Feast of Trinity – SO NEAR, YET VERY FAR
Feast of Trinity
Jud. 8: 22-31 Rom. 5: 1-5 Jn. 16: 12-15
SO NEAR, YET VERY FAR
A right understanding of God is necessary in order to build a deeper relationship with Him.
The feast of Trinity, among other things, lends us an invitation to introspect the concept of God that we have. Our normal human tendency is either to contain God (i.e. trying to understand God fully) or to mystify God (i.e. to consider that God is a mystery who cannot /should not be understood at all. These two approaches are not healthy and would not much help us to deepen our relationship with God. God can neither be comprehended fully, nor is He completely incomprehensible. He is both understandable and un-understandable. So the moderate approach would be to try to understand God, at the same time to preserve His mystery aspect.
Looking at the religions of the world, we could construe that there are two ways of conceiving God. One is to see God as a Person. For many people, when they think of God, what comes immediately before them is an image – it may be the image of a grandfather with white flowing hair and a snow-like beard, or a statue that they regularly visit and worship. Such a visualization of God is good in so far as it helps us to have a ‘face-to-face’ encounter with Him and to relate with Him.
When we look at the Bible, we understand that various people related to God as a person. Adam talked to God; Moses had a face-to-face encounter with the Yahweh. Samuel dialogued with God. In this approach of seeing God as a Person, there is a relationship in the pattern of I-Thou. Here God is objectified, that is, God is seen another person, completely different from oneself. Such an objectified God is given qualities, is given a name –father, mother, friend, bridegroom etc., – and a form. All these things are fine and good since they help us to build up an I-Thou relationship with God.
Even though the above is a predominant approach many have in their relationship with God, we should not think that this is the only approach. In fact, this approach has got some serious limitations. Objectification of God as someone different from oneself goes against the fact that we have been created in the image and likeness of God.
There is another approach which presents God in impersonal (better, transpersonal) categories. That is, to see God as Something beyond human comprehension, but not necessarily beyond human experience. Here God is seen as someone who is beyond us and within us. In Hinduism, it is known as Brahman. Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, is essentially impersonal. Brahman is experienced as absolute mystery. No personalistic symbol – such as father, mother, friend etc.,- can truly express the ineffable mystery of the Divine. Hence the seekers are invited to go beyond all names and forms in search of this Ultimate.
When we consider the Ultimate Reality in transpersonal terms, it is very difficult to name ‘It,’ since ‘It’ goes beyond the very world of name and form. This transpersonal dimension of the Ultimate Reality is referred as ‘nirguna Brahman’ in Indian tradition, while in Christian tradition, people like Meister Eckhart have used the word ‘Godhead.’ (However to reduce the confusion, I just use the word ‘God’ for both). Though this approach is an inclusive one and more true to the reality, the problem with such an understanding of God is that it is highly difficult to relate with. It is almost like relating with vacuum.
God: Personal and Transpersonal:
The reason for emphasizing these two dimensions of God is this: The personal dimension of God helps us to understand God, to love Him, to relate with Him etc.. However the transpersonal dimension retains God’s mystery-dimension. It points out the incomprehensibility and unapproachability of God. When we look at the Old Testament, the title Elohim referred to the transcendental and transpersonal dimension of God, while the title Yahweh referred to the personal and relational dimension of God. We have to take care that we don’t reduce our understanding of God to personal categories alone. Then God is no more than a pious imagination of our mind. It is this pious imagination of the mind that is responsible for much of cruelty, done in the name of God. At the same time, we should not uphold only the transpersonal dimension of God since it is difficult to relate with such a God. No personal experience is possible. A proper balance is needed between these two approaches. Such a proper balance we see in the readings. The first reading of today emphasizes the transpersonal dimension of God. Wisdom is not merely one of the attributes of God. It is the very characteristic of God. In the second reading, Paul speaks about Jesus, the personal manifestation and the ‘face’ of God.
When we look at the gospels, we can clearly understand that Jesus’ experience of God had these two dimensions – personal and impersonal. On the one hand, he called God as Father, related with Him, spoke with Him. All these point to the personal dimensions of God. However he also portrayed God as Life, Love, Wisdom, Joy, Kingdom of God etc., which are all impersonal titles to God.
This feast of the Trinity informs us that God is both comprehensible and incomprehensible, understandable and ununderstandable, concrete and abstract, down-to-earth and a mystery, relational and beyond reach, having a form and formless, quality-ridden and quality-less. Reading this, one may say that this is utterly a non-sense and self-contradictory. Well! It is not contradictory, but paradoxical. The inability of our mind to hold the opposites together just reveals the limitedness of our little mind. It is more a problem with our mind than with the reality of God. For human mind, God is indeed a paradox. That is why He is God and that is what that makes God a God. And that is what the feast of Trinity is all about.
(P.S.: If this reflection is bit abstract, it is okay, since we are talking about the Reality which is abstract and a mystery.)