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The Trinity Explored and Experienced

June 18, 2014

Prior to his ascension, Jesus gives the disciples the command that we call the “Great Commission,” “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The command to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not a mere formula to use in the Sacrament of baptism. This reveals the presence of the Trinity in the life of the church. The term baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo meaning “to immerse.” Jesus commands his followers to go forth into the world and immerse people in the Triune God. Christians enter God’s kingdom and become his children, as they are filled and enveloped by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are to experience God in his three persons.

In his benediction in his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14) Paul blesses the church with grace from Jesus, love from the Father and Communion with the Holy Spirit. Christians don’t just need to know about the Holy Spirit, we need to experience the Trinity of God.

It is important for us to understand that our God is one, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) Our God is one, and he is three persons. The early church came to understand God as “one substance” and “three persons.” God has called us into a relationship with him in his three persons.

We can look at the baptism of Jesus to see the Trinity revealed in the world: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Jesus has been baptized by John, and as he comes up from the water, the Holy Spirit comes from heaven descending upon him like a dove. Then, the father speaks from heaven and affirms that Jesus is his beloved Son. Wow! The Trinity participated in Jesus’ life and ministry on earth. After the baptism, Jesus’ journey to the cross began with the first step not toward glory but testing in the wilderness.

We also learn from the baptism that the Father loves the Son. This is an indication of the loving communion among the persons of the Trinity. We know that God is love. For love to exist as a being and an active, expressed substance, there must be a lover and a beloved along with the love that is expressed. What is communicated at the Baptism reveals God the Father—the Lover, God the Son—the Beloved and God the Holy Spirit—the Love given and received. Each is God, each is unique, each is one with the other who is in substance and quality the same.

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This triune God is fully sufficient in himself as three persons. He has no need. He didn’t and doesn’t need creation and people in order to have an object of love or an activity to occupy himself. He is fully sufficient in the loving fellowship of his being.

I think the best answer to the question of “Why did God create us?” is that God has an abundance of loving goodness that overflows. He desires for more to love. God desires for the inclusion of creatures who can join in the communion of love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What we see in the creation story of Genesis shows that God’s love must be defined as a love that is willing to suffer for more to love. To truly include a creature in the fellowship of the Godhead, that creature must be able to not only give and receive love but to also reject love. Love requires the freedom not to love. Therefore, to experience the loving inclusion of his creature, God had to be willing to suffer the rejection of his love and the consequences of continuing to love infinitely that creature.

The creation of humans demonstrates God’s emphatic “Yes” to his willingness to suffer, so that the creature may experience inclusion in the divine love of the Trinity. Let’s look at the Genesis account of creation.

We learn of our creation, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

When God created us in his image and likeness giving us dominion, he committed himself to suffering self-sacrificial love. Our freedom and dominion has led to history being a history of tragedy—the suffering of all creation and the suffering of God. History is also a demonstration of God’s commitment to eternal, self-giving love—the same love that has existed forever in the midst of the Trinity.

Christians often desire and pursue experiencing God. I certainly want to experience God in my day-to-day life. I have come to realize that my natural tendency is wanting to filter the experience of God to him fitting into my life and blessing me in it. I think Christian maturity moves us from that way of thinking to pursuing entering into God’s experience of us. The grace of Jesus, love of God and the koinonia (fellowship, communion, sharing) of the Holy Spirit doesn’t just bring God into our life; it brings us into the life of God. Experiencing God entails entering into his experience of himself and his creation, including humans. That experience must entail the participation in God’s suffering, self-sacrificial love.

Of course, we want to have the Resurrection and Pentecost power of God to work in and through us. To really know God must also involve receiving the grace to enter into the suffering of the cross that is the pinnacle of the demonstration of God’s glorious love. To experience God and have koinonia with him fully requires becoming “crucified with Christ.” (Galatians 2:20)

According to the great theologian Jurgen Moltmann, God historically experiences humans in three ways of suffering. God suffers with people; he suffers from people; he suffers for people. To know God is to enter into and participate in his suffering.

