Over the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on my trip to Winterfest in Gatlinburg. This is my second time attending, and it is my first time being able to stay for the whole weekend. If you want to read about the whole weekend, my friend Corri has an excellent post on her blog. If you aren’t subscribed already to her work, you should be.
One of the speeches I’ve been particularly interested in is Phil Brookman’s discourse on the Trinity. His speech confirmed a lot of what I have studied in the past, and it inspired me to revisit the subject throughout my quiet times this week.
One of my mentors, Wes Roberts, constantly talks about God as the “Triune God,” and the more I reflect on this emphasis, the more I realize its importance.
When we think about God creating the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1, the first image that comes to my mind is a man with a long white beard speaking the earth into existence from his throne on high. However, just a casual reading of Genesis 1 will reveal that the story is told from the perspective of the surface of the waters, not lightyears above the ground (which way is up when you leave the atmosphere?).
When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.Genesis 1:1-2
You’ll notice that the word Spirit is exchanged for the word wind in this passage, and that might be shocking. While I personally prefer Spirit, reminding us that wind is a perfectly fine alternate translation wakes us up to just how active the Spirit is throughout the Pentateuch: the creation of Adam, the recession of the waters of the flood, and the Exodus.
As you probably know, in this creation story, God says, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26).
The first person plural words “we” and “our” shock us a bit. While there is much debate about what this means (RIP Michael Heiser – 1963-2023), I can’t help but go back to the title of this post: in the beginning was relationship. John writes,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1–3). Jesus later prays, “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24).
Three things stand out about the passages above: (1) the Word was with God, (2) the Word participated in creation, and (3) God loved the Word before the world began.
When Jesus prayed, “that those also…may be with me where I am…” what did he mean? Well, where was Jesus? In the passage before this one, Jesus prayed, “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21).
Jesus was “in” the Father, and it was his prayer that the disciples would become one by being united “in us.” That is, unity can be found in the “we” and the “our” in Genesis 1, in the “with” of John 1, and in the “us” of John 17.
When we talk about God, then, we are talking about relationship. Yes, we may use the word God to specifically mean God the Father, but I think that we should try to keep in mind that God can also refer to the entire Godhead or Trinity. In these cases, it may be more appropriate to use the third person plural “they” when referring to God in this way.
But here’s what’s cool about this whole thing. If we understand God as relationship, that is a perfect relationship between all three members of the Trinity, then the white bearded man in the sky who throws down lightning from heaven becomes… Love. Read this lengthy passage from John and recognize how it is all about relationship.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.
God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate a brother or sister are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.1 John 4:7–21
Understanding the Trinity in this way opens us up to a new way of being. It brings us into a closer relationship with God, one free of fear. And it brings us closer to each other because everyone who enters into this endless cycle of outpouring of love (kenosis) can’t help but let that love overflow to everything and everyone around them.
Brothers and sisters, in the beginning was Relationship, and They love us so, so much. Let us love one another.
For more information look up “perichoresis” or “circle dance” on your preferred search engine.