I have mostly found the idea of The Trinity quite easy to understand. As I think of it, it contains three aspects of the same thing. This is not an unfamiliar concept: I am one person, but everybody who encounters me will encounter a slightly different face, and some quite different faces. The baby boy my mother held at my birth, is different from the priest who preaches a sermon or celebrates the eucharist, who is different again from the man on the edge of his seat when Spurs are playing. Yet it is the same person, manifesting in different ways. All are equally me. There is no competition.
So it is with God: there is God: the transcendent mystery beyond all our knowing; there is the Spirit of God which enlivens all of creation; and there is Jesus: God in human form. Each manifesting the divine in different ways. All equally God, and again, no competition.
As I look back over my life I am aware that a different member of the Trinity has been of primary importance to me at different stages of my life. When I was a young man a friend suggested to me that I was a Christian ‘because I couldn’t get Jesus out of my hair’ and they were right. Editing a community newspaper in inner-city south London in my late twenties I quickly learnt that there were people whose behaviour and commitment was such that I could not but see the activity of the Spirit of God in who and how they were, although they professed no Christian faith and attended no church. My role as editor, as I saw it, was the support the activity of the Spirit of God wherever I encountered it in that community as best I could. As I got older the more reflective, contemplative side of me grew stronger, and I found deep satisfaction in the silence and stillness of a mysterious God beyond my comprehension.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I have been aware of all three members of the Trinity throughout my life, but it has usually been the case that at any particular time, one of them has seemed more important than the others. As I have listened to people tell me their stories over the years, I have noticed that this insight seems to be true for many of them also.
I have had no conscious control over which member of the Trinity was pre-eminent at any particular time, nor have I had any conscious control over when the pre-eminent member changed. It just seemed to happen, and is therefore nothing for me to worry about. But what I have also learnt is that when one member seems to be paramount, then its important not to forget the other two. For example, if Jesus seems most important to me now, then I must make space in my awareness for the activity of the Spirit of God and the unknowable mystery of God too, acting as a sort of counter- balance. This feels to me to be healthy.
The same insight applies to the question of ‘which Jesus’. At any one time one of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, ‘Jesus the Christ’, and the ‘Cosmic Christ’ will seem more important, more significant, in my life, and that is fine. But it is important that I never forget the other two, but rather make space for my awareness of them to balance me in my relationship with ‘Jesus’.
And this holds true for the church as well. Most churches will have a named or un-named bias toward one of the manifestations of ‘Jesus’. That is fine. But if the church is to be healthy then it needs to do one of two things:
either, make space for, and discriminate in favour of, the other ‘Jesus’ manifestations. A pentecostal church with an active programme of social engagement with its local community, and a contemplative prayer group, for example. And, be open to ‘the pre-eminent Jesus manifestation’ changing over time and to be willing to embrace that and not see it as some sort of failure.
or, encourage groups of local churches emphasising different ‘Jesus’ manifestations to come together in ways that make it possible and indeed desirable for people to be able to move naturally and with everyones blessing, from one church to another as their spirituality grows and changes, without anybody feeling threatened by that.
What is true at a local level should also be true at a national and international level. A healthy church will honour and serve each and all of the manifestations of the ‘Jesus Trinity’, and see it as its task to live at harmony with all of them: much as we believe happens within The Trinity. There is no competition.