Monday, March 16, 2009

Re-thinking the shape of the Trinity: Part 3

Alternate image #1: TriCircle with Person and Content

The first alternate image of the Trinity I would suggest has God in context. This symbol starts with the basic and familiar layout, but adds to it some consideration that God can only be understood in context, and that the context in which God is known is not abstract and impersonal. The accompanying artwork plainly calls for someone with better artistic skills than I have - or at least better image editing skills! If the image gives at least the general idea, that will be all I can hope. The image now in the "Father" circle is God reaching for Adam, detail from the Michelangelo Creation of Adam fresco in the Sistine Chapel. The image in the "Son" circle is from Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, with certain elements arranged so that we see Christ's hand offering bread and wine. In the "Holy Spirit" circle we see some detail from Jean Restout II's Pentecost, with a flame of holy fire resting on a disciple's head.

In this arrangement the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are seen as they are known to us: in actions that have become fundamental parts of the Christian understanding of God. While these actions of God are already iconic in their own right and have already taken their place in the Christian understanding of God, I would draw attention to some similarities among these actions. In all three cases, the action shows God reaching for or touching us, and in all three cases this contact with God fundamentally transforms us. There is a sense also in which these actions define the relationship of God with the world.

In Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, we see God the Father in a scene from the Book of Genesis reaching out to touch the First Man. Genesis relates that as soon as God had created mankind, in his next words he blessed them. If we read God's actions as indicative of God's purpose, then God created mankind in order to bless mankind. Again in the Last Supper we see images of God touching the world, and the down-to-earth physicality of the God who hands us bread and wine, vividly bound to his own body and blood in which he shared our humanity so that we, then, have an enduring taste of his divinity. In Pentecost, we see God coming to live within us, transforming his people so that we, too, can share the very mind of God.

It is no mere accident that these three images by which we so readily recognize God all portray actions in which God initiates and maintains fellowship with us. God's actions toward us are intimate and personal, approaching us at each turn, culminating with God's own Spirit living within us, with our becoming God's holy temple in which he lives.

Is this an accurate portrayal of God as he is in himself? If we are to consider that God's nature is unchanging, then "Immanuel" – God with us – is not a late-coming addition to the intentions and nature of God. In each of the three images here, God is revealed as God with us. If we take this as basic and fundamental to God's character, then it must be allowed to have its implications for our thoughts about God. God can never be God as he is in himself – God in isolation – if he has determined himself to be God with us. He can never be the distant, unknowable, impersonal power, the beautiful isolated perfection and untouchable, unapproachable holiness beyond our grasp. Each action that we consider shows God coming to us, blessing us, and seeking fellowship with us. God's approach to man is a recurring theme in the Bible, and God's fellowship with man is portrayed there in vividly intimate terms. It is not only the symbolic and visionary book of Revelation which shows God ultimately consummating a marriage with his people, but this marriage is a staple Hebrew image of God, one also seen in the New Testament not only in Paul but also in Christ as he repeatedly compares himself to a bridegroom. Here we see God who with a human touch restores our humanity, God who gives himself to us in a way that is intended to be permanent in our lives.

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