For centuries, orthodox Christendom has articulated something about God that the scriptures do not spell out. For centuries — somewhere between 17 and 20 of ’em, I think — those with influence have taught a doctrine, and we have come to accept, without questioning, that this teaching simply is. Hold that thought. . . .
Humanity’s finest moments do not come when we simply accept things without question. To start with a minimal example, take the word “a.” It’s so common — in over-zealous attempts to be emphatic — to pronounce “a” like the name of the letter. Yet, despite these frequent mispronunciations by public and not-so-public figures, this English word is always properly pronounced “uh” (roughly a “schwa” sound), and never “ay.” Again: there is never an instance, in spoken English, in which the word “a” should be pronounced “ay.” It’s just the way it is, and there’s no use questioning the reality.
Similarly, just because a well-intentioned, ill-informed public speaker says, “God gave this to you and I” (inaccurate use of the subjective case) or pronounces the word “interesting” with four syllables (“INN – tur – ess – ting”), it doesn’t make those things correct.
What about sherbet? It is a logical certainty that the majority of my readers will turn out to be among those who mispronounce this word. Were you raised calling it “sherbert”? That doesn’t make it correct. (Now don’t go getting all aggressive and accusative on me. I know there are lots of things I learned incorrectly, too.) You can pass it off as a matter of choice all you like, but that doesn’t change the fact: the word is “sherbet.” It is an adulterated pronunciation that includes an “r” sound in the second syllable. All attempts to justify said mispronunciation are misguided. It’s just the way it is.
[Aside: for some interesting history on sorbet/sherbet, see this Wikipedia page, including information under the “American terminology” heading. In reading this, I had a couple of presuppositions confirmed — 1) that Americans can sometimes be a bit confused, and 2) that sorbet is entirely a fruit product, whereas sherbet is distinct and has some dairy content.]
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Now, please consider the way in which words change in meaning as time passes. Morphings, adulterations, and corruptions are limited only by the number of hours that pass! Will the word “a” ever be considered correct when pronounced “ay,” and will the pronunciation “sherbert” ever be thought accurate? In both cases, the answer seems clearly to be “yes, already.” While the reality of this answer frustrates my “righteous” side some, I must admit that neither of these matters much. The preexistence of some things — being “just the way they are” — is not so eternal, not so consequential as with other things. Whether you call it “sherbet” or “sherbert” or “sorbet,” its essence is unchanged, and it’s still a treat.
But what about the Christian “Trinity’? Most of my readers assume this doctrine with certitude. Yet presumptions have come into play through the centuries. Is it just the way it is? Or are there questions to be asked?
Although there are Old Covenant books I’ve never read entirely (and although that fact doesn’t bother me very much), I consider myself very conversant with the whole of New Covenant scripture. I feel I can say with confidence that the NC scriptures never present deity as “trinity.” There are several oblique, have-to-look-to-see-it references that seem to suggest three, but there is no place in which scriptures assert, “God has three parts, and here they are: A, B, and C.”
For nearly two millennia, demagogues of religion have inculcated trinitarian doctrine, and we have come to accept, without question, that trinity simply is. As with “sherbert,” the fact that someone has heard it that way all his life, presuming it was accurate, doesn’t change whatever the reality is.
Please understand that I don’t think God is not three. I don’t think God is necessarily two, or three, or one, or any other number. (There is a certain hold that both the unity and the duality of God have on my thinking in this arena, yet God still could be three in another sense. I prefer to think of God as bigger than any of these numbered boxes. I suppose, if given a multiple-choice question on this matter, I would refuse to answer the question and ask for an essay exam instead. (Go figure — this from a verbose blogger!)
When it comes right down to it, God is God, and that very fact defies human explanation. In view of abundant evidence of a cosmological designer, the mystery of God’s pre-existence is something I accept in faith, but the division into parts — whether “two” or “three” or any other explanation that might come in the future — amounts to nothing more than a human attempt to explain the transcendent God, to express His being in a reasoned manner.
Pictured here is one variation of something commonly known as “rainbow sherbet.” We might presume that the flavors are raspberry, lime, and orange. What if you found out, though, that raspberry has been mulberry all along, and that the lime and orange stripes are really both the same kiwi-tangerine flavor — and that your eyes, perceiving two different flavor-colors, had been playing tricks on your tastebuds all these years?
No matter! It’s still a treat, and the essence is still sherbet — a good thing!