Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.
"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
Brothers and sisters:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you."
Ever guilty of going about things backward?
I presume this is the situation many of us Christians face every Trinity Sunday. Though our sacred authors describe and comment on God from one direction, we’re usually approaching him/her from the opposite direction. While our writers create the biblical pictures they develop based on their personal experiences of that God, many of us shape our personal God-experiences just to fit into their pictures. Our definition of God is frequently more important than our experiences of God. First, we look for a theology, then search for experiences to reinforce it.
Our sacred authors weren’t brought up on catechisms; they were formed by experiences. Though they later attempt to put their experiences into some form of logical patterns, it’s clear from the many – often contradictory - biblical theologies we encounter that no one size fits all. Those willing to be involved with God are committing themselves to an adventure almost impossible to describe. Perhaps that’s why, in God’s wisdom, our Scriptures were composed by Semitic – not Greek – thinkers, people who refuse to analyze their exploits. Instead of coming up with either/or ways of looking at their God-adventures, they concentrate on synthetizing them. They’re always on the lookout to add another dimension or surface an aspect they never before noticed. Their one goal is to zero in on the both/and of their experiences.
Not long ago I learned of an interesting custom among 19th century North American Plains Indians: “counting coup.” In battle, the tribe’s most courageous warriors would simply touch an enemy - not kill or wound him - then ride off. After the conflict, the survivors would gather to count the touches and compare notes. Among other things, they were convinced such “coups” transferred some of their enemy’s strength or spirit to them in ways that killing them couldn’t achieve.
Could saving and collecting our sacred writings be another way of counting coup? In a sense, our biblical writers have touched God, and lived to tell us about it. They could have “killed” God by giving us a technical, catechism definition of divinity. But instead, they only touched her/him, leaving something for another day and another encounter. Best of all, they shared the spirit they gained from their contact, helping us uncover another dimension of someone who boasts unlimited dimensions.
Unlike our Semitic-thinking sacred authors, we Greek-thinkers are in the business of killing, not touching. When we get done with the subject we attack, there’s nothing left but to bury the carcass in some theological manual.
Thankfully today’s three sacred writers touch and don’t kill.
The author of Proverbs could never have buried his or her coup in one of those manuals; it’s simply too poetic. The writer actually “co-creates” with Yahweh, standing next to God during the creation process.
Paul and John, on the other hand, bring up things on which many of us rarely reflect. The Apostle zeroes in on the failures and weakness that come to the fore when we reach out to God in our lives. Yet the instant we put our hands on the divine in our midst, we see the limits of those hands. In the same way, the Evangelist takes us beyond what we “cannot bear to hear now.” We can never look forward to retiring from the battle, no matter how often we engage with God. It’s an essential part of who we are.
No matter how we’ve learned about God in the past, there’s always time to rearrange our priorities. It might take a lot more courage, but what an experience we’ll have to boast about? We’ll not only leave God intact, but have a strength we’ve never had before.
Maybe those Indians knew what they were doing.