by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3: 16-18
Every now and then, newspapers carry reports of research conducted by university professors into what it is that motivates young adults to engage in behaviours such as binge drinking, substance abuse, reckless driving, gang membership and other extreme activities. In interviews, many of the young people acknowledge that they do these things “for kicks”, to relax, to blot out their problems, “because all my friends are doing it!” Underneath the bravado, they express quiet admissions that they are searching for something more. Centuries ago, Augustine of Hippo lived a dissolute life throughout his late teens and early adulthood, and, in hindsight, admitted that he was, without being conscious of it, searching for God. This man, who became a saint came to the insight that we are all made for love and that our lives are a search for God, the source of love: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
The celebration of God as trinity is a celebration of God, the essence of unconditional, boundless, everlasting love. However, reflections on God as trinity run the risk of becoming explorations into what is the central dogma or teaching of Christianity. The notion of God as trinity has its origins in the New Testament whose contributors refer to God variously as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In his life, Jesus repeatedly referred to God as father and promised his disciples that, after he left them, he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them and fire them into missionary activity. The foundational sign of Christianity is the Cross and we Christians invariably begin our prayers and rituals with an invocation to God as trinity: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
During my novitiate days, I and my fellow novices had to plough through a book of dogmatic theology written by a German scholar, Ludwig Ott. It’s opening chapter listed the qualities of God in a style that was both definitive and categorical. So, we read: God is uncreated, eternal, omniscient, omni-present, first cause… (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Baronius Press, Pittsburgh USA1952). This is all true, but hardly likely to assist us in building a relationship with God.
In contrast, New Testament writers refer to God as loving, personal and relational. We Christians believe that we were created in the image of God, out of love and for love. John devotes much of his first letter to describing God as love, relational and three (see 1 John chapters 4 and 5). Paul, in Philippians, takes First Testament references to God (Yahweh) and applies them to Jesus: “Though his state was divine, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave.” (see Philippians 2: 6-11). In John’s Gospel we read how Jesus told his disciples that he had to leave them if the Spirit was to come to them (John 16: 7). Earlier, he had told them that he would return to them in the coming of the Spirit (John 14:18). If nothing else, the doctrine of the Trinity, derived from the New Testament, affirms that God is relational and loving.
Today’s celebration is one of gratitude to and praise for the creator God who loved us into life, created us out of love and made us for love; of gratitude to and praise for the Son sent by God to offer eternal life to everyone open to accept it; of gratitude to and praise for the Spirit who empowers us to be partners in extending to our world the compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love of God made real for all humanity in Jesus, the selfless Son of God and brother to us all. The story of God’s love for us has been personified in Jesus, God’s incarnate, enfleshed Word. Jesus has drawn us into relationship with God as father and has planted deep within our being God’s Spirit to guide and accompany us in all we undertake.
The existence of God as trinity is a revelation that God is relational. Created in the image of God, we, too are essentially relational. Moreover, Jesus has extended to us an invitation to reflect God’s love to our world. Every attempt we make to reach out in love to anyone we encounter, however faltering or inadequate our love may be, is a reflection of God’s love for humanity.
To pause to reflect on the mystery of God as trinity is to encounter God as a community of boundless love. In his first letter John underlines that by stating that God is the essence of love: “God is love and they who abide in love abide in God and God in them” (1John 4: 16). It follows, then, that our baptism into God means that every expression of love that we make and receive is an experience of God.
While there are some Christians today who are not entirely comfortable with the image of God as father, it is important to remember that Jesus grew up in a Semitic culture that prized male children, simply because they were a guarantee of security once they grew into adulthood. They could work to feed their families, care for parents in their old age and protect families from anyone wanting to harm them. The First Testament also has feminine images of God. A prime example is to be found in the Book of Hosea in which God is recorded by the prophet as stating: “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with leading-strings of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to one’s cheeks;” (Hosea 11: 3-4). Still, that Jesus referred to God as father was culturally consistent.
In today’s gospel-reading, John focuses on the relationship between God as father and Jesus as Son and the love (the Spirit) that led the Father to give Jesus to the world as the one who lived and died to save humanity from its brokenness and its inability to live in peace.
We know God’s bountiful providence in the richness of creation and in God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, in the selfless giving of Jesus who embraced our humanity in his incarnation, becoming like us so that we might come to be like him and in the overflowing love of the Spirit that unites Father and Son.
Today is a day for reflecting on the truth that we are the beloved of God who loved us into life for love. It’s when we love that we are being truly human, and truly faithful to the God who loves us endlessly and unconditionally.