (and more) was swimming around in my head this evening.

*Name that puppet series.

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