Monday, May 28, 2018

The Concept of Trinity as a Venn Diagram, and Divine Simplicity

I hope any reader does not find it too irreverent to use a Venn diagram in discussing the nature of God. Yesterday many Christians celebrated Trinity Sunday, and in recognition of that I'd like to take the wording and structure of the Trinitarian portion of the Athanasian Creed (named in honor of Athanasius) and interpret it as a Venn diagram.
Venn diagram of Trinity based on Athanasian Creed
I have taken the liberty of adding the phrase "self-existing" to the portion describing the Father, making explicit the self-existence of the Father in contrast to the portions describing the origins of the Son and Spirit. Otherwise, the material is directly from the Athanasian Creed.

I'd like to add a note about a philosophical teaching called divine simplicity. Briefly stated in simple form, that view holds that God cannot be composed or complex because the fact of complexity implies a prior cause in order to get that complex effect. Consider the implied question "Who made God like that?", and the implication that if there is a straight answer to that question as asked, then God would not be God. Without going into the full argument here, I'd like to say that the Venn diagram -- or better said, the earlier creed on which it's based -- can clarify one thing about that: if only the Father is self-existing, and the Father is the ultimate origin of Son and Spirit*, then God made Himself like that. Of all the follow-up questions that come from the idea of God as Trinity, the one I find most useful in increasing our understanding of God is "Why?" If we start with the view that God's will has a purpose within God's own wisdom and nature, and if we consider that the Son and Spirit came about by the Father's will, then "Why?" is a legitimate question. And the answer, the best I can discern so far from Christian Scripture, is to reach out to us: to be God with us and God in us.

* For those who hold the view that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, the Father alone is the necessary prerequisite for the Spirit. For those who hold the view that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, still the Father is the ultimate origin of the Spirit, as the Father is the sole origin of the Son.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The presence of God in this world

Today I am taking a brief break in the current series here for Pentecost. In its earlier Jewish meaning, on Pentecost there was an awareness of the tribes of Israel as a chosen nation with a mission and a calling -- and the Jewish traditions were mindful that their calling would one day involve all nations together before God. On the first Pentecost of the age of the Messiah, it's the day when the Holy Spirit made sure that the wonders of God were proclaimed in all the languages of the people who were gathered together to worship God in Jerusalem that day. As St Paul pointed out about some early Christian disagreements: Don't we all have the same spirit? Weren't we all baptized into one baptism, and share loyalty to one Lord?

As Christians, our divisions weaken both us and the world in which we live. If the message of Christ is the light of the world, then our divisions make room for darkness. If we face the future with hope by faith in Christ, then our divisions make room for doubt and fear. If we love each other through Christ, then our divisions make room for indifference, coldness, even hatred.

The presence of God makes a difference in our lives. The Holy Spirit builds us up in love, which increases the joy of the one who is blessed by it and works for reconciliation, spreading forgiveness in its wake. Where love steps forward -- wherever it meets good will, peace follows. St Paul was right that love is patient and love is kind. I easily forget what else he said: love is bold, love takes risks (love hopes all things). The homily this morning mentioned that in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins. And of course we prayed "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." As we love, how can we not forgive? And so we receive forgiveness. Our own lives change, along with the lives of those we have forgiven from the heart.

This morning (as I'm away from home) I worshiped in a historic church built long ago. The church was a work of beauty and art. It is a visible reminder of what faith, hope, and love may still accomplish in this world. It's a peaceful sanctuary, a place where the depth of beauty can restore faith, hope, and love by communicating the presence of God. Where places of nature and natural beauty may be inaccessible to those who live in the city, here is a place of peace and beauty that is accessible. The presence of God makes a difference in this world. Love makes it known.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Geographical References - The Gospel of John

This map covers the geographic places with proper names that are referenced in the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John has an eye for detail in its references to geography. It makes references to individual locations within a city or town: a conversation doesn't merely happen in Samaria, or even in Sychar in Samaria (the first reference in our series to a specific place within Samaria), but even more particularly the conversation occurs at Jacob's well. Another conversation took place not merely near the temple, but in Solomon's Colonnade. A miracle of healing doesn't happen at some undisclosed place in Jerusalem, but at a certain pool named Bethesda that is by a particular gate, the Sheep Gate. This gospel sometimes offers bilingual or cross-cultural references to the places named: the author mentions that the Stone Pavement is known in Aramaic as Gabbatha, that the Sea of Galilee is also known as the Sea of Tiberias. There are some smaller places not known from earlier gospels, such as Cana in Galilee, or the Kidron Valley between the site of the last supper and the garden.

For scope, the Gospel of John mentions 28 distinct places, with Galilee and Jerusalem leading the list by how often they receive mention. Third place in John's gospel goes to Samaria (including Samaritans), which receives nearly as much mention as Jerusalem.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Geographical References - The Gospel of Luke

This map covers the geographic places with proper names that are referenced in the Gospel of Luke.

With over 130 named mentions of geographical places, the Gospel of Luke mentions place names more times than the Gospel of Matthew. However, nearly 25% of those mentions are Jerusalem, and so Luke mentions 31 distinct places, slightly down from Matthew's 36. In Luke, Jerusalem has overtaken Galilee as the most-mentioned place name.

Within Jerusalem and its vicinity, gone are some of the pinpoint references from Matthew and Mark to named locations at a granular level such as Gethsemane, Golgotha, or the Praetorium. Luke retains the specific mention of the Mount of Olives and adds a new one: Siloam, the site of the tower that fell. Gone, too, are Matthew's references to the ancient tribal territories of the Twelve Tribes. In Luke, more reference is given to providing non-Jewish context: there are mentions of the nearby regions of Traconitis, Iturea, and Abilene. Samaria and the Samaritans receive four mentions here. Luke mentions Jesus' comments on the widow of Zarephath in context of God's inclusion of those who are not Jews. Unique among the gospel writers, Luke refers to the "Sea of Galilee" as the "Lake of Gennesaret", though -- like many places -- that body of water has been known by a number of different names. Luke also adds Nain and Emmaus to the list of places where we have a record of some of Jesus' actions occurring there.