Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. These days, I think, we don’t know what to make of this feast, which comes to us more as a doctrine we don’t understand and which we then tend to leave alone. Yet at base, Trinity is a way of expressing something of the Christian experience of God — our experience, yours and mine, something we do well to ponder. Some years ago I came across a survey which indicated that experiences of the divine are so common that they should be considered normal. We can say that most of us can recall such an experience. Of those surveyed, most indicated that these experiences were positive, of being loved at the deepest level of being; there was something foundational about them. Sadly, most also said that it did nothing to them … and it came to nothing; it was just a nice, warm and affirming experience.
Such an experience of God is related in our First Reading: ‘The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses], and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:5-6) The name Moses heard is perhaps how Moses interpreted his experience, an experience of something greater than himself, yet non-threatening — indeed, an experience of positive Goodwill that inspires trust and is summed up in the term: LORD. Moses, we are told, ‘quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.’ (Exodus 34:8) Such was his response to the experience of God’s Lordship that it inspired him to place his concerns and cares into the hands of his ‘Lord’ in prayer: “If I have found favour in Your sight, Lord, please may the Lord go along in our midst, even though they are a stiff-necked people, and pardon our wrongdoing and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.” (Exodus 34:9) In our experience of the Divine we, too, can learn to put our trust in God and draw near to him in prayer, especially when cares oppress us, confident that he can and will do something about it. (Mark 11:24)
Something we can take from such experiences is that it is a personal experience and that this God whom we encounter wants to be in relationship with us. There is in the depths of the encounter, too, a recognition of something of ourselves. For in it we experience a deep attraction: I want to be like that. (C.f.: Genesis 1:27; 3:5) This is captured to some extent in the name we often give this God: ‘Father.’ For it captures something of the inequality in the relationship, much as a boy in relationship with his father experiences a recognition and a call: I want to be like him. Of course, we know that in God there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28), but by it we mean to capture something of the personal and the call to be something greater than ourselves.
In the Christian experience of our God, this call comes to us particularly in the personal encounter with Jesus: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16) In the encounter with the ‘Son,’ that is, with the one who is like the ‘Father,’ we feel the call: I have to be like him. For in him we experience one like us who is like God (John 14:9), and we want to be with him, to listen to him, to do as he does (c.f.: Mark 3:14) … to be like him, that we, too, may not just be like Jesus, but more importantly, that we might like God, his Father. (C.f.: John 13:15, 20; Romans 8:29) But in this call to relationship, we are as likely to discover our own inadequacy: in all our efforts to be like him, all that we do seems to turn out wrong or falls short. (C.f.: Romans 7:15ff; Hebrews 12:5ff) But here in the relationship, in the encounter, we find ‘no condemnation’ (Romans 8:1), but only a love that encourages us to not give up but to have a go, and which promises life. This relationship with the Lord reaches its consummation when Jesus, recognising himself in us, gives us his Spirit in blessing, and through which we know how truly great is his love for us: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11; John 15:13; 19:30; 20:22; Mark 15:36) Here our experience of God changes. For, in giving us his blessing, the Lord seemingly goes away and we experience an aloneness (John 16:32), even as we experience an empowerment to live life as a son/daughter of God through his Spirit coming upon us … much as it did in the story of our creation when it breathed life into us. (Genesis 2:7) This experience is likened to being ‘born again’ (John 3:3), something we should not shy away from. For, in the process, as we come of age as a Christian, we discover a new way of being with God (John 14:23) and in which we know what we have to do as we remember and are reminded of all that he taught us in all that we encounter (John 14:26. C.f.: 2:22), giving glory to God by putting it into practice as we live our life (John 14:21. C.f.: Romans 6:13-14), by being whom we are made to be: images of God in this world for all who encounter us (Romans 8:29; John 14:9), and this is our witness to the God we know. (John 15:26-27. C.f: 1:6-7) For in us, they can and do encounter something of God’s great love for us, for this is what it enables us to do. (John 3:16; 13:34)
If we care to take seriously our experience of God, pondering it and allowing it to draw us where it will (John 3:8), we will find that not only will it lead us to life, but that it will empower us to live that life, and giving God the glory in our wonder that he could do such … in me! Our part in it is to believe the promise that is contained within it and treasure it. (Luke 1:37, 45, 46ff; 2:19)