Two of the most important words in any language that I know are truth and love. As we observe Trinity Sunday and reflect on the Christian doctrine of God as three persons in one God, the Scripture readings also remind us that the God of the Christian Bible—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is intimately involved in human affairs and is the ground of truth and love among us.
Today’s Old Testament reading, from Proverbs 8, portrays Wisdom as a female figure and describes her role before and in creation. The idea is that Wisdom existed before anything else, and through Wisdom’s agency God created the world. This motif is developed in various ways in the Book of Sirach (Wisdom is the Torah) and the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom is the world soul holding creation together). Early Christians identified Jesus as the Wisdom of God. In the hymn preserved in Colossians 1:15-20, Jesus is celebrated as “the firstborn of all creation…before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The identification of Jesus as Wisdom incarnate lies behind the description of Jesus as the Word of God in John 1:1-18. There Jesus is recognized as both the revelation and the revealer of God. As such he is truth incarnate and so the criterion by which all truth is to be measured; he is the way, the truth and the life.
Today’s selection from Romans 5 mentions all three persons of the Trinity: “with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…through the Holy Spirit.” It also illumines the biblical understanding of God as for us and with us. This is no Aristotelian “unmoved mover” or distant deist God. The God of the Bible is actively involved with us, and we are involved with this God. Through Christ we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God, we have gained access to God, we stand in God’s peace and we are in the hope of God’s glory.
Furthermore, our beliefs about God can and should shape our character and actions. One of the core beliefs about God in Christianity is the conviction that in Jesus God has entered into our human sufferings and that the sufferings of the Son have made possible our right relationship with God. From this belief Paul constructs a chain extending from our afflictions through our endurance, character and hope to the fulfillment of our hopes. What we believe about God affects what we believe about ourselves and what we do.
Finally, love is the most important way in which God shapes our character and actions. According to Paul, the love of God has been poured into our hearts. God has loved us first, and God’s love for us inspires and empowers us to love God in turn and to love others and ourselves. The God of the Bible is the ground of love as well as the ground of truth.
It is sometimes said that the Holy Spirit is the forgotten person of the Trinity. Today’s Gospel passage from John 16 roots the mission of the Spirit in the unity that exists between the Father and the Son. The text is the fifth and final statement about the Paraclete made by the Johannine Jesus at the Last Supper. Thus far we have learned that the Spirit is the extension of the presence of the earthly Jesus, that the Spirit teaches us and helps us to remember all that Jesus said and did, that the “Spirit of truth” bears witness to Jesus and empowers us to be witnesses too and that the Spirit is our advocate, counselor and defender.
According to today’s Paraclete text, the Holy Spirit will guide us “to all truth.” Jesus revealed that truth in his life and teaching. What the Father revealed through the Son continues now through the mission of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit we come to know the Son and the Father. Through the Spirit we have the truth that God wished to reveal in his Son Jesus.
One of the most startling themes in Jesus’ farewell discourse is the notion that it is somehow better that the earthly Jesus should depart rather than stay physically among us. In other words, the time after Jesus’ death and resurrection is superior to his time on earth. Most of us have probably fantasized about how wonderful it would have been to live in the Holy Land in Jesus’ time, to hear his teaching and to see his miracles. But the Johannine Jesus insists that our time, after his ascension and the gift of the Spirit, is even better. Why? Because the departure of the earthly Jesus will make possible the fuller revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because now we can experience God more fully in the light of the Son’s passion, death, resurrection and exaltation. Because now the Spirit guides us to all truth revealed pre-eminently by the Son. And because through the Holy Spirit the love of God is the origin of all genuine love, which has been poured into our hearts.