Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Made in the image of the Trinity

Most Holy Trinity

John Donne, famous Anglican preacher and poet penned these unforgettable words, “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” Certainly, no man is an island, entire of itself; because God made man for more than fellowship with Himself. To be complete, to be satisfied, to be fully realised as a creature made in God’s image, man needed to be in relationship with others.

This is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. Through Jesus Christ, God has revealed something astonishing about His inner life: that He is not a solitary individual, but a community, a community of three distinct persons who are equal and yet one through love. This unique revelation implies many things. God’s inner life is full of activity, the Father is turned towards the Son, the Son turned towards the Father, and the Love between them being another person known as the Spirit. The Father is outgoing, the Son is outgoing, the Spirit too is outgoing; reaching out in love everywhere and always.

For man to image this kind of God, he must be in a position of constant turning to the other. An isolated individual is a distortion of this image. Because we are made in God’s image, God is the model for humanity. The Holy Trinity thus becomes the model for all relationships, especially for every community, every family, every BEC, every parish and the Church. Thus, God who is enough, created us in a deliberate manner so that He is not enough. Of course, God is absolutely sufficient – only He alone can provide us with all that we need and it is He who ultimately completes man. But God imprinted His Divine Image on man. In is through this imprint, it is through his mirroring of the Three Divine Persons in the One God, that we can now speak of people needing other people to be complete. We were made for each other.

Thus, the pessimistic dictum of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, “Hell is other people,” is exactly the reverse. Hell is the absence, not the presence, of other people. In fact, in hell, the wicked will be utterly alone, eternally alienated and any relationship including the one which God wishes to enter into with them is utterly despised. We must reject the lie that other people stifle our freedom or get in the way of our self-actualisation. Rather, it is precisely in community that we are free to find and be our true selves. We are not self-made, but made for God and others. Heaven and the new creation are precisely what Sartre dreaded, but in a form he could not imagine. Heaven is other people, it is the perfected society of love. It is not the absence of other people, but precisely their presence that makes heaven so heavenly. The redeemed community is marked out even in the present by this mutual love. Our love for one another shows that the power of God’s new creation is already at work in the world. This love will be perfected in the resurrection.

The gospel, then, is irreducibly social. Liberation theologians often use the label “social gospel” to refer to their programme. They substituted salvation from poverty and ignorance through state-mandated welfare and educational programs for salvation from sin and damnation through Christ’s death and resurrection. One theologian characterised the social gospel of liberation as a God without wrath, bringing men without sin into a kingdom without judgment though a Christ without a cross. The goal is a man-made Utopia created by men and firmly established on earth. Obviously, that is a total distortion of scriptures. But in another sense, we could benefit from restoring and redeeming the label “social gospel.” The gospel is social through and through. There is a Latin dictum, extra ecclesia nulla salus, that claims that outside the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. That is to say, salvation and incorporation into Christ’s body go hand in hand. Salvation includes a new status and a new community.

Of course the challenge to live in community is difficult especially with the rise of individualism. Community means you give up some privacy, some of your rights. It means you sometimes have to accommodate yourself to things you wish could be done differently. You have to learn to listen to others rather than to insist you are listened to. It means we have to learn that life together involves becoming vulnerable at times, admitting weaknesses and needs. Communal life means we are willing to submit to authority, especially the legitimate authority of the Church.

The Trinity emphasises that solitariness is hell and that individualistic selfishness is a curse, unbecoming of any human being. We are born to foster relationships. We are to grow in this relationship, reaching out beyond our extended family. We are to establish relationships with all people, castes, races and nations – which should lead to fellowship, understanding, mutual help and well-being. No man is an island, and we all belong to the family of man, and to the family of God. The Son became man that we might become divine. This is both a gift and a challenge that the Holy Trinity places before us – be like God, become divine! Becoming divine is an invitation to love, sharing, self-communication and joy in giving and receiving. Becoming divine is to live and be in communion. Anything less would be hell.

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