|Celtic trinitarian knot|
Ahh, to be in love. Candle-lit dinners. Quiet snuggling on the couch in the winter. Passion between the sheets. Sitting comfortably in the same room reading different books. It is impossible to fully describe the feeling of completion and resonance that comes with being in love. There’s nothing like it.
Now try imagining what it would be like to attempt to explain what being in love feels like to someone who has never been in love. Unable to communicate the experience itself, we have to rely on ever-failing words. The harder we try, the more complicated it becomes. One would think it really shouldn’t be that hard. But it is.
I believe the same thing happens with theology. People who have spiritual experiences not only want to make sense of them, but also want to share them. The more they try to understand and communicate, the more complicated it becomes. This complication is the inevitable side effect of fine tuning.
For more than two thousand years, Christians have been trying to articulate their experience of a God who is Love and its significance for their lives. Traditionally, trinitarian thought has dominated the scene. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet still remains one God, now and forever. Keep in mind that trinitarian theology is not actually in the Bible. Instead, we have what is called a “proto-trinitarian” perspective in the Christian Testament, but it’s definitely not the same thing. Trinitarian theology is the result of philosophical reflection upon the earliest Christian faith narratives. As the years passed, trinitarian theology became more complex. How is the Father related to the Son and the Spirit? How are they differentiated? How can one person of the trinity die and not another, while still both remaining very God? I believe the quest to understand the God who is Trinity to be a sincere one for the most part.
Unfortunately, however, this trinitarian formula somehow turned into an abusive tool to pressure conversion. Believe in the Son by accepting the Spirit into your life, and you will be drawn into the Father in Heaven when you die (which is very, very good)…otherwise you burn in Hell for all eternity (which is very, very bad). Those who go to Heaven are the real ™ Christians. These real Christians, of course, accept the doctrine of the Trinity, which has been divinely revealed by the Holy Spirit. If one doesn’t, that’s probably a bad sign.
At some point, we really need to step back and see the insanity for what it is. Can we really say that a God who kicks people into Hell just for not saying the magic words–“Jesus (the second person of the trinity) is my Lord and Savior–is a God of Love? Of course not. So, what happened? How did the God who is Love become the God of the select few who throws everybody else in history out of the frying pan and into the fire? Surely, once we get to this point we need to rethink our course and correct it.
One result of reconsidering such theology has been process theology. I first studied it through John Cobb and David Ray Griffin’s Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition. Process theology has its own understanding of the divine trinity, which is drastically different than the traditional one. Basically, Cobb and Griffin begin with the basic Christian premise that started it all: God is Love. Then, they asked themselves “what is love?” They argued that God is love in three different ways: God is creative love; God is responsive love; and God is unifying love. I like to think of it as the love that reaches out to another, the love that receives another, and the bond that forms as a result of that mutuality.
I like this version of trinitarian theology. I think it is far superior to the traditional Father, Son, Holy Spirit in its ability to convey the significance of what it means to say “God is Love.” And, more importantly, it really isn’t that hard to get. People can relate to being involved in relationships in which they’ve listened to their hearts beating as one in the silence of a darkened room. It is to participate in a quality and fullness of love that makes all things vital and whole.
When we focus on God as love–as the process trinity does–we attune our hearts to listen for the love around us, inasmuch as we want to listen for God. And listening is important. When was the last time we really listened for the love in our lives? Do we hear our beloved when she or he does something small for us, like a nearly-unnoticed whisper saying “I love you”? Do we hear the sound of love echoing in the void of his or her absence? Can we hear the joyful cry of love in that knowing smile that we watch crawl into existence? If not, then maybe it’s time we did.
The task before the spiritual person is to resonate with the divine movement in creation. It’s so easy for us to fall into self-destructive and other-destructive patterns. Theology is a tool that helps us to maintain focus and to reach our spiritual goal. That’s it. It isn’t about believing this or that for the sake of believing this or that. The theologies that we believe should be the theologies that help us pay attention to a God who is Love. The theologies that work best are those that draw us ever more deeply into a life of love. But even at their best, theologies will always fall short, as they forever remain nothing more than ever-failing words. When it comes to communicating the depths of divine love, all those ever-failing words ever written about God brought together wouldn’t even come close to what you can find in a good snuggle with a beloved one who loves you. Really, it’s that simple.