Relationship: Three in One

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

Every time we gather, we profess our faith in the Trinity, God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We see the Trinity at work in scripture, and by faith, confess that we were created by the Father, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

But let me admit – if your head hurts when you stop to think about how all that works, you’re in good company.  Every analogy, every sermon illustration fails to accurately describe the eternal majesty of God, at least in part because, in this broken and fallen world, we can’t even imagine what it would be like for even two – let alone three people to be perfectly united, without pride, without fighting and holding grudges, without manipulation, and without wanting to hoard the power or opportunity for themselves.

At the end of the day, we can’t even imagine that perfect unity of perfect love, absolute trust, and complete understanding, because, no matter how hard we try, it is so very different from our own experience of relationships.

But, right there, is perhaps the most important thing we can say or learn about the Trinity: God, in his very essence, is not only eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing; God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is perfect relationship.[1]

The Importance of Relationship

God is perfect relationship.  And that’s incredibly important not just because it tells us about God, but because it tells us something about ourselves.

At Creation, God said “Let us make humankind in our image”.  It’s no accident that the scriptures use the plural there: the Trinity are active together in creation, the Father, the Creator as the source of life; Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word which spoke all things into being, and the Holy Spirit, the breath of God who swept over the chaos of the universe, and breathed the spark of life into our nostrils.

God, who is perfect relationship, created us to share that image and likeness.  God Created us to share in His own ability to create, and to think, and to have control over and responsibility for the earth he created.  And God, whose very essence is united in the perfect relationship of the Trinity, made us to reflect that likeness as well: we were created for relationships, to be in relationship with God and with each other.

Have you ever stopped to think why it is that we crave relationships?

Even in this broken and fallen world, where even something as pure as love gets twisted as it is bumped and bruised, we all crave relationships; we all crave to be heard, to be understood; we all crave to be noticed and cared for; and we all crave to have someone or something else depend on us, even if we don’t know how to express it.

To be created in the image of God is to be created for relationship.  We were created with the intention that we would freely choose to accept God’s love, and to perfectly love, trust, and obey Him in return.  But, of course, you know how it went: we just couldn’t bring ourselves to believe that the boundaries God put in place were truly for our benefit, we wouldn’t trust that God’s simple invitation to trust and obey was truly the best thing for us.

And so began the rest of human history.  Relationships were replaced by pride and power.  Our fellow men and women, our families, our siblings, even our own spouses are no longer those to be trusted and loved as people perfectly united; no, instead each person becomes an way for us to exert power or to be oppressed, as relationships are no longer a gift for us to experience the joy of God’s unity, as I become the centre of my universe, and my rights – not my responsibilities – become the law by which all others must live.

Lessons from the Trinity

As Christians, at baptism, we’re called to repent of the ways that the world uses relationships.  We’re to put off oppression and injustice, to renounce evil, and to live as brothers and sisters united as one body with Christ as the head.

But, if you’re like me, there’s times you’re not good at that.  As much as I want to be like Christ, even the most faithful among us have been formed by a world built not on unity, but on protecting and building up ourselves.  More than we’d like to admit it, in place of honest conversation, we’ve become skilled at manipulation; in place of offering ourselves freely to those we love, we’ve become masters at ensuring others need us, as we pat ourselves on the back.  In place of the vulnerability that comes with trust, we shield ourselves with sarcasm or a public persona, and when we don’t feel noticed, we allow ourselves to boil over so others will react and give us our way.

We’re wired for relationship from creation, yet so much that is wrong with our world comes from relationships gone wrong, right back to that original sin, where we just couldn’t trust that God knew best.

In this fallen world, with scarred, bruised, and broken people, relationships are hard.  But as Christians, we can begin to put things right if we look to God as our example.

Satisfaction

There’s one simple thing that separates the relationship of the Trinity from human relationships; one simple thing that keeps our minds from even imagining the unity between the Father, Son, and Spirit: satisfaction.

The Eternal, Unchanging God is eternally satisfied.  The Father is satisfied in the Son and the Spirit.  The Father’s self-worth, the Father’s self-esteem, the Father’s future hope and joy doesn’t depend on the Son going to university and getting a good job; the Father’s happiness isn’t dependent on the newness of their car or the size of their house; the Son isn’t trying to prove his worth or earn the Spirit’s trust; the Son doesn’t wait for extravagant gifts to prove the Father’s love; neither feels any jealousy or competition that almighty love and power is shared with the Holy Spirit.  All are satisfied knowing that they are united in love, expressed in trust and sacrifice. [2]

If there’s only one thing we learn from the mystery of the Holy Trinity, it’s this: we were created for relationships, but we’re doing it wrong.

Relationships aren’t about me; what they do for me, how they make me feel; how they build me up.  Relationships are about what we become, together.

If I come to a relationship, any relationship, looking to increase my value or my self-worth, if I come looking to gain power or to exert control over another, if I look at another, even if a parent looks at a child as a way to increase my pride, to increase my image, to give me hope for the future, then those relationships can never have any satisfaction.  Those are relationships built on yearning, longing for something we don’t have, jealous of what isn’t ours – even if we don’t realize it.

There can be no satisfaction in a relationship built on wanting what another has, or hoping that a friendship or a relationship or a marriage will make you appear better.

No, the Father and the Son and the Spirit are united because neither is jealous of the other, neither views the other as a source of pride to build themselves up.  They are bound together in perfect love, each aware of themselves, yet each aware that they’re fully and equally part of a relationship bigger than themselves, each offering themselves to the others, not for what they offer to be hoarded by one, but to be united in their offering, and satisfied in perfect peace.

If we want to understand the height and length and width and depth of the love of God, we have to start with our own relationships.

How many of my relationships, or even my day-to-day interactions, are built on longing for something better for myself, instead of being satisfied to offer myself as I am?  How many of our disappointments or fights aren’t because of our concern for another, but because their decision means myplans or the image I want to project can’t pan out the way I wanted, the way I hoped and longed for.

Even in our relationship with God, how many of us come simply acknowledging that He’s God, so I’m not; that he’s powerful, but I’m weak; that he’s righteous, but I’ve sinned, and come not yearning for a taste of God’s power or healing or to make my life more like I hoped it would be, but just to be satisfied, to be still and know that He is God, seeking only the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of faith to trust simply in his goodness and follow, rather than yearning for a future we cannot see.

 The overflowing love of the Trinity brought this world into being, and brought us here today.  This week, consider your relationships with God and with each other.  Are we content to be still and be satisfied, to offer love freely without expectation of reward, or are we longing, hoping for others to build us up and feed our pride?  May God give us his grace to love Him and love our neighbours as Christ loved us, who, while we were still sinners, gave himself up that we could share in his unity and peace of a relationship with Him.  To God be the Glory now and forever more.  Amen.


[1] The theological idea here is perichoresis, a concept fleshed out from its scriptural basis most notably by the Cappadocian Fathers and accepted as a core teaching of Christianity in the Nicene Creed as adopted at the First Council of Constantinople (381).

[2] Theologically speaking, “without passions”.  See T.F. Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God, or, from a Reformed perspective, the Westminster Confession of Faith.