Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Trinity II: Muddy Metaphor

I’m still considering the recent document produced by a task force of the PCUSA, “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing.” As I mentioned in my last post, our language for the Trinity is not a simple analogy which can be changed with creative whim. Nonetheless, the authors of the draft statement give us several new examples declaring them, “historically faithful yet freshly imaginative.” Here are some examples:

As we worship, the Triune God is the One to Whom, the One by Whom, and the One in Whom we offer our praise (Basil of Caesarea).

As we seek God's grace and wholeness, acknowledging the sin and brokenness in us, our human communities, and the creation, the Triune God is our Rainbow of Promise, our Ark of Salvation, and our Dove of Peace.

As we read, proclaim, hear, and live out the message of Scripture, theTriune God is known to us as Speaker, Word, and Breath.

In baptism, the Triune God is for us Overflowing Font, Living Water, Flowing River. (BCW, p. 412; John 4:10, 13-14; John 7:37).

As we are born anew by water and the Spirit, the Triune God is Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child, and Life-giving Womb (Isaiah 49:15; 66:13; Matthew 3:17; Isaiah 46:3).

As we grow in grace, the Triune God is our Sun, Ray, and Warmth (Gregory of Nyssa).

As we offer ourselves, our resources, and our gratitude in stewardship and Eucharist, the Triune God is Giver, Gift, and Giving.

In celebrating the communion of our life together in Christ, the Triune God is Lover, Beloved, and the Love that binds together Lover and Beloved (Augustine).

As members of the believing community, we acknowledge the Triune God as our Rock, Cornerstone, and Temple (Psalm 28:1, Ephesians 2:20-21).

When we must speak of God's wrath in the face of evil, the Triune God is for us Fire that Consumes, Hammer that Breaks, Storm that Melts Mountains(Hebrews 12:20, Jeremiah 23:29, Psalm 97:5).

Each of these examples is problematic.

I can’t speak to each of the historical examples, but I am aware that Augustine’s formulation is taken from his theological analysis. I suspect the references to Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa similarly taken from larger theological works. Using this formulations apart from the greater theological context is misleading. Moreover, Augustine uses his language to clarify the meaning of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not replace it.

In addition, the scriptural examples are not actually scriptural. Instead, the images are strewn together by cutting and pasting biblical metaphor and language. Just because each component of the threesome may reference Scripture, the whole is not necessarily the sum of its parts. The internal relationship within the three is not implied by the Scripture itself. For example, although each of the words, rock, cornerstone and temple, exist in Scripture, they do not exist together. For that matter, what is the relationship between rock, cornerstone and temple? Is the Cornerstone hewn from the Rock? Are the bricks of the Temple hewn from the Rock? What is the real relationship between the three? Is that relationship consistent with what we know about the Trinity?

Likewise, the biblical references for many of the examples are suspect. Consider the following examples:

…the Triune God is our Rainbow of Promise, our Ark of Salvation, and our Dove of Peace.

Here is a biblical allusion to the story of Noah. I actually like the comparison between the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and the ark which saves humanity. Granted, the ark has often been used as a symbol for the Church, but the themes of salvation in the story are rich. However, calling the first person of the Trinity a rainbow misses the mark. It confuses the sign of God’s covenant with God. Likewise, the internal relationship between rainbow, ark, and dove also seems remote to the Trinity.

…we acknowledge the Triune God as our Rock, Cornerstone, and Temple.

The most confusing reference here is for the third person of the Trinity. Consider the Scriptural reference:

In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21-22)

It’s pretty clear from the context that the Temple is the community of faith, the Church. The Spirit is not the Temple. The Spirit could be understood as who binds Church to Christ and one to each other. Given this, a better representation for Spirit might be Mortar. Even this is a poor excuse for the traditional language. Rock, Cornerstone and Temple (Mortar) cannot be a personal God. The whole thing creates more confusion than it clarifies.

…the Triune God is Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child, and Life-giving Womb.

Again the metaphor for the third person of the Trinity has scant or nonexistent biblical support. Here is the text that the draft authors used for support:
“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb;” (Isaiah 46:3, NRSV)
How does this suggest that the Spirit is like a womb? If we consider the Nicene Creed which states that “the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son,” does that mean the Womb proceeds from the Mother and the Child? Does any of this make sense?

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