You Can't Beat It! - Scott Dickison
A few summers ago, following divinity school, I served as a hospital chaplain in Boston. I learned a great deal that summer: about myself, about grief and pain, but also healing and forgiveness. I learned a lot about how to think theologically about life and its hardships, but also its joys. And on one evening in particular, I learned a lot about the Holy Trinity from a woman named Jean Kostigan.
Like many of the patients I saw that summer in Boston, Mrs. Kostigan was raised Catholic and addressed me as “father.” I told her that was unnecessary and that I was a Baptist. I might as well have told her I was from Mars. She asked me if I was Christian, to which I responded, “Most days.” “Well do you believe in the Holy Trinity?” she asked me. I told her I did, and she fervently clutched her hands up over her heart, closed her eyes and said, “Oh, I just love the Trinity! Three persons, one God—you can’t beat it!”
Three persons, one God—you can’t beat it. The Holy Trinity as described by Mrs. Jean Kostigan.
The church has celebrated the Holy Trinity on the first Sunday after Pentecost since about 1000 AD. Unlike other holidays on the church calendar, Trinity Sunday celebrates a doctrine and not an event, such as Jesus’ birth or baptism.
Since the day of Pentecost the church has understood God as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” or “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,” if you prefer, but the actual doctrine of the Trinity did not come about until the late fourth century—and Christians have argued and debated how to understand this most essential doctrine of our faith ever since.
For many throughout Christian history, the Trinity is a problem; a pesky riddle to be solved. How does 3 = 1? It defies basic arithmetic. But when we’re at our best, the church describes the Trinity not as a problem we should hope to ever solve, but instead a mystery we hope to enter into.
“Mysteries, to be known,” the late theologian Diogenes Allen said, “must be entered into… For we do not solve mysteries; we enter into them. The deeper we enter into them, the more illumination we get. Still greater depths are revealed to us the further we go.”
The very least we can say about the Trinity is that it is a mystery. The very most we can say about the Trinity is that it is a mystery. It is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be entered into. And we will do just that on this first Sunday after Pentecost.