Trinity

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It’s Trinity Sunday, and you know what that means: We are all at risk of saying something stupid and/or heretical. Once on a trip to Vancouver my husband asked me at breakfast to “explain this Trinity thing again,” and given that it was about 7 am, I’m sure my explanation was both stupid and heretical.

For Christians, the Trinity is the most exquisite mystery, a paradox that challenges us to let go of the post-Enlightenment need to understand everything that matters. It’s our version of a Zen koan, a puzzle that cannot be “solved,” only responded to. For others, it’s a contradiction, either blasphemous or irrelevant depending on their point of view. Speaking to my fellow Trinitarians, I’d like to issue an invitation: Stop saying “God and Jesus.”

Whenever we gather, we liturgical types recite the Nicene (or sometimes the Apostles’) Creed. Non-liturgical churches may not recite these creeds, but they still sign onto them. They’re in Trinitarian formula, so we believe in God the Father, “the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” We believe in the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life.” And in between, we believe in Jesus: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father…”

The beautiful prologue to John’s gospel makes the same point. Describing the Logos, the Word of God who would become incarnate as the man Jesus, it famously says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s the core doctrine of our faith; you’d think we’d have this down.

And yet, I hear Christians all the time talking about “God and Jesus.” There are several understandings  of the Trinity that could lie behind that, all at odds with what we say we believe. The speaker might see the Trinity as a hierarchy, in which the Father is the Big God, and Jesus is God too, but somehow in a lower position. This is called “subordinationism,” and has it wrong because God the Son is “of one Being with the Father.” Same stuff, same God.

It could also be a revival of “Arianism,” in which the Son of God was the Father’s first creation, much better than an ordinary man but not quite God. The Nicene Creed beats this one up one side and down the other, starting with “begotten, not made.” Or the people who say “God and Jesus” could be closet Unitarians, believing in one God in one Person, and that Jesus was a great teacher, a prophet, or just a really nice guy.

I suspect, however, that most Christians who say “God and Jesus” are just being theologically lazy, and not thinking through the implications of their words. Or they’ve never really thought through what they say about the Trinity. It is, as Dorothy L. Sayers once said, a doctrine that “takes some believing.” But for those who do believe it, I’d like to call a moratorium on “God and Jesus.” If you’re an orthodox Christian, Jesus is God, crazy and scandalous as that sounds. So the phrase makes no sense.

The words we say about the Word are important. Let’s be thoughtful with them.