Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
I’ve embarked on the daunting project of trying to make sense of the Trinity1. Daunting indeed, because really, I am quite sure that my brain is too limited to understand God. Still, I wish fervently to be open to reality and get to know whatever God wants to show us of himself, just in order to understand life a little better.
So I started reading ‘The Trinity’ by Saint Augustine, whilst praying that God would give me the light and openness of mind to see what he saw and what God might want to show me. I plodded on diligently until I came to an abrupt halt on an exceptionally incomprehensible sentence2, that ended with: “and therefore there is not a fourth”. ‘What!?’ I had obviously missed the whole point altogether, because for the life of me I could not see how he arrived at that conclusion all of a sudden.
Time for some reflection. I discussed the paragraph with some friends, began asking myself questions about the text, and made summaries of what I thought Augustine had been saying. Here’s what I think it boils down to. Augustine had been discussing various issues that were raised in his time about whether or not Father and Son were equal. People were saying that they could not be equal because there is a certain hierarchy in the words ‘father’ and ‘son’. Also they said that the son depended on the father for his being, so could not be equal. Augustine countered that the words we need to describe God will always fall short. The words Father and Son shouldn’t be taken so literally, they only indicate that they have a relation. For a relation we need two parties and hence they are equally important for that relation3. And then, in that complicated paragraph, he says that the bond between the two is also an equally essential part of the relationship. And he says that this bond is what we usually call the Spirit.
Now it dawned on me that the sentence ‘God is Love’ really conveys this threesomeness. For ‘love’ surely implies the existence of a lover and a loved one. So, even though we speak about God loving himself4, lover and beloved are still two different things5. And then, as Augustine says, the love between them is something. That makes three, but they are also all equal, because we started out with God, who is love, loving himself. Thus we have: love loving love.
To me, this thought conveys a beautiful simplicity, yet also inspires abundant life. It’s rather abstract, but not as lifeless as the ‘supreme good’ of platonic thinking. I find that it helps me see things in a new light.
To begin with, this idea that the bond in a relationship is like a life of its own, made me see the presence of the spirit of relationships everywhere. In a good marriage, we can sense the warmth between the couple, grown deeper and richer over time, making a space for others to feel welcome in. Or at work we can have a team spirit that inspires us to great achievements. Then there is the atmosphere in a congregation, or between the followers of an ideology, or a cult. Sure, these ‘spirits’ can also be dangerous and oppressive, but that only adds to illustrate the real power involved. Even modern science suggests that whenever two objects are attracted, there must be some third thing that transfers that attraction (e.g. gravitons conveying the gravitational attraction). All this makes me think that it’s worthwhile to pay attention to the spirits in our relationships6, and see how we can foster true love.
Another train of thoughts: I began thinking on how this spirit of love gives rise to ever more new life. For example, writers testify that the characters in their book have a life of their own that they do not fully control. It’s just so amazing to think that even we humans can create life in this way! And I think this really works better the more we are prepared to listen to the characters we created. The more a writer loves his work, the more he will grant life to its characters. And then, aren’t we like characters in God’s book? Don’t we have a life of ourselves that God does not fully control, precisely because he loves us so much? True love respects the nature and identity of what we love, this is what allows it to flourish.
Love loves love. I like going over these words, they inspire good thoughts, and motivate me to do loving actions. Love my children, love my work, etc. However… isn’t this just too soft? It sounds as if there is only light, but where is all the suffering? An abstract principle offers no comfort. If I let my thinking become too abstract, I tumble down fast in an incredible depth of all the anxieties about everything that could go wrong, and the knowledge of all the things that already have gone wrong. Therefore, I will firmly hold on to my knowledge deep inside that God is a person who knows me, and truly cares. And trust that he, as a loving artist, will create the best possible version of all of us, inspiring our heart to love.
Originally posted on: Considering Lilies
- Note on the image of the Trinity: I don’t know what the text on the image says, but it is an image next to a sermon here: http://www.ssb24.pl/niedziele,251,0 (In polish, I think, but google translate seems to do a good job) It starts like this: “Mystery and certainty: The experience of mystery is usually associated with a measure of uncertainty. However, this does not apply to the revealed mystery of the Holy Trinity. Although in the sense of knowing the nature of God’s life, it remains invariably a mystery for man, which will subside only when he crosses the threshold of the Father’s House, it is the mystery of a deep experience of certainty that God embraces me with his love and is with me in every experience.”
- http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130106.htm Book 6, Chapter 5, paragraph 7
- People also say that “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born”, meaning that although the woman existed before, she wasn’t a mother then. Indeed it’s a huge difference.
- It sounds a bit narcissistic, at first I thought this could not be right. But the idea that loving yourself is not always wrong has very much improved my own mental health. Perhaps I will write about that another time.
- This seems like a silly linguistic trick to concoct three out of one. But we do something similar in our own minds, when we have an opinion about ourselves. We can love ourselves, or hate ourselves, or be compassionate for ourselves, etc. When we detect such feelings we are aware of a similar division within us.
- I’ve also been reflecting on how this helps me understand what it means to ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ but will reserve those thoughts for later. The text is long enough as it is :-)