Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 27/05/21

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. The Book of Common Prayer suggests we depart from normal practice on this day and say the Athanasian creed instead of the ones we normally use. The first section tells us:

And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise, the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty.

It goes on in a similar vein for some time. Probably not what you want to be reading out at the next Messy Church! And yet these creeds are not dogmatic hurdles to be leaped over or skirted around. They are the best attempts of Christian scholars to distill for us a description of spiritual reality. This doctrine of the trinity, that God is three persons so in a relationship of love that they are essentially one, is what distinguishes the Christian faith from the non-Christian sect and from all other faiths. It's almost the only belief that defines what it is to be a Christian, uniting protestant, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Orthodox. Friends from other faiths find it particularly baffling. Some would argue for a God who is containable and explicable by rationality and logic. But if God was so containable, it would be hard not to argue that he was just a figment of our imagination. If God is genuinely so vast as to be outside the almost boundless universe, as well as within it, he would by definition be unknowable, unless he chose to reveal himself to us. (and I recognise even in using those gendered pronouns I’m using metaphors to grasp at reality).

Christian doctrine is faith seeking understanding on the basis of what we believe God has revealed to us. We see God as Father initially through what we describe as the creation. In doing that we don’t get hung up on the method he used. We merely state that all that is owes its existence to God’s action from outside. The existence of the world as it is and as we experience it is the result of such an infinitesimally improbable series of events that a miraculous first cause appears more probable than random chance. The undeniable details of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ point to someone much more than just a mortal human being. This was the conclusion the first disciples came to very rapidly from their experience of interacting with him. After his death, resurrection and ascension, they discovered a new transforming power within them. They and generations of Christians since have experienced the Holy Spirit indwelling, empowering and transforming hearts. All these are experiences of the reality of God, the same, but strangely different. The doctrine of the Trinity is our feeble attempt to give some sort of intellectual framework to this experience of reality.

Very few people (other than perhaps C.S. Lewis) come to faith as the end result of philosophical reasoning. People who are exploring faith today come with all sorts of questions. The doctrine of the Trinity might be one, but there are many others. The problem of suffering; other faiths and Christian claims about uniqueness; the reliability of our claims about Jesus; science and religion, to name a few. Many of us will have grappled with these questions ourselves as we explored faith and still grapple now. The truth is we will never get complete answers to any of these questions. But faith is much more than ticking off some facts about God we choose to believe or not. Christian faith is committing our lives to the leadership and direction of God. To do that we don’t need the answer to every question, but we do need enough to be assured it's a reasonable choice to make. We need the assurance that God is trustworthy. We don’t need a theology degree to see that in Jesus Christ God shows himself to be all love, that his heart is for us, that the humility, grace and service we see in Jesus are not disguises for God, but God in his essence. Back in 1978, I faced the question of whether, from what I knew, this was the God I would give my life to, just as he had given his life for me. Doing so was the start of my Christian journey. I remain on a journey of faith seeking understanding. I recognise much of what I believe is held passionately, but provisionally. But it is fundamentally a relationship for which I thank God every day and which I commend to you.