Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trinity Sunday, 2009

Before and after St. Augustine, great minds have struggled to comprehend and express the meaning of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

As my St. Olaf classmate, Pastor Chris Smith, put it in his sermon last Sunday, none of the easy comparisons really cuts it. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are like water, to be found in a liquid, frozen or gaseous state Well, yeah − but that’s really not a very compelling image. Or they are like a shamrock: one stem, three leaves. Sure, but too too cute.

Far better to embrace the mystery: God, in God’s self, is a community, offering, in contemporary terms, the ultimate social networking experience. I’m glad to be in LinkedIn (thank you, Ed Dykhuizen), and my wife, Diane, really enjoys Facebook. Listening to my classmate’s Trinity Sunday sermon, however, it occurred to me that the linking experience that really matters is my baptism, which connects me to a God so great that it takes three persons to even begin to point to the reality behind the name.

The essence of that reality is love. A love so powerful that it is like the nuclear fusion at the heart of the sun.

Still, somehow, inexplicably, there is evil cast among us.

For millions of Christians, this is where William Paul Young’s novel The Shack comes in. A middle-aged man whose daughter was abducted and murdered years ago has a mystical healing encounter with the Trinity, and it’s full of surprises. God the Father as an African-American woman. The Holy Spirit as a hard-to-pin down, faintly Asian woman. And, most accessibly, Jesus − a regular guy at home in a carpenter’s shop and virtually anywhere else.

What is the result, in The Shack, of the protagonist’s encounter with these three persons? It is, in short, an experience of healing, not only for himself, but for his remaining family. Full forgiveness of the man who murdered his daughter is not yet forthcoming, but the sheer difficulty of that process is acknowledged, and that in itself, to a great degree, is freeing.

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