I suppose we’ve all heard someone say, at one time or another, “All paths lead to God,” or maybe we’ve said that. Usually, that’s about different faiths, different religions, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on. In many ways, I do agree with that.
A few years ago, in a previous congregation Banu and I were serving we were talking about it in Sunday school. Someone drew a picture of a mountain, with a number of trails leading up to the summit. For him, it symbolized those paths leading to God.
I drew something different on the paper, an expressway with many lanes, explaining I see the life of faith as a continuous journey. In the center of this road, I put Jesus Christ. I said I see him as the pure, perfect expression of God’s vision for humanity. He is flowing into the heart of truth.
Then in the lanes on either side of the center, I said to the extent that we can know such a thing, I would place other expressions of faith that have varying degrees of truth and authenticity. Way over on the shoulders would be groups like mind-control cults and twisted versions of faith. Like drunk drivers, they’re on the verge of going off the road entirely, crashing and burning.
I need to emphasize the importance of having a sense of humor, as well as a sense of humility, in all of this. We too often claim to know more than we do—or even, are able to know!
I would submit as one example of our need for humility the reason for today’s name, Trinity Sunday. Understanding that the word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, people have devised all kinds of explanations for the Holy Trinity. That is, they’ve tried to explain how one is three and three is one.
Some explanations are better than others. Some people talk about H2O, how it exists as ice, liquid, and water vapor. Others talk about relationship, such as, “I am a son, a brother, and a husband.” Really, no description does a very good job. They tend to turn God into a problem which needs to be solved!
Trinity isn’t three as the answer to a math problem. Trinity speaks about the nature of God. God is a community. You need at least three for there to be a community. But this isn’t “community” the way we often think of it. It isn’t a collection of individuals who just happen to be in the same place.
There’s a term called “perichoresis” (περιχώρησις). It comes from two Greek words meaning “around” and “to contain” or “to rotate.” It was used by ancient writers to describe how the Persons of the Trinity share the lives of each other, constantly interwoven in a vibrant intimacy of love, a dance of love. They hold each other in a holy dance. That is what’s happening within the heart of God.
I’m reminded of the chorus from the hymn, “Simple Gifts.” It was a dancing song that a group known as the Shakers used to sing. “When true simplicity is gained / To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed / To turn, turn will be our delight / ‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.”
This is a joyous love that is interwoven into creation itself. God, who is love, sees of creation, “It is good.” After the human race comes into being, God sees, “It is very good.” When we get a glimpse of that, we realize the Holy Trinity is far from some dry, dusty doctrine. We dive right into the heart of truth and get the invitation that says, “There’s a party going on!”
So, back to my point about speaking on matters of faith, it’s good to be humble in our pronouncements—and learn to just dance!
There is a little snippet from a passage in John’s gospel that goes on for four chapters. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. And at this point, he’s telling them about the work of the Holy Spirit. To continue with that image of the dance, maybe we can see the Spirit as the music!
Still, we can sense a certain heaviness in the air. We cannot escape the fact that this is a solemn occasion. After all, this scripture comes after Judas has left to meet up with his co-conspirators. There follows the ominous note: “And it was night” (13:30). Jesus tells them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (v. 12).
They’re having enough trouble with what he’s been trying to teach. Philip has already said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” to which Jesus says, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:8-9).
If they still aren’t getting it, what hope is there? If traveling with Jesus—having seen how he lives—isn’t convincing enough, then what would do it?
I like the name Jesus gives the Holy Spirit: “the Spirit of truth” (v. 13). The Spirit of God, the Spirit of holiness, is also the Spirit of truth. We might contrast that with the spirit of error, the spirit of falsehood, the spirit of lies.
There’s another angle to this business of the Spirit guiding us into all the truth I really appreciate. It’s the importance of valuing people who are located all along the theological spectrum: conservatives, liberals, and everyone else. We could say the same thing about those all along the political spectrum, as well.
I have often had the experience of finding a greater level of agreement, of rapport, with those who say and believe different things than I do. I’m talking about people who read the Bible differently from the way I do, or those who feel differently about politics, sometimes quite differently!
During these past couple of years, I have found myself, in more than one way, becoming increasingly alienated from those I once considered like-minded. The word “alienated” might be a good description. On certain topics, if you dare express a dissenting opinion, you might find yourself censored. You might find yourself snarkily dismissed.
One of the Historic Principles of Church Order, dating back to 1788, which is in our Presbyterian Book of Order, is entitled “Truth and Goodness.” It says that “truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’”
Saying that “truth is in order to goodness” means that the truth is the servant of what is good. It is possible to make a statement which is factually verifiable—we can look at it and prove that it is so—and it still not be true, at least, not be true at the deepest levels. There is a devilish way to present the truth.
If its mission is to harm, to hurt, to shame, then it really isn’t true because it isn’t God’s truth. It isn’t spoken by the Spirit of truth. The truth of God never humiliates us. The devilish presentation of truth does not “promote holiness.”
Jesus says of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).
We might wonder, “Is there a way to know what is true?” Jesus tells the disciples that the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (vv. 13-15).
Jesus reminds them, and us, that the Spirit of truth “will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Spirit doesn’t act independently from who God is. Remember what I said earlier about expressions of faith, like drunk drivers on the highway, who veer away from the character of Christ. Remember about the nature of God, which is a self-giving community in an endless dance, a dance of love and generosity.
The truth that the Spirit speaks does correct us—but never shames us, never ridicules us. The Spirit gives us the courage to follow into the heart of truth.
With God as Trinity, we have the perfect model of community. This is a community whose only truth is one that builds up and does not tear down. It is truth that heals; it does not destroy. There’s no awareness of being laughed at, only laughing with. As our friends the Shakers remind us, “When true simplicity is gained / To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed / To turn, turn will be our delight / ‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.”
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 153.