God began suffering with people when Adam and Eve rejected his love and followed their will in sin. God suffered with them, as he slayed an animal to cover their nakedness, as he declared the consequences over them and creation, and as he exiled them from the tree of life and paradise. We may not be able to explain away suffering, but we Christians can confirm emphatically to all who suffer that God fully suffers with them. He suffers all the pain with humans. Many of us have watched a loved one suffer physical pain or emotional loss. It hurts us, and we want to rescue them if only we could. Imagine how God suffers that intensely, because his love for each human who suffers knows no bounds.

God suffers from us, too. Think about when you were rejected in your life. It may have been a loved one who rejected your relationship and love. You may think of a time when someone simply said “No” to you. If you have been betrayed by a friend, you know how hurtful that is on all levels. We suffer from that. Harsh words, cold treatment, ostracism, gossip about us, etc., all hurt us. God who loves perfectly suffered from the rejections of humans from the first people to the millions today who say “No” to God. He has suffered through history, as people continually ignore and reject him. We push him away. We say lies about him and have done our best to exile him from our lives.

The Creator suffers from how we treat each other. As Genesis tells us, each person is made in his image and likeness and is made for an eternal communion with him. God suffers from how those he loves cause each other pain and suffering. God suffered from the Abel’s blood that cried from the ground to him. “What have you done? Where is your brother?” God asks Cain. God suffers from our broken lives and relationships.

Finally, God suffers for us. On the cross, God demonstrates his love for us by suffering and dying for us. Jesus became sin for us. He died for us. He took our infirmities and iniquities for us, so that we might be healed and be restored to eternal life with him. His suffering for us does not exempt us from suffering. It does, however, save us from eternal suffering of sin and death—if we say “Yes” to him. For God, has reaffirmed his resounding “Yes” to loving people on the cross. His perfect love requires the freedom for people to continue to say “No” to him, and many people do. Those who say “No” to the end will not be relieved or saved from their suffering.

As we enter into the Christian ministry of loving others, as God has loved us, we live into the reality that Paul describes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” (Colossians 1:24-26)

Jesus commands his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

To love as Jesus loved must mean to love with the sacrificial, self-giving, suffering love he demonstrated on the cross. This is the love Paul describes and lives out in his ministry. He rejoices in the privilege to know Jesus in his suffering love. The Christian author and preacher George MacDonald once said in a sermon, “The Son of God suffered not unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his.”

Paul affirms the same thing in his letter to the Philippians, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

To know Christ, we share in his sufferings during the world’s history; that is not the whole story, though. We will also attain the resurrection of the dead, as we share in the power of his resurrection. This is the hope that we have. It is the same hope that and vision that inspired God’s creation of us—an eternal relationship with creature and Creator in paradise. One day, all that causes suffering will be removed from the people of God who enter into a new creation of God’s paradise where nothing evil will ever enter. All suffering, pain and tears will be wiped away!

Without this hope, the suffering would be to no end and without a redeeming quality. The truth is that God’s suffering with us, from us and for us has an end in the renewal of all things and the destruction of evil, sin and death. This is way we can joyfully enter into the suffering of the Trinity, because we know that any present suffering we experience cannot compare to the glory to be revealed and experienced in God’s presence for eternity.

This is the hope and promise that fueled Jesus’ mission to the cross. His thoughts on it are revealed in his “high priestly” prayer of John 17. Via the sufferings of the cross, He is returning to the glory he had with the Father before the world began, but he is not going to go home alone. He is winning the salvation of many offspring. Look at how he concludes his prayer, as we are given the privilege to listen in on the Beloved’s intimate communication with the Lover,

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)

Jesus’ prayer is that the very love between the Father and the Son may be in Jesus’ followers. This means his followers are to be included in the loving communion, the koinonia, of the Trinity. The glory of God and the Son is the self-sacrificial love that flows between them. Jesus prays that we might be in that love—in the Trinity. This is an unbelievable, indescribable privilege for a creature to become included in this eternal fellowship of the Creator. This is truly glory. This is why God suffers. This is why we must say “Yes” to him and follow him.

That’s not all. We live this out according to Matthew 28:18-20, so that the world may believe and know that it is all true. We live as witnesses to God’s suffering in history and as prophets and priests unto God point to God’s glory in heaven and the future of the renewal of all things that is coming.

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