Sunday, 15 June 2014

Trinity 2014: does God exist?

"Do unicorns exist?" 

Presumably, your answer is "no." But it is a question you can answer only because you know what a unicorn would be if it did exist. If you didn't, you wouldn't be able to answer. But as it is, you do know that a unicorn is a magical horse with a single horn in its forehead, and knowing that no such horned horses exist, you can answer the question with a fair degree of certainty. 

But what if I were to ask you, "do squaggligogs exist?" You wouldn't be able to answer, except with another question which would have to be answered first, namely: "what is a squaggligog?" Unless you know what a squaggligog is, you can't say whether or not it exists. If I were then to tell you that a squaggligog is a rare marsupial found in the lower Andes, you might consider its existence a possibility. If, on the other hand, I were to tell you that a squaggligog is an intelligent, blue flying rodent from Pluto capable of space travel and telepathic mind control, you would conclude that it did not exist — I hope. But either way, the question "what is a squaggligog" must logically precede the question, "do squaggligogs exist." 

So what about God? Some people are very exercised by the question, "does God exist?," and plenty are happy to give a firm answer one way or the other. It's a question that can raise hackles easily, for obvious reasons. But it seems to me that people are rather too ready to answer this question, whether it's with a "yes" or a "no," without thinking very much about the logically prior question of what God actually is - or, for that matter, is not. We can easily ask about unicorns' existence because everyone agrees what a unicorn is. We can't easily ask about squaggligogs' existence, because I just made them up, and so there's no consensus about what they are. 

The problem with asking whether God exists is that we tend to assume that we know and agree what God is. But I think, if you ask even a few Christians that question, let alone people from other religions and then atheists, you'll get very different answers. Is God the stern judge? The loving Father? The ruthless, bearded dictator? The cruel comedian of a cosmic joke? The boyfriend substitute or emotional crutch? The cause of existence?The absent watchmaker? The motivating energy behind and in all things? You'll find people of all sorts of beliefs believing in or rejecting lvariants of all of these "gods."The God that the atheist rejects is probably not the same as the God I believe in. The God that I believe in is different in many ways from the God that Hindus or Muslims or Jews believe in,and different even from that of some of my fellow Christians, I suspect. No wonder it is so hard to agree on God's "existence" or otherwise, when we don't have a clear consensus on what God is.
 
Today's feast of the most Holy Trinity is our chance to celebrate and meditate upon the albeit mystical and speculative answer of the Christian Church to that fundamental question of what God is. I do not pretend that it is an easy answer, but then, it is not likely to be. We should not be surprised to find thinking about God difficult. But frankly, things that are instantly accessible are seldom worth bothering with. God is worth the effort. And that effort, in a nutshell, is this: trying to say how Jesus, a human, can be God; how God can be both Father and Son, and how He lets us see and know Him as such.

The Trinity is not just a bolt-on addition to the Christian faith: it is absolutely essential to it. It is this teaching of the Church that makes sense of the events of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus and the sending of His Spirit at Pentecost, which is why the feast falls where it does in the Christian kalendar. 

If God were just the Father, the sacrifice of His Son would be a monstrosity, as though Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac had finally come to fruition. But if God is also Jesus the Son, as His own words and actions led His followers to conclude, it becomes an act of self-sacrifice, an act of love consistent with the kind of God we know in Christ. 

But then again, if God were just Father and Son, we would have no access to the fruits of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension. They would remain isolated events in the past, and God would remain a polarity, forever staring in love at His own image. It is because God came among us at Pentecost 
and, more importantly, stayed, right through to the present day, that we can see and know that love between the Father and the Son and be lifted up into their relationship. It is the Spirit that binds Jesus to the Father and takes us along with Him. 

So does God exist? As a general question, as I've said, I don't think it's worth even trying to answer. 
But does the Christian God, the Father revealed in Jesus by the Holy Spirit as three and one, diversity and unity, self-giving love beyond rational, mathematical comprehension, does this God exist? Well, now we've got something to talk about, something to disagree on. 

But the talking will have to wait: because we Christians should be busy enough living out the reality of that love, giving it as we gave it yesterday at the Petertide Fair, and receiving it, as we do today at this altar. That should speak more deeply of the reality of the loving Trinity than any number of sermons. So receive the Spirit today in the body and blood of the Son, and be united through them with the Father; then go, when the Mass is ended, and share out what you have received.

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