Beauty and holiness
Today’s readings: Deuteronomy 4, 32-34; 39-40; Romans 8, 14-17; Matthew 28, 16-20.
The worst opposite to belief in God is not atheism but idolatry. The temptation of idolatry is inherent to religion and I would say connatural to it. From religion it is so easy to sink in idolatry, and the antidote to idolatry is true worship.
Worship is the foremost characteristic that should distinguish those who believe from those who do not, or rather from those who are staunchly religious.
It is not morality, or tradition, or whatever, but worship that keeps religion and faith alive. Worship means believing with one’s whole heart that “the Lord is God indeed”, letting ourselves be “moved by the Spirit” to cry out “Abba, Father”.
It was to worship the true God that God’s people were brought out of Egypt. It was worship of the Lord of creation that continued to distinguish God’s people from other peoples. It was praise of the Holy One of Israel that gave Israel an identity. Israel learned, even the hard way, to worship the one whose power they experienced.
On this Trinity Sunday, what we are invited to is not an intellectual debate, but to enter into the mystery that has revealed itself in time and space. God, to use an ancient Hebrew imagery, is like ashes that look as if they are spent but which glow bright and radiate heat when blown upon.
Trinity is not the result of abstract metaphysical speculation or explanation. It is the naming of a mystery we can only approach with wonder, in the same way that Moses approached the burning bush feeling overwhelmed by the vision. Israel preferred a more distant God. But God was for them a God of unrelenting intimacy.
The heart of our confession this Sunday that God is Triune is the Church’s insistence that the God we worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is Israel’s God.
Like Israel, who suffered slavery and experienced the exodus, we are invited to learn that God is there but cannot be known in Himself. Like Israel in its longing to reach out for God in times dark and bright, we have learned that our language is never adequate to exhaust the mystery it is trying to express.
This acknowledgment of God being the Holy One and the only One worthy of worship is a most difficult issue in our culture today. We’ve entered into endless theological disquisitions on who God is and how better to define the idea.
We’ve gone so far, according to reason narrowly understood, as to kill the idea that there is a God after all. We fail to distinguish clearly between God and ourselves, between the Creator and the creatures.
We’ve come of age to such an extent that we feel in no way overwhelmed, and speaking of mystery and vision sounds purely mythological. That is secularisation at its best. We’ve become too down to earth to make time to speak of the beyond.
On the other hand, what we are tempted with in religion is precisely to turn the gift of praise into a possession. But to make God a thing at our disposal is the subtlest form of idolatry.
God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and the God we believe in was capable of even making His home among us while remaining God.
That is basically what the Trinity means: We worship a God who does not exist only for Himself. He is the Almighty, but He is almighty in mercy; He is the Lord, but also a loving Lord; He is our eternal king but also a brother in time.
Trinity, therefore, as Stanley Hauerwas writes, is not a doctrine that is an ‘add on’ to the essentials of the Christian faith. The mystery we celebrate revolves around ourselves to reveal to us more who we are than who God is. In His mystery is revealed our mystery.
In this manner, the story of creation and redemption continues thanks to the power of the Spirit of truth, empowering us all to bring the beauty of holiness to a world in need both of beauty and of holiness.