THE TRINITARIAN EXPERIENCE OF GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Ps 33; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20 ]
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, according to some theologians, could be the reason why Christianity has become less attractive, especially to people with a simple mind. It is much easier just to confess faith in the One God than to try to figure out how God is One in being and three in persons. The doctrine is mind boggling when we try to understand how the inner life of God works. How could God be one being or one substance and yet there are three persons sharing the same being in thinking, in will, in majesty, in power, omnipotence and omniscience and yet are different? In truth, even with all the intellectual attempts to make sense of the doctrine of the Trinity, we know that we cannot truly explain the inner life of God because it is a mystery of faith. Indeed, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a mystery.
The path to understanding the Trinitarian God is not through reason. If we try to explain why God is one being and three persons, it will create more confusion rather than enlightenment. Speaking about the Holy Trinity via a doctrinal exposition is not the best way to introduce someone to the Holy Trinity. The discourse is useful for clarification and to calm the intellect in searching for the truth, but this presupposes the person experiences God as such. Thus the way to speak about the Holy Trinity is the way of experience, the way of prayer and the way of encountering God concretely. Without this prior experience of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, such theological expositions remain abstract propositions.
The first step in coming to know the doctrine of the Trinity presumes faith in the One God. Our creed begins with the opening article of faith, “I believe in one God.” This must be the starting point, for Christianity is a monotheistic religion. However, faith in God again cannot be simply a conceptual or intellectual assent to a truth. Many people do not have faith in God simply because they do not experience His presence in their lives, more so, when society is so secularistic and God is removed from public life. When God is not felt or heard or seen, how could there be faith in God?
Indeed, in the first reading, Moses demanded obedience of the people to God only because this God was encountered by them intensely. The Lord worked in their lives and history, delivering them from their enemies, especially from slavery. Truly, they had heard the voice of God, they had seen Him in nature, thunder, lightning, a pillar of fire and clouds. They witnessed God’s power over nature in the Ten Plagues and in their fight with the Egyptians and their enemies on their march to the Promised Land.
Unless we have experienced God concretely in our lives, it is difficult to profess our faith in Him. Often, people give up faith in God because they feel that God was not with them in their pains and sufferings, in their illnesses, failures or when they lost their loved ones or their job. Only if we have encountered God personally and concretely, can we profess with Moses, “The Lord is God indeed, in heaven above as on earth beneath, he and no other.” So the question of faith in God is whether one has encountered Him radically in their lives. If in our helpless moments and desperation, a miracle happens, then faith becomes stronger and God becomes real in our lives. This is why testimonies of God’s love for us in our daily life is the most convincing way to lead people to faith in Him; not through doctrines.
Nevertheless, Christian faith does not stop at believing that God is one. God is Father but He also sent us His Son who revealed to us the full identity of God. Jesus made it clear, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (Jn 14:10) Christ revealed to us that He is one with the Father. “The Father and I are one.” (Jn 10:30)
But how do we know that Jesus and the Father are one? This is proven by His death and resurrection. In His resurrection from the dead, the Father endorsed everything that Jesus said and did. All the claims of Jesus about His identity and the work He did for His Father make sense with His resurrection. It shows that He is the Lord of life and Lord over death, which has no power over Him. “The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.” In this statement, we see how the disciples bowed down in worship; and if some hesitated, it was because the Risen Lord had been so transformed from the Jesus of Nazareth that only faith could perceive His Presence. But once perceived, the conclusion is that Jesus is the Risen Lord and therefore in assuming the powers of God, He now has the authority of God. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
But for us who have not seen the Risen Lord, how can we know that His Risen presence is real? How can we encounter Him today so that we know that God is our Father through Christ? This is where Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit. This is what St Paul wrote, “Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is given to us so that in the Holy Spirit we come to encounter the Risen presence of the Lord. This happens in our hearts at prayer, especially during worship, when the Word of God is read, preached and shared.
Beyond experiencing the Fatherliness of God in prayer, we also experience His strength and power working in us in our triumph and fortitude in the face of sufferings. St Paul wrote, “And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.” In our union with Christ’s suffering even unto death, we also share His resurrection and new life. Finally, in our fellowship with the Body of Christ, in our service to the poor and the abandoned, we encounter the Lord Jesus present in them. Jesus is felt, heard, touched and seen in our brothers and sisters, especially when we belong to a Catholic community.
Only then, can we speak about the work of evangelization and the obligation of mission. Without this interior and personal experience of God as the Holy Trinity, we cannot be His witnesses. Only after the disciples had seen Him, did Jesus tell them, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations.” Unless we know from our heart that God is real and He is experienced as Father, Son and Spirit, we cannot share the Good News. Indeed, the Lord commanded us to “baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is not in the names but name, singular, because there is one God.
Christian joy is to know the Father more and more through understanding the Son and acceptance of His teachings so that the Holy Spirit can live in our hearts. Indeed, we are “to teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Dying in Christ in baptism, rising to a new life in the Spirit, sharing our communion with the rest of the family of God, together, we help each other and support each other to become more and more like Jesus and living together as God’s family. In conclusion, not only is our experience of God triune, but our life as Christians must be lived in imitation of the Trinitarian communion. We who are individuals, too, must learn to live in unity. We need to become more and more united in love and service, sharing our uniqueness and talents together for the service of God and humanity, so as to build a community of love.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.