Trinity Sunday, Year C, Trinity Parish, Clarksville

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago” (Prov. 8:22).

The first Soviet cosmonaut when he returned to earth from space is supposed to have said that he had looked for God while on his flight but hadn’t seen him. Conversely, I’ve had at least one parishioner who told me he felt closer to God on the golf course than he did in church. One suspects that people think this, but in my experience it’s rarely expressed. Still, these points of view seem contradictory. When we look out on the world, what do we see? Which one is it then? Atheism or pantheism: God nowhere or God everywhere?

Christian faith, of course, sees something else, a third thing: the evidence of God. It sees creation, a term that posits a creator. “Creation” is a faith-freighted word, a word that once uttered creates a context for belief. From this perspective, atheism and pantheism, God nowhere and everywhere, are two sides of the same coin. Neither finds a place for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, revealed to particular people at a particular time; neither has a place for the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Neither comes to grip with the Divine Personality who makes a world that manifests the glory of God without being identical to God. Neither comes to grip with the God who reveals himself in certain people and events in particular rather than in everything in general. Whether it’s the vast wilderness of space or the manicured fairways of the golf course, the perspective of Gagarin or the golfer, Christian faith posits something else.

Trinity Sunday gives us the opportunity to flesh out this third thing that is neither atheism nor pantheism, a Christian doctrine of creation and revelation. Our reading from Proverbs this morning offers testimony to these things: a part of the Wisdom tradition of Israel that was picked up early on by Christian commentators. Wisdom in ancient Israel was first of all practical wisdom: the sort of political savvy that allowed the kings of Israel to govern and rule effectively, the “art of the possible” you might say. Wisdom was the sort of guidance you needed to get from point A to point B: if you look at the whole of chapter eight including the bits left out in our reading you will see the practical side of wisdom. “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just” (Prov. 8:15). There is that practical wisdom.

By the time we get to our reading from the eighth chapter, however, Wisