Did you ever try to explain the Trinity? You know: Father, Son, Holy Spirit: three distinct and separate persons but one divine nature?
You mean like: Hillary, Donald, Bernie: three distinct and separate persons but one human nature?
No, no, you don’t understand. Those are three different people but here there’s only one substance, one essence, one God. Got it?
But what’s the difference? Aren’t we talking persons and nature in both cases?
Forget it. Christians have always had a terrible time with the Trinity. For the first four hundred years, many sincere followers of Christ tried to explain it. Some said Jesus was born as a man but became a god; others that only the Father—not Jesus—was the God of the Old Testament, and still others that the Holy Spirit wasn’t really God, but just the expression of God’s power. All of these people were condemned as heretics by the Council of Nicaea in 325 but it took another seventy-five years to silence them completely. And they were silenced just the way you were silenced as a child: “Believe it because I said so.”
Why did Christians have such a problem? Well, once again, blame the Jews; we blame them for everything else. You see, if Jesus had a human mind, (and we know he did) it was a Jewish mind. Jews can’t divide up YHWH into three persons. The Romans and the Greeks had no problem with this; they had more gods than Catholics have Saints, and they insisted on the “divine label” for Jesus. But no Jew in his right mind would ever say, then or now, “I am God,” and Jesus was a good Jew. He could never have blasphemed that way in his Jewish mind. But if he did, as John’s gospel says he did, his Jewish enemies had a valid cause to stone him to death. (Jn. 5:59)
But anybody who reads the New Testament and especially John’s gospel would certainly get the idea that Jesus spoke freely about being God. There are over twenty statements like these: “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn.8:58) and “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Mt.28:19) If Jesus was such a good Jew, how could he make statements like this? Well, I don’t think he did; I think the Evangelists made them for him.
To Jewish minds, to be true man and true god at the same time is an oxymoron. Humanity and divinity are not just different modes of being, they’re opposites. Did he suspend his divinity when he got angry at the temple change-makers who were just doing their job? Did he suspend his humanity when he died and rose from the dead? These questions—and many more—haunted the Christian towns for the first 400 years after his death. There was more dissention in those days than we're seeing in our political campaigns today. That's why Emperor Constantine had to stop it in 325 A.D. "It's a Trinity" he said, “Shut up and believe it.”
Whether I believe it or not, I agree with the Franciscan Friar, Father Richard Rohr, who says in his book: “The Naked Now”: “Our preoccupation with his divinity did not allow us to hear about his own proudly proclaimed and clearly emphasized humanity.” (pg. 68) Eighty-seven times in the gospels, he calls himself a son of man: a regular, human, everyday man, “I’m just like you.”
Here’s a man who has all the limitations and illnesses of humanity but breaks through them all in courage and determination. A man who knows how hard it is to forgive his enemies, yet can say: “Come on, let’s forgive them.” (Lk.17:3) A man who knows (because he’s been there) how easy it is to see the stupidity of others but overlook his own ignorance, and can say: “Let’s take the log from our own eyes and then we can see the sliver in theirs.” (Mt. 7:4) It takes a big man to say stuff like this.
The Trinity is something theologians can argue about and mystics can meditate on, but it has absolutely nothing to do with how I live my life. That’s my opinion, and I’m stickin’ to it.
Agatha Christy wrote: “A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”
You’ve seen the mother of a convicted murderer standing at his side. Even though she knows he did it and even though he shows no remorse or repentance or sorrow whatsoever, she is still there loving him. It doesn’t matter how bad he is; she will not leave his side. Do we have any records of a mother who said: “I’m sorry son, but if you don’t repent I can’t love you.”? Don’t think so.
Christians and Jews have long said this about their God. He shows no partiality; he lays down no conditions; he loves us like a mother. His love never fails (Psalms 52:8), it endures forever (Psalms 106:1), it’s uncalculating (Proverbs 30:5); he doesn't just love us-he IS love (1 John 4:16).
But what if we’re sinful, unrepentant, and arrogant like the murderous son of that mother? It doesn’t matter: “He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Mt. 5:45)
Hold on! I don’t think Paul believed this. I can’t read Paul’s epistle to the Romans and believe that his God has unconditional love for all of us. Just read chapter 9. Paul makes a point of citing the prophet Malachi (1:2) who quotes Yahweh saying: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” And Paul concludes: He shows mercy to whom he wills and hardens whom he wills.” (Rom.9:18)
His entire epistle is saying that God can love whomever he wants to love and hate whomever he wants to hate. The mother seems to have no choice; she will love her son—unconditionally—regardless of what he does. According to Paul, God definitely has conditions and he chooses those he wants to love. You don’t like this? Paul says: “Who are you to talk back to God?” (Rom. 9:20) Paul and the Evangelists who followed him have always said: “God doesn’t reject sinners; sinners reject him” and that’s why God’s love stops. But it doesn’t stop the unconditional love of the murderer’s mother. She loves that ugly sinner right up to his day of execution. What’s going on here? Are we misinterpreting Paul’s epistle? I don’t think so.
Paul maintains that God is justified in rejecting those who practice the Roman and Greek religions of his day. He says they should have known that Zeus and Apollo and all the rest were false; they should have recognized that the Christian God was better. They should have recognized him through nature (through what he has made.) But they didn’t, so God just “stepped aside” and let them do what is morally wrong, (Rom. 1:28) and then let them suffer the wrath of God.
Paul is hard to read—even in Greek. We have to remember that he’s writing a letter, not a theological treatise. He doesn’t have a computer with spell-check. He’s scratching with a pen on a piece of parchment and doesn’t have the luxury of making too many corrections. Besides, he’s on fire with his new religion and doesn’t have any patience with those who “don’t get it.” He doesn’t have google or fact-check, and never even spoke to Jesus himself, but he feels confident—maybe over-confident—that whatever he writes will be understood. He knows his people trust him.
So what am I to believe? Does God love me unconditionally like a mother—or only if I follow all his laws, even those I don’t know? Should I follow one part of John’s gospel and relax because God is love and no matter how badly I screw up he will, like my own mother, still love me—or should I quiver in my sinful boots before a vengeful God because Paul says so?
We know the answer, don’t we? Or do we? Are there still some Christians who believe that God will not love and save all those millions of people who reject Jesus Christ? You know, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Baha’i, and Buddhists? Is our God a ‘just judge’ who punishes those who don’t follow the Christian law, regardless of their intentions, or is God a ‘loving mother’ who loves us all with an unconditional love and pays no attention to all of our laws and restrictions?
Can you imagine walking around Galilee with Mary Magdalene, listening to Jesus? What do you think he was saying?
We know what Paul was saying because he wrote it down, but what was Jesus saying? Oh sure, we have the gospels, but these were written down 40 to 70 years later for people who already ‘believed’ in Jesus. What did he say years before to the Jews who knew him as just another guy? What did he say that made them want to follow him to the ends of the earth?
I don’t think there was any: ‘resurrection’ or ‘ascension’ or ‘atonement’; no ‘divine god-man.’ These were all topics that writers used who never knew Jesus. These were the ‘proofs’ put forward by Paul, and the Four Evangelists and put on the lips of Jesus for readers who needed proof. But I don’t think the original followers of Jesus would understand any of these. Obviously, I don’t believe every statement that’s attributed to Jesus in our New Testament was actually spoken by Jesus.
Well then, how can I know what he was saying? It’s hard to tell. Take Mark’s Gospel—the very first attempt at recording his words; it was written sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70AD. That would be at least 40 years after all these events were over. Titus has just destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Jesus-Jews are devastated. Mark starts his gospel with the baptism by John the Baptizer and then he has Jesus saying to his fellow Jews: “Hey, the time’s up; the Kingdom of God is here already. Change your life and believe this good news.” (Mk.1:15) Do you think Mark got it right? Do you think he got the exact words of Jesus?
40 years is a long time. Do you remember what Jimmy Carter said in the 1976 Presidential primaries? That was 40 years ago, and we had full TV coverage. Do you remember anything he said in his debates with President Ford? Did you remember what he said the day he won? He spoke English; no translation needed —but 40 years is a long time.
However, let’s say Mark got it right. Let’s say that these Greek words really do come close to the actual Aramaic words of Jesus. What would they mean to a bunch of Galilean peasants who just wanted to be left alone? There was fighting going on all around them. Herod had been sent to Sepphoris (5 miles from Nazareth) about 15 years before Jesus was born, to set up a Roman military base for attacks on Jerusalem. After Herod died, Judas the Galilean stormed the base at Sepphoris to get at their armory but he failed. Rome responded by burning down the town completely, and making slaves of all the Jews. And the fighting continued—unabated—down to the time of Jesus.
The majority of Galileans just wanted to be left alone; they didn’t like the pomp and grandeur of the Roman troops riding their war-horses around the village, and they didn’t buy into the vengeance reactions of some of their neighbors. These were poor people; they just wanted to belong to some kind of group or organization that would give them their individual freedom. They wanted to live a simple but fulfilling kind of life and they looked to the Synagogue for all of this—but it wasn’t happening.
And along comes this peasant named Jesus. He lives the simple life. He wears the clothes of the hippies of his day (called Cynics) but he belongs to their own synagogue. He says it’s about time for some serious thinking about how his fellow Galilean Jews should be living, and they begin to listen intently. “Don’t worry,” he says, (about the Romans). “Forgive your enemies, and love those who hate you.” He refers to a theme they have heard nearly every week at their Synagogue: ‘The Kingdom of God,’ but unlike the Hebrew prophets who spoke about it in the future, Jesus says: “Hey guys--it’s here already. It’s right inside of you.” (Lk.17:21)
We know there were several “would-be messiahs” during this time. They were all performing ‘miracles’: raising people from the dead (there were no coroners or autopsies back then), curing and healing as they walked along the road. So what made Jesus special? What made men—and especially women—so dedicated to this particular peasant/preacher more than all the others?
I think it was the absence of religion. Jesus didn’t say: “Go to the synagogue (church) every week;” “Pay your tithes to the Rabbi (pastor)” “Just believe on the Torah (on the Lord, Jesus Christ) and you will be saved.” Instead, he emphasized unconditional love and forgiveness: “Love your neighbors and pray for those who abuse you,” “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other one, too,” etc. I think the early Church ‘got it.’ But how did we lose it? Why do we have Churchianity now instead of Christianity?