What is the nature of God?
Contrary to popular belief that ‘all religions are the same’, Christianity is distinct from the way other religions think about and understand the nature of God. For example, the first difference is the way in which God is described as being ‘love’. This an anathema to many because love, as we know, is self-sacrificial and risks having that love thwarted or rejected — just ask any parent and they will confirm this to be true! Jesus Christ, being in very nature God, demonstrated what it means to be self-sacrificial and loving and (you know how the story goes) he was rejected and suffered. Thus, because God loves, God suffers — and this is an idea that is preposterous to some. The second way in which the Christian God is different from other gods is that Christians assert that God is something they call the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is not that Christians think there are three gods or one god divided into three parts, but that God is both one and three at the same time and to us humans this is a paradox.
Christian pastors and ministers have tried all kinds of ways of describing the Holy Trinity. I remember one pastor describing the Holy Trinity as being like an egg with three parts: shell, white, and yolk. Another pastor I once heard, described the Holy Trinity as being like water with three states: solid, liquid, and gas, and yet another pastor described the Holy Trinity as being like the sun: a physical object but also light and heat. All these analogies, no matter how ingenious, fall down, and personally, I like that God is one and three at the same time because this paradoxical nature adds a dimension to God that means that although I can fully accept God, I cannot fully comprehend God. Perhaps if I could fully comprehend God then God would no longer be God? If the Christian God were a human invention, then surely it would have made much more sense to make God in our image rather than an incomprehensible paradox?
I also like God being both one and three at the same time because it means that God exists as community or relationship, and if the first facet of God’s nature is that God is love, then of course, love cannot be expressed without the existence of an object or recipient of that love, therefore this God who is described as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exists in a divine relationship of mutual love in what some theologians call the ‘cosmic dance’ : the Father loves the Son and the Spirit, the Son loves the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Therefore, as God’s created beings, the Christian message is that you and I are invited into a relationship of love with God. We are drawn, by God’s love, into the circle or cosmic dance of God.
It strikes me as wonderful that we humans, in both our individuality and in our community, are made in the image of God. I wonder, therefore, if we ourselves are the best example of describing what God is like. John Donne wrote, “No man is an island” and humans cannot be defined solely as disconnected individuals. Not only are we genetically connected to our forebears, but we are very much defined by our relationships — with our parents, family, friends, and colleagues. Babies that receive no love and no relationship literally die, and from our birth, and perhaps even in the womb, we are as defined by our community as we are by our individuality.
Not to belittle other faiths in the slightest, but the understanding of a loving and suffering Trinitarian God is unique to Christianity. The Christian God does not fit neatly into a box and the Christian believer lives with an element of both paradox and mystery. God is ultimately bigger and better than we will ever comprehend, and I would have it no other way. The remarkable good news is, however, that this unknowable God wants to know us and be known by us. The Christian way of life is not following a set of predetermined rules and regulations but is a relationship and a journey of discovery. It is dynamic and interactive, real and present, and brings a deep sense of inner peace and joy.
Some of you reading or listening to this message will dismiss the Christian notion of God as a fairytale or a dangerously perpetuated myth, and others will not recognise God as being loving nor relational. Like me, you too are on your own journey. All I can do is simply be a witness to a God that is doing a good work in me and who has not yet finished. For some of you, the nature of God has been covered up and has been obscured by layers of church culture or shrouded in words and traditions. Perhaps, this week, peel things back. Simply sit and reflect on these words that God — who is both one and community — longs to draw you into a wonderful loving relationship, has given themselves for you, and should you dare to believe and trust in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, your life will never be the same again.