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Yes, the doctrine of the Trinity is confusing. Even the finest theologians find themselves at a loss to explain it satisfactorily. Some use the analogy of the masks worn by actors in the old Greek tragedies. One actor wearing many masks can play many parts, or personas, but it is still just one actor.
Others have used the analogy of water. Under normal conditions, water, H2O, is a liquid, but freeze it and it becomes a solid. Heat it and it becomes steam. It is still H2O, whatever form it takes, but it can have three radically different forms.
Still others have used the analogy of roles and relationships. I can be at the same time a father, a son, a husband, a nephew, etc. - one man but many roles. None of those are perfect analogies, but they are the best we can do with the finite minds God has given us. The doctrine of the Trinity is the very limited way in which we describe the God we have come to know in the pages of scripture and the life of faith. What it says about God is surely not enough, nor is ANYTHING enough. Once we come to that point in our faith journey, we are just beginning to understand.
The psalmist had a taste of this when he looked around at the immensity of God's creation and asked, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" Good question.
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed. (1)
Mind boggling! Six million stars in just one corner of a galaxy and a million galaxies so far away that it will take a million years for the light from one of them to show up in my Pennsylvania sky some night. And the God who made all that cares more for us than about all THAT! There is BOGGLE for you!
Did you know that Psalm 8 has the distinction of being the first biblical text to reach the moon? Yup. The Apollo 11 mission left a silicon disc containing messages from 73 nations, including the Vatican, which contributed this psalm. An appropriate choice for a cosmic journey, don't you think? It is certainly an eloquent proclamation of the cosmic sovereignty of God. At the same time it is a remarkable affirmation of the exalted status and vocation of the human creature. (2) God has chosen us to be partners in the management of this remarkable creation. "You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet," in the language of the text. In other words, God says, "This is all yours to take care of now!" EQUALLY mind boggling. And a little disconcerting.
Perhaps you saw Al Gore on the cover of TIME magazine two weeks ago. There are still folks who want him to run for president again, but he has demurred so far. His big work these days is to build a popular movement to confront what he calls "the most serious crisis we've ever faced" - global warming. He has logged countless miles in the past four years, crisscrossing the planet to present his remarkably powerful slide show and the Oscar-winning documentary that is based on it, An Inconvenient Truth, to groups of every size and description. In tandem with Hurricane Katrina and a rising chorus of warnings from climate scientists, Gore's film has helped trigger one of the most dramatic opinion shifts in history as Americans are realizing that we must change the way we live.
In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed -- 90% of Democrats, 80% of independents, 60% of Republicans -- said they favor "immediate action" to confront the crisis. (3) When the psalmist says what he does about "all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas," he is envisioning care, not carnage. We have a BIG responsibility here. And yes, it is a little mind boggling.
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Here is where the boggling really gets into high gear. My mind can hardly go on when I try to think how people could make themselves take a mallet and drive nails through the gristle and bone of men's hands and then hang them up on crosses along the roads of their empire and call it PAX...PEACE - strange kind of peace, that; and that almost 2,000 years later, in the year 2007, my life is affected profoundly by one of those crosses, the one with the young rabbi from Nazareth on it, the one who is called the PRINCE of peace, the one who, of all things, conquered death by dying. It is hard to imagine.
I have told you before of Sam Shoemaker, one of the great preachers in the first half of the last century and this story he told on himself. He confessed that during his seminary days, as he studied and reflected on God and creation, that he found it difficult to imagine how the Lord could even THINK about these little specks of life called human beings. How could God have time for us when there was so much more to demand the divine attention? Shoemaker explained his thoughts to one of his professors, an eminently wise man. "Mr. Shoemaker," he said, "your problem is that your God is too small. God takes care of the sun, the moon, and the stars with just a word. Now, God has all the time in the world just for you and me." God the boggler.
And now we are called upon to be boggled once more. This time it is a simple invitation to a meal. The boggling comes when we realize just who it is who has asked us. We who so often think of ourselves as not much more than a grain among the sands of time are invited to the table of the one who created all the sand. It does not compute. But then, it does not HAVE to. We can simply accept the invitation by faith.
That does not mean we ignore the fact that we do not understand it all. We admit it, and come anyway...just as we do in so many areas of our lives. We do not understand how brown cows eat green grass and give white milk, but we still pour it on our cereal. We do not understand a mother's love or a father's patience, but we count on them and cherish them. We do not understand how pain can help us grow, but we know that it does. Yes, there is much we do not understand, and this is just one more thing.
How great Thou art; How great Thou art.
God the boggler. The Creator of all the universe is inviting you and inviting me to dine. That's right, the same God who boggles the mind...but hallelujah, also the God who saves the soul.
1. Stewart K. Hine, "How Great Thou Art," © 1953. Assigned to Manna Music, Inc. © 1955, renewed 1981
2. J. Clinton McCann, The Book of Psalms, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), pp. 710-711
3. Eric Pooley, "The Last Temptation of Al Gore," TIME, 5/28/07, p. 32