Trinity: Week 1
God Is Relationship
Friday, September 16, 2016
We owe a great deal of our Western thinking to the brilliant Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle (384-322 BC). Aristotle taught that there were ten different qualities to all things. I’m not going to list all ten of them; two will suffice. He said there was “substance” and there was “relationship.”
Substance is that which is “independent” of all else and can stand on its own. Aristotle ranked substance as the highest quality. In early Christian traditions, the West tried to build on Aristotle to prove that this God whom we had come to understand as Trinitarian was a substance. We didn’t want an ephemeral old relationship God, you know. We wanted a substantial God whom we could prove was as good as anybody else’s God!
Yet, when Jesus called himself the Son of the Father and yet one with the Father, he is giving clear primacy to relationship. Who you are is who you are in the Father, as he would put it. That is your meaning and your identity. Jesus says to his Father, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
We humans are not a kind of independent substance, nor is any of creation. Everything exists in radical relationship, which we now call ecosystems, orbits, cycles, and circulatory systems. Yet to the Western mind, this “mere” relationship looks like second or third best: “Who wants to just be a relationship? I want to be a self-made man or woman.”
This hyper-individualism has dramatically impacted Western Christianity. In the fourth and fifth centuries, Augustine described Trinity as God in three substances united as one. By the next century, God is one substance who happens to have three relationships. Aquinas comes along in the thirteenth century saying that God is one substance, but the relationships constitute the very nature of that substance. Ah, that’s about it. He called it subsistent relationship.
Now we are prepared to say that God is not, nor does God need to be, “substance” in the Aristotelian sense of something independent of all else. God is relationship itself.
I would name salvation as simply the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in relationship. As long as you show up with some degree of vulnerability, the Spirit can keep working. Self-sufficiency makes God experience impossible. Please trust me on that. That’s why Jesus shows up in this world as a naked, vulnerable one—a defenseless baby. Talk about utter relationship! Naked vulnerability means I’m going to let you influence me; I’m going to allow you to change me. The Way of Jesus is an invitation to a Trinitarian way of living, loving, and relating—on earth as it is in the Godhead. We are intrinsically like the Trinity, living in an absolute relatedness. To stand outside of this flow is to live within the deepest meaning of sin.
We call this flow love.
We really were made for love; outside of it we die very quickly.
Gateway to Silence:
Come, sit at the table.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 44-47.