When I was young, I wanted to be an adult. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. And not only did I want to be an adult, I wanted it NOW. I’m thinking that I am not unique in this.
One time I got a toy medical kit. It had a toy stethoscope. It had other toy medical devices that I don’t remember what they were. Of course, the stethoscope was important. It was obvious from TV. Doctors (and some nurses) were doctors because they had stethoscopes. It was the identifying feature of the profession. Since I had a stethoscope, I, too, was a doctor. So I began to wonder if I should be a doctor when I grew up.
I also had the typical grown-up professional dreams: policeman or fight-fighter, only in those days it was a fireman. But they were all fleeting.
There was also something quite insidious. I didn’t think it was insidious at the time – it was grown-up. This thing was candy cigarettes. I really liked candy cigarettes. They were sweet to eat, but I didn’t eat them. I pretended that I was smoking them. I liked the idea of smoking and those candy cigarettes were introducing me to this grown-up activity. When I grow up, I will be able to smoke. (The candy cigarettes are a lot better than the real ones.)
As a teenager, the one all-consuming grown-up activity that was getting closer was the driver’s license. It not only meant being a grown-up, but it also meant freedom from mom and dad.
Now when I was younger, it was more about imitating mom and dad. Children want to imitate their parents. They are the primary way we learn to be adults in the world. As a teen-ager, driving was to be like mom and dad and to have the means of separating from mom and dad.
In addition to our biological parents, we have a spiritual parent and we have a sibling, all held together by an invisible force. It is these three entities that bring us to today’s theme, the Holy Trinity. Our relationship with God is often spoken of in child-parent metaphors. The reason for this is to try to explain the close relationship we have with God. And God gives us a model of love for us to emulate in our own relationships.
We believe that there is one God, but we experience God in three ways. It is clear in the Bible that there is one God, but nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly say that the one God is made up of three persons. Jesus did equate himself with God and Jesus did talk about the Spirit. But Jesus never talked about the three of them as one Godhead.
The first way we see God is what we often call God the Father. We use that phrasing because that is what Jesus used. Jesus often referred to God as Father. Jesus taught us to pray by saying, “Our Father in heaven.” Traditionally, God the Father is referred to as creator. That is what we say in the creeds. But to say that God the Father is solely creator is also inaccurate. We see all three persons of the Godhead at work in creation in the first creation story.
Another note about God the Father: When we use family relationship terms in describing God, we are doing so to gain some of kind of understanding of our relationship to God and how the three persons of the Trinity work together. God is way beyond gender. God does not procreate, so God does not need gender. Since the most intimate relationships we have are of family, that concept helps us to begin and only begin to understand God and the Trinity.
From the very beginnings of Christianity in the first century of our era, we have seen the whole Jesus event as God taking human form and living with us. This is the beginning of the conundrum. If Jesus is God and Jesus prayed to God, how does that work? It took a few centuries to figure that out. What we ended up with was the Trinity. (I’ll get to the Holy Spirit in a minute.)
In John’s gospel, we are told that God is spirit (John 4:24). That is probably about as good as our feeble minds can come to explaining who or what God is. Basically, we can’t even begin to conceive of what God’s nature is. The Trinity is complicated, but may still be inadequate.
So we have Jesus as God in human form praying to God. Then we have the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, becoming a part of the believers, beginning at Pentecost. If we have the Holy Spirit, then God the Holy Spirit can be in multiple places and at multiple times (stay with me). This is also how and why Jesus prays to God. God as Jesus is limited by condescending to human form. Jesus had all the limitations we do. To communicate with God the Father, he needed to pray.
This also means that God is not confined to a place. We pray to God in heaven, but God is not confined to heaven, as if we could ever hope to confine God. I also believe that God is not confined to time. In fact, space and time are helpful for us to make sense of the world, but are irrelevant to God. God is everywhere. God was before time.
Jesus can be on earth and at the same time God can be elsewhere. God the Holy Spirit can be with all of us no matter where we are and no matter when we are. And God can be in heaven or anywhere else.
Can God be more than Trinity? It’s possible. After all, we are talking about God. God is not limited by our own feeble ideas and philosophies. But the Trinity is convenient because the three persons of the Trinity is how we have experienced God through time. When we read about God’s actions in scripture, Trinity fits.
It is our relationship with God that Paul tries to make sense out of for the Romans. Paul’s audience in Rome is, primarily, Jesus following Jews. In describing our life with God, Paul says that we live in the Spirit. The Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and the Spirit gives us life in our mortal bodies.
We gain our lives when we allow the Spirit to guide us into a life of the Spirit. (I know, it’s a circular logic, but Paul makes it even more complicated.) Since we are led by the Spirit, we are children of God.
Jesus was a child of God. By having the Spirit, we, too, receive an equal footing with Christ. We are heirs of God’s kingdom just as Christ is. When we pray to God the Father, even when we call God, daddy or abba, it is the Spirit in us that prompts that declaration. Paul mentions a sharing in Christ’s suffering but he mentions in the verse after our reading that what we gain is so much more.
So according to Paul, we have the God the Holy Spirit. That gift gives us a divine spark making us heirs with God the Christ. As heirs with Christ, we may receive God’s kingdom. And it is God the Spirit, making us heirs with God the Christ that provokes us to cry out to God our Father. That is how the Holy Trinity works in us and the church.
Study after study confirms that the most basic human need is for security. Children need to know who to call mommy and daddy, the people they count on for love and safety. We long for safe and rewarding relationships with family and friends. It is this longing that explains why we want to be part of God. This is why we use family metaphors to describe our relationship with God. God, in turn, loves us. And God will always love us.
Text: Romans 8:12–17