Prayer to a Triune God
by Dr Stephen Spence
- First an overview of the doctrine of the Trinity as the Christian Story of God; then a prayer informed by the doctrine of the Trinity.
The common expression “Three persons, one God” is confusing and unhelpful for most contemporary Christians because they have a modern (mis)understanding of what it means to be a person. A person is not “an individual who chooses to live in relationship”; a person exists only in relationship. An individual is a fractured person who withholds from others some part of their “self.” This act of withholding is defensive and deceptive and is a consequence of sin, which separates all relationships. A person grows to become their most true self only in the act of giving him/herself to others. Empathy and openness is the basis of all relationships, of love itself. God is love.Three and One are not distinct realities of God. The oneness of God is not prior to the threeness of God. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit, do not – as three separate gods – choose to enter into a relationship of oneness. This would be an impossible mixture of tritheism and committee-ism. Nor is the threeness of God prior to the oneness of God. The external god does not split himself into three “modes of being” (again, tritheism; sometimes fourism), nor does the Father god emit from himself two other divine beings (some form of Arianism), nor does the one god take upon himself three distinct roles to play (modalism).God is relationship. There was never a time when this was not true. There will never be a time when this is not true. God is eternally relationship.
A relationship requires otherness. God is both other (three) and relationship (one). God the Father and God the Son are not so-called in order to explain the origin of the Son (e.g., descended from the Father) but to define them in mutual relationship. A father is born the moment a son is born – they are mutually defining; a person is not a “father” until they have a “son.” If a father or son were to cease to be then the other, as father or son, would cease to be. An eternal Father needs an eternal Son. The Spirit of God is for many of us a less relational term. For us spirit can be considered an impersonal abstraction, lacking substance (cf. the KJV “Holy Ghost”). Yet the Spirit of God is personal – acting as a subject. The pneuma is the life and breath of any person; it is their true inner self and their true external expression. The Spirit of God is both personal (distinct/other) and essential (belonging to the oneness of relationship that is God).God is one in his threeness. God’s threeness is complete in his oneness. There is no part of the threeness that is ungiven to the one. God is relationship without remainder (Cunningham).
God is wholly empathetic and open within himself. This form of relationship is described using the classic Greek term perichoresis. It is a dynamic concept in which the Father continually embraces/envelopes the Son who continually envelops the Spirit who continually envelops the Father who continually envelops… An eternal “dance” of relationship. (This is why no static, impersonal metaphor or diagram can capture the reality of an eternally dynamic relational God.) In the beginning God. This Trinitarian understanding of God means that prior to space and time, prior to material atoms and immaterial spirits, relationship existed. Relationship is fundamental to all of reality. This means that Trinity is not merely a theological truth to be learnt; it is an ethical truth to be lived.
Triune God, eternally mutually indwelling Father, Son, Spirit.
Flashing colours, perfect hue.
Resounding notes, perfect chord.
As the divine “I”, you is open to one another
in an eternal dance of embracing and being embraced.
We speak of “we” but know ourselves to be a collection of “I”s.
We cannot open ourselves to “the other” without fear.
We cannot embrace “the other” without reserve.
We seek unity by imposing conformity.
You give to one another without diminishing; you receive without inflating.
You are known through your individual acts; yet you never act alone.
Embrace us into your life – Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier – so that we might be able to embrace one another. Then, when we are no longer alone, no longer “I”s but truly a “we”, then, and only then, will we truly be
the people of God,
the body of Christ,
the temple of the Holy Spirit:
a revelation of our Triune God.