Yet this one God has revealed God’s self to us in three different ways: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The western church has called each of these ways “persons,” not to differentiate them as individual gods, but to identify them as the three different ways God has revealed God’s self to us, as well as the three different ways the three are related to one another within the unity of God’s being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Father: the Father is the Father, not because God is a male–God is beyond all gender, male or female–nor because the first person of the Godhead is like a father. Nothing in the created order is suitable for defining God and capturing God’s essence, save what God gives us. We call the first person Father because this is the Father of the Son and the source of the Spirit. We call the first person of the Godhead “Father” because this is what Jesus called him and taught us to call him in Jesus’ name. Through Jesus, the One Jesus called “Abba Father,” is also “Our Father” the source of all that is.
Son: we call the second person of the Godhead “Son” because he comes from the Father, was sent by God as God’s incarnation to reveal God to us, to be God with us, to live out his life with and for us as one of us. He was not a hologram; he was flesh and blood. We know Jesus as the Son not only because he was male and flesh, but as the gospel of John confesses, because of his life lived out in filial obedience to his Father. And as Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised another Advocate–the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit–the present tense of God.
The Spirit of God is the wind of God Jesus spoke of, who blows where it will, whose work is to give new birth from above, to transform, renew, sustain, to make us children of God. The Spirit is the lifeline through whom the risen Son is present to us in life–it is the Spirit’s work to make bread and wine Jesus’ body and blood for us and to use it as the means of drawing us into Christ’s risen presence so that we can feed on him. The Holy Spirit is the wireless connection between us and the Son and us and the Father because they are “hard-wired” together in the one essence we call God.
The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, but the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, but God in human flesh, sent as the Saviour to redeem the world through divine love. The Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but God’s present tense with us now, the means through whom we come to experience and know God, and who initiates within us the desire and ability to call out to God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit–three distinct means of God being over and above us, with and for us, and in and among us, and three distinct relationships with one another, who are nonetheless one in essence, will, purpose and work. What one wills all three will, what one does all three do–they work in concert, the three playing their different parts–three voices emerging from the same string at the same time, forming a trio of melodies that harmonize into one glorious sound, in order to accomplish the same purpose–as indivisible in their work as they are in their being–One God in three co-equal persons.
It has been said that every Christian heresy is really a Trinitarian heresy which has resulted from our separating the will and the work of the one member of the Godhead from the other two. What One wills all Three will, and what One does all Three do. And so, though we call the Father Creator of heaven and earth, remember that the Son and the Spirit were also present at creation, working as co-equals in God’s work. And though we call Jesus the Redeemer and the Saviour of the world, remember, the Father and the Spirit were also at work in that act of atonement, redemption and salvation. And though we call the Spirit the Sanctifier and Sustainer of life, the Father and the Son are also both at work accomplishing that transformation within us: creating, redeeming and sustaining us as God’s holy children. What one does all three do; each is involved in everything God does.
Another problem in the western Church, especially in the Protestant traditions, is that we tend to think of God from the top down. Rather than identify Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three co-equals, we think of the Father as the one who is really God, with the Son and the Spirit subordinates that the Father sends forth to do God’s work, as though they were divine footmen. That gets us into the craziness of the loving Son offering his life as a guilt offering to appease an angry and vengeful Father. Or we think of the Father as someone separated and disconnected from the Son and the Spirit and wonder how it is that Jesus can say, “No one comes to the Father except by me.” When you remember that God is Father, Son and Spirit, co-equals bound in the unity of their mutual love and divine essence, it becomes clear what Jesus is saying: he and the Father and the Spirit are One, we simply cannot encounter one without the other. Jesus is the one in the Godhead whose role it is to reveal God and reconcile us to God, to be the one through whom we are able to enter God’s Holy presence, and the Spirit is the one who transports us there, if you will. When one encounters God, one encounters all three, whether one knows it or not.
This is the mystery of God we celebrate: God over and above us, God for and with us, God in and among us, One God, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the God who in the waters of baptism makes us his own, the God who meets us at table to give us the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, the God who is in us and among us, using us to share the good news of his love and purpose for us all.
Wishing You a Blessed Spring