Trinity of Love
Text: John 8:48-59
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate God revealing Himself to us. For if He did not, we couldn’t know Him. Just like we can’t know one another unless we let someone in on who we are, what we love, our core personality; so neither can we know God unless He reveals Himself to us, unless He lets us in.
And today, more than any, we celebrate that God has shown Himself to be Triune, Three-in-One. So today is enriched with things like the Athanasian Creed, explaining to us in detail how this Triune relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is in our one God. We have hymns that highlight the Trinity and who He is, what He has done, how He has made Himself known to us. Everything we do today allows us to ponder this deep truth, to give ourselves to really thinking about this core element of who our God is.
A day like today is important, because all too often we’re very bad at guessing things about God. We’re bad a guessing things about each other too. Think of how many people you thought you knew until they opened up to you. They might have been funnier than you thought, or deeper, or more compassionate. They might have had some hidden strength that you had no way of guessing. They may have some secret talent that they only reveal to people they know well. So likewise, when we mortals, with our limited sliver of time compared to eternity, with our small strength compared to the forces of the cosmos, when we find that we’ve guessed wrongly about each other, then it’s no surprise that humans come to all sorts of false assumptions about God. We believe that He’s impressed with our works more than anything else. We assume that He loves powerful and successful people more than He loves the weak and powerless. We assume that He likes the same things we like, that He hates the same things we hate, that He adopts all the same ideas and trends that we do. This is the root of every false manmade religion: the assumption that God is like us in all the ways that want Him to be. Cult leaders build their religions around their own personalities and desires. They pretend that its also who God is and what He wants. But we do it too, even if we don’t start any cults. We piece together a personal religion; accepting this idea that we like about God, rejecting that idea if we don’t like it, even if it’s something that God has said about Himself in Scripture. And so we’ve ended up with a confusing, almost infinite number of ideas about God. In a room of ten people there will be fifteen opinions. All too often these mere opinions are argued without civility, and worse, without any rationale except for what someone thinks or feels, assumed to be God’s personality without ever checking to see if it is.
And yet, just as we shouldn’t presume to know other people at a core level without them letting us in, neither should we presume to know God without Him telling us who He is. And what has He told us about Himself? That He is Three-in-One, or Triune. This means that He is three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and yet He is one God. All three Persons are distinct—they’re not just fractions or parts of God, they’re not just three different masks He wears when He’s doing different things. Each Person—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is distinct and unique, yet they are all three are the same one God.
This is a mystery. It’s also something that we could never have invented on our own. We, as humans, just don’t have the kind of experience to make it up. Who of us knows of anything else like this? There’s nothing exactly like the Trinity in the entire universe. Who of us knows of anyone or anything that is simultaneously three, but one single essence? We can only know this because God Himself has revealed it. He’s told us about it Himself.
What’s more, God’s Triune nature is not simply mere trivia about God. It’s not just a random fact about Him, like any number of facts or trivia about any number of people. The fact that God is Triune is central to who He is. It’s His core, His heart. For only in this truth, that He is Three-in-One, can we come to realize that there’s something different about our God than any other god invented from the imaginations of men. That difference is a profound, powerful love that can only exist in the Three-in-One in a way that it can’t exist in any other being.
God’s love is who He is. The Father loves the Son from eternity, perfectly, sharing everything with Him. The Son loves the Father unconditionally and does all that He asks. The Holy Spirit exists in that love between Father and Son and He is that love that extends outward from the Trinity. This love is not conditional. It doesn’t change or age or fade. It doesn’t go through rough patches. It’s not threatened by anything outside of it. The countless gods of the pagans are all unique and distinct beings, but they bicker and fight, they compete and plot against each other. Their mythologies are filled with the wars and rivalries of the gods seeking to undermine each other. Not so with the Triune God. He’s different because the distinct Persons are also one God, bound in perfect love. It’s central to who the Triune God is and everything He does. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly united as one. We can only think about this kind of love in pale reflections: the love of parents and children, the love of husbands and wives, friends and family. These are hints of a glimmer of what exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
These glimmers show us that this love of the Triune God is extended to us. He can’t help Himself but to reach out with that perfect love. That’s another amazing thing that we learn from God being Three-in-One. God is always in community. He’s not alone, distant and isolated from everything and everyone because He’s so much greater and more glorious. That’s Allah, who is forever alone, unable to be in community with anyone because of his singular greatness. That’s the idea of the universe being what runs everything, the universe as god—distant, incomprehensible, unmovable and unmoved. But that’s not our God, who is always in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The love that exists in the Trinity is perfect and infinite. There’s always more to be shared, so He shares it with His creations. He shares it with us. So the love of the Trinity creates a universe to be a recipient of His love. Have you ever wondered why there’s something instead of nothing? Why there’s a universe at all? It’s because God is triune. He’s One, but He’s not solitary, so He always seeks others, even if He has to create them. The universe exists so that God can share the love that exists within Himself. The Trinity creates humanity in His image so that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can add even more beings to love and care for. And when humanity walks away from that love, seeking something else, the Trinity promises to redeem and save fallen mankind. The Son is sent by the Father’s love. Out of His own love He dies for sins He didn’t commit. He defeats sin and death. He grants eternal life. In His perfect love, the Holy Spirit seals that eternal life in faith, strengthened by His promises, by Baptism, by more gifts than we can count. The Triune God makes sure that we live with Him for eternity so that His love for us can continue forever. So Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” He says this right before He tells us who He is, right before He tells us the perfect bond He has with the Father, even using the holiest divine name for the Trinity: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
We don’t do things differently today just because of the calendar. Rather, the calendar is different today because of what God has taught us. We celebrate today because it’s not mere trivia that God is Three-in-One. We celebrate because it’s important for us to know who God really is. And so we bow before the mystery of the Trinity. We rejoice that God has let us in to know this deep truth about who He is. We can be thankful, even if we don’t understand it perfectly. Who of us could? But the mystery is still ours to hold in awe. It’s still ours to ponder. It’s still ours to be thankful to know. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.