I remember being informed by one of my tutors at Theology College that no one likes to preach on Trinity Sunday because of the complexity and potential challenges of the subject matter. Since that day, I can tell you that I have found myself called to speak on that very subject every year.
There is a story of St Augustine walking along the beach considering the mysteries of the Holy Trinity when he came upon a young boy filling a small hole in the sand with a bucket of water. When the bucket was empty he filled it again and emptied into the hole. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked – ‘I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole’. ‘That’s impossible’ said Augustine ‘It will not fit’. ‘No more so than you trying to fit the reality of the Trinity into your tiny brain’, the boy replied and then he disappeared.
Trying to explain the Trinity can be like trying to empty the ocean with a small bucket, but perhaps that’s because God is not interested in us explaining it. He wants us to experience it.
As Christians we should be on a constant learning curve of understanding and experiencing more and more of who God is so that we might know the wonder, majesty and joy of God in our lives. Jesus spoke of us accepting the Kingdom of God like a child; that means in wide eyed wonder. Children do not understand all the wonders of the world and they know that they do not. They accept the situation as it is and long to know more. The modern western world can vaccinate us into a sterile rationalism that demands explanations to support belief. Knowledge is an amazing thing, but let’s not allow it to lead us into losing our sense of awe and wonder. God in His amazing love for us is far more interested in us experiencing who He is rather than explaining who He is. There is nothing wrong with saying to a child, or anyone else for that matter, that you cannot fully explain something, because that’s just how big and mysterious God is and isn’t that fantastic! Searching for explanations can lead us to spend time looking in the wrong direction. Nicodemus had been doing that all his life and Jesus directs him to a fundamental truth, that to know God we must be born from above. Nicodemus struggles with the concept so Jesus explains further, but for Jesus it’s a simple matter of experiencing the truth.
There are two kinds of misunderstanding: the first is due to the reality that we haven’t yet reached that place of understanding, whereas the second is due to us being unwilling to accept that understanding. I was reminded of this during the teaching given by the American Bishop at the wedding service of Prince Harry and Megan Markle last week. As he developed his exposition on God’s love, some in the hall began to heckle him and demand that he shut up. A natural human response is to recoil from a light that shines on our ignorance. Just because we cannot explain something does not mean that it is not true or that it does not exist.
Within the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we see a perfect unity. God’s deepest desire is that we might experience that unity with Him in our lives. It’s a decision to be made. To respond to the love of God that sent Jesus to the whole world that we might be united with Him.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale