Theology

The Power and Peace of the Trinity for Our Troubled Times

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

May I offer a pastoral word?

This has been a terribly stressful year for all of us. A global pandemic by itself would have been plenty to deal with. Almost overnight, schools closed down, workers everywhere were furloughed, economies began to reel, churches were forced into the new and uncharted waters of nearly full-out digital ministry—and none of us knew how long it would (or will) be.

That’s a tough year, by any standard.

In the midst of that, we have also dealt with an enormous amount of civil unrest stemming from the brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake. Peaceful protests, prayer gatherings, and destructive riots have broken out in the streets, forcing us (gratefully) to have hard conversations about what racial justice really looks like.

And oh, by the way, it’s an election year.

God has been with us. But it has not been easy.

I have found the task of maintaining spiritual equilibrium to be a supreme challenge this year. And I am perpetually concerned—for myself, for my family, for my church, and for us all as the church—that if we are not careful, we are going to be swept away by the riptide of anger and fear that always lies just beneath the surface of our lives. How will spiritual leaders and laity alike maintain our footing?

I want to suggest that the only way to do so is to bathe our minds and our spirits constantly in the bedrock truth of God’s identity—namely, that God is Trinity, and that his triune identity matters intensely for our being and witness in the world, which I discuss further in my book All Flame, releasing next week.

Bathe our minds and our spirits constantly in the bedrock truth of God’s identity—namely, that God is Trinity, and that his triune identity matters intensely for our being and witness in the world. Click To Tweet

Grace and Peace

St. John the Seer opens his apocalypse as follows:

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits (or: sevenfold Spirit) before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

Rev 1:4-5

John is about to disclose, in apocalyptic fashion, the true meaning of history. Scrolls and seals, angels and beasts from the deep, fiery judgments and geopolitical upheavals—all of it is about to come. It will have its place and time. But first, John situates the church in grace and peace. And from whom? From none other than the triune God—from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits (or: sevenfold Spirit) before his throne, and from Jesus Christ…

John invokes the Godhead, and thereby blesses the church with grace and peace.

This is crucial. If we miss this, we miss the whole power of John’s revelation. Indeed, we miss the whole power of the gospel. Grace and peace are not accidental to the being of God. They are not something simply that God hands out at random—he being something other than what he does. Not at all. What God does, God is. Anything less is heresy. His acts reveal his nature. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—gives grace and peace because God is grace and peace—the grace and peace that God is he also gives and speaks to the church and through the church to the world.

Whatever else happens, whatever catastrophe and calamity we face, whatever disturbance and unrest we experience, whatever turmoil and tumult come our way, we know that world history is being carried by the grace and peace of God. Click To Tweet

To me, this is deep consolation. The deepest truth about God is also the deepest truth about our existence.

I grew up in the nondenominational charismatic world of the 80s and 90s. As such, the church of my childhood, beautiful as it was, did not have deep theological roots. Indeed, many of the folks who populated our ranks had fled to our church to escape the stodgy traditionalism of their Lutheran or Catholic upbringing.

Fortunately, we did not flee far. I can vividly remember those Sundays when after opening the service with “I Can Run through a Troop” followed by a medley of distinctly-Jewish melodies such as “The Zeal of God Has Consumed Me” and “I Will Dance (Like David Danced)”, we would—miraculously, so it seems in retrospect—settle into classic hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy.” You know the words:

Holy, holy, holy!
Lord God Almighty
early in the morning
our song shall rise to Thee.

Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons,
Blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see,

Only Thou art holy;
There is none beside Thee
Perfect in pow’r
In love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy!
Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise Thy name
In earth and sky and sea

Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons,
Blessed Trinity!1

“God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!” Every time, every single time we would hit those words, something in my soul would light up—“yes” and “hallelujah” and “amen” would bubble up from the deeps. At the words of this song, this affirmation—the song of the cherubim and seraphim, the song of 1,000 times 10,000 angels and the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders around the throne—I would feel myself settling into joy. “This is the mystery,” I would think. “This is the truth; this is the story.” Songs like that whetted my appetite to know God more. “Just who is this God who is One, always One, and yet Three? And why is the confession so intuitively consoling to me?”

The Heart of the World

That question has haunted my adult life. G. K. Chesterton’s words, which I first read in my early 20s, began to unpack the consolation for me:

The heart of humanity…is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world…For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence)—to us, God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology…this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and as open as an English fireside…this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart.2

Indeed it does—it bewilders the intellect even as, perhaps precisely as, it quiets the heart. All that God is and does for us he does as this unbroken communion of persons. As William Shedd many years ago explained, “Christianity, in the last analysis, is Trinitarianism. Take out of the New Testament the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and there is no God left….Mysterious as it is, the Trinity of Divine Revelation is the doctrine that holds in it all the hope of man; for it holds within it the infinite pity of the Incarnation and the infinite mercy of the Redemption.”3

This, friends, is the heart of the world—the Father and the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. Infinite pity and infinite mercy flow from the loving heart of the triune God. Indeed, one of the things that the confession that God is Trinity gives to us is precisely that—a vision that when Christians say, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), they mean it in the most metaphysically serious way possible. Love, in the Christian imagination, is not accidental to who God is. As the triune One, love is what God is, eternally. It is the “hard core” of the divine essence and also the deepest substratum of our existence. St. Augustine helpfully explains:

Therefore that unspeakable conjunction of the Father and His image [the Son] is not without fruition, without love, without joy. Therefore that love, delight, felicity, or blessedness…is the Holy Spirit in the Trinity…[the Spirit is] the sweetness of the begetter [the Father] and the begotten [the Son], filling all creatures according to their capacity with abundant bountifulness and copiousness…For in that Trinity is the supreme source of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and the most blessed delight…4

Think on that for a moment. God, as the great Dallas Willard once said, is happy. He’s not angsty or angry. He’s not in need. He’s not bitter and frustrated. He’s not moody or depressed. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is eternal sweetness, eternal rapture, eternal beauty, eternal joy, eternal peace.

God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is eternal sweetness, eternal rapture, eternal beauty, eternal joy, eternal peace. Click To Tweet

The Beauty of Thy Peace

And that means something for us. It means that the tumult of our history never has the final word. Indeed, John’s revelation closes with a gracious invitation:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Rev 1:17

It’s no accident that it ends that way. The book that opens with grace and peace from the triune God closes with the invitation to take the life-giving peace of the triune God—made available to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lamb—into our being and be transformed by it. Only in so doing can we speak a life-giving and liberating word for the world. Only in so doing can we avoid getting swept away by the ever-rising flood of anger and fear that is our cultural moment. As David Bentley Hart once said: “It is only as the offer of this peace within time, as a real and available practice, that the Christian evangel has any meaning at all; only if the form of Christ can be practiced is Jesus Lord.”5

Friend, please, I am begging you—keep centering yourself in God. Yes, there is trouble everywhere. Yes, things are broken. Yes, they need your attention. They do. They really do. But you’ll never be able to address them adequately unless you yourself have been anchored and stilled, comforted and consoled, by the mystery of the triune God. Let the old hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier be your constant companion and guide:

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Amen. So be it.


Andrew’s book All Flame releases on September 15th. For 20% off, use the code ALLFLAME20 at http://navpress.org/all-flame-missio.


[1] Verses 1, 3, and 4; Reginald Heber, 1826

[2] Orthodoxy, 141–142

[3] De Trinitate, 47

[4] De Trinitate, 265–266

[5] Beauty of the Infinite, 1

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tip the Author & Support Our Ministry!

Thank you for supporting this author and Missio Alliance’s ministry of online publishing! All our authors graciously volunteer their time and expertise in creating resourceful articles such as this. Your generosity makes it possible for their voices and perspectives to reach and influence Christian leaders all around the world.
 
From #GivingTuesday (Nov. 27) through the end of the year, half of any donation you make will go directly to this author while the other half will support Missio Alliance and our Writing Collective platform in particular. 
 
Donations in any amount are greatly appreciated! 
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

$
Select Payment Method
Personal Info

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.

Billing Details

Donation Total: $5

Share This


Comments
By commenting below, you agree to abide by the Missio Alliance Comment Policy.