What would you say if someone asked you “how do you understand the relationship between God, Jesus and the Spirit?”
A simpler question, perhaps, than when I asked “who is God for you, personally?” It still has lots of unpacking to do, in order to be clear about the terms and context of the question, but you’re probably more likely to have a ready answer.
That may be because this relationship is a pretty fundamental piece of the christian tradition, the idea that there is one God, but the nature of that one God is three unique and distinct persons: God, Jesus and the Spirit. It has a variety of expressions, but the one most people are used to hearing, the classic one, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There’s also Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer or Parent, Friend and Comforter or God-in-the-world, God-among-us and God-within-us or Lover, Beloved and Love Between. There are many more, all working hard to help us understand.
This is the Trinity, a term that comes from the latin meaning triad or threefold. Not be fussy about it, but just to be clear: it doesn’t simply mean three, it means three in relationship. I like to think of it as “tri-unity.” The relationship part is important and, as we often find with relationships, it can be really confounding.
The term Trinity doesn’t appear in the Bible and the relationship isn’t explicitly stated, but the understanding that there is one was obvious enough that there were questions and wondering from the beginning, and that meant that the early church felt the need to clarify it. So they did - three persons of one substance or essence - but also acknowledged that there’s a degree of mystery in it. How can three be one and one be three and the one still be one and the three still each be one? Maybe it’s less a mystery to accept and more a wonder to embrace.
There were lots of questions. There still are. Things have changed, though, and we’re not as quick to label people as heretics for wondering something different than the “official” explanation. Most of us anyway. And that’s so important because it means we can wonder and we can work at it.
I think the great thing about all this is seeing that, in all our stories, God, Jesus and the Spirit are in a relationship, a relationship so intimate that they are connected, engaged and immersed in a way that both connects them and allows for the unique expression of their selves. There is power in that, there is grace in that and most importantly, there is love in that. That we can’t explain it in a few words, a single sentence or even a paragraph doesn’t challenge its value.
Imagine if we could see our own relationships with that lens. Our relationship with God, with all of creation, our relationships with each other as members of one family of humanity. If we began with that awareness of connectedness, the awareness of that fundamental one-ness of all things, and we reached out from our place in it, rather than trying to establish our own uniqueness and then bringing others to it, maybe confrontation and conflict could be replaced with acceptance and engagement. I don’t have a certain method or technique for doing that, but, for me, I’m pretty sure it begins with knowing that God is here, Jesus shows us how and the Spirit is the inspiration to live it.