Reflection: Death, Trinity, Hope and Religious Language

Rodney Eivers
Preached 23rd June 2019
Death has not been far away from me this week.
Indeed it may not be far from the thoughts of many of us in this congregation as we struggle with serious illness.
Even without serious illness most of us are in the later years of our lives and will wonder from time to time what lies ahead of us.
Some will be comforted by some confidence that this earthly life is not the end and that some heavenly destination awaits us. Do not let me persuade you otherwise.
One day we asked my father in law David, “Do you expect to go to heaven when you die?”
He did not give what might be called a simple answer but replied. “I have heard it said that we make our own heaven and our own hell here on Earth”
This leads me in to the thought of the way we use religious language. What do we mean when we talk about God, or heaven, or hell?
But first of all a little diversion over some of the assumptions we make about our Christian faith. A little bit of history.
Today is Trinity Sunday. We talk a lot about Trinity in our hymns and in our sermons don’t we? We assume “It’s in the Bible”. Actually Trinity is not in the Bible although there are a number of passages which lead people to think that this was what Jesus was talking about.
After Jesus died with his talk of love, of God as caring father and the Kingdom of God his followers thought so highly of him that they wanted to say he was equal to God. But then some of them wanted to take it further and say that Jesus was God.
In the next 300 years there were lots and lots of arguments about this and some people got very angry, even to the extent of killing one another. In the end Roman Emperor, Constantine got sick of it. He called all the Christian bishops together for a conference and said, “Enough quarrelling. Get this sorted out”
So they got this parliament together and there was lots of to…ing and fro…ing with debate. One fellow called Arius, said that if we were going to say that Jesus was the Son of God (there were actually lots of sons of God in those days, including the Roman Emperor) he could not be God equally with God as father. This is because children must obey their parents. That means they can’t be equal. Also if Jesus was the son of God and conceived as a baby he could not have existed at the same time as God as the book of John claims.
To complicate the matter some people threw in the idea of a Holy Spirit as also another form of God, thus making it three – That’s where we get Trinity from.
Hazel talked about the spirit of God in her sermon last week and I like the way she described it as an influence for good within our own minds and bodies.
Anyway, Arius and his mob lost. But the bishops kept arguing it for hundreds of years and indeed today it is still a source of argy bargy. Most of the ordinary followers of Jesus did not really know what was going on or what it was all about.
Perhaps they still don’t but we still make a big thing of the Trinity. You look at our hymns. Our Uniting Church school for ministers is called Trinity College Queensland.
Which brings me to the point that all we have for describing God, is our human language.
We find we have to think in terms of human beings. We know from our scientists these days (anybody watched Brian Cox on television?) that there are billions of stars bigger than our sun and millions of galaxies full of those stars. Where does a human being fit into all this?
A quotation used by many people since but including a Greek man called Xenophanes 2500 years ago noted “If horses could paint their gods, they would look like horses”.
So we are limited by our human language. We need to keep this in mind when it comes to interpreting what has been written in the Bible,
And we have a big problem here when it comes to bringing the Jesus story today to people, especially young people who have not read the Bible and if they do, find much of the Bible confusing and not making much sense.
We can talk about God and think we know what we mean but for people on the outside of the church our images don’t count for much. Most people in our culture (perhaps even some of us in this congregation) have decided that the God who controls and manipulates everything is unbelievable.
The characters in the Old Testament and Paul in the New were trying to sort our problems which existed for them at that time. They did not see them as applying to everybody for for the rest of history . It is not about sticking to the law. It is more about being “like Jesus” as best we can.
I trust that you, like me, even as we struggle to describe our relationship with God in human language and to cope with getting older and getting sicker will continue to “be like Jesus” as best we can. AMEN


3 thoughts on “Reflection: Death, Trinity, Hope and Religious Language

  1. Garth Everson

    The thirteenth century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart taught that we can only describe the nature of God by declaring what God is NOT; otherwise we become trapped in dualism. This is much the same as suggesting that it is just as futile to erect images of God in words as it is to erect images in stone. The divine, is immune to our descriptions. On the other hand, the divine can indeed be imagined (as in prayer, for instance). Descriptions or histories (whether biblical or secular) can obviously be confused with actual personal experience. And they are!

  2. Jill Ward

    Thank you Rodney Eivers for a beautifully simple and clear explanation of ‘ The Trinity’.
    You have said what many of us are thinking but don’t know how to say.


    Your reference to the trinity was very appropriate to the current Israel Folau debate on freedom of religion etc. Kate McClymont in the SMH July 20-21 2019 reports that the Folau family church (Truth of Jesus Christ Church) believes that the trinity is ‘the biggest deception which Satan uses today”.

    Unfortunately Scott Morrison’s Pentecostal Horizon Church IS Trinitarian – so ScoMo joins the drunks etc on their journey.

    The good news, for me, is the UCA is led by a Liberation Theologist – Rev Dr Deidre Palmer. Maybe this is common knowledge (If not common UCA doctrine) – I only learned last Sunday morning when Deidre was a panellist on the household-compulsory RN God Forbid (6am).

    And while the Folaus are reminding us of Satan, lets also be reminded of Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ – an iconic description of early capitalism. The DSMs are now in Bangladesh etc.

    Barrie McMahon – Northern Inland NSW UCA

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