At the beginning of both of his New Testament books, Luke transforms the understanding of who God is. In both cases the stories are spare, belying the ways in which God tears open the heavens and comes down.
In two verses, Luke describes the birth of God’s son, “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” -Luke 2:6-7
In Acts 2:1-4, Luke describes the coming of the Holy Spirit: “When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like a rush of violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
In six verses, thousands of years of human understanding of God is transformed, re-imagined. It will be almost 400 years before the church is able to articulate this new understanding. First there will be a mighty missionary endeavor in which the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is proclaimed throughout the then-known world. Followers of “the Way” in the power of the Holy Spirit will go from the friendly confines of Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria (where they are perceived to be the enemy), to countries that do not know them at all. In the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit by the end of the first century, the apostles and other converts (including shepherds, merchants, and slaves), will spread the gospel across Europe: India, Ethiopia, Spain, Great Britain, and Russia.
The church will grow and increase in power and authority during the 400 years after Pentecost (not always a good thing). Christian theologians, scholars, and philosophers will struggle to explain what has happened and then sit uncomfortably until the whole church has reached consensus on God, the Trinity. Even once the church has articulated a theology of God, this is not the end but still nearer the beginning of who God is. I suspect we mortals want to define God tightly so that we can put God in a box and live our lives with our presuppositions left unchecked.
Attempts to define or possess God must be resisted; we cannot grasp this whirlwind. Instead, we gain the deepest joy when we Seek the truth come whence it may; cost what it will, a Virginia Theological Seminary motto proclaims. The journey to intimacy with God requires a lifelong pursuit of Triune God. We never quite fully grasp growing in grace, the wonder in the journey, and the work placed before us.
It appears that the work of the Spirit is always out in front of human understanding. When we catch up, we say through faith, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Indeed, both Luke and Acts are left open-ended to let us know that life with Triune God is always an intimate adventure in which being surprised by joy is always possible.
Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” This verse captures well the fluid relationship we have with the Trinity, revealed to us fully on the day of creation, at Christ’s incarnation, and on the Day of Pentecost. To know the Trinity in all their wondrous unity we must know them relationally and in the newness every day of God’s steadfast love and mercy.
The Rev. Dr. Peter Stube
© Andrei Rublev: The Trinity “Obtained through the Wikimedia Foundation.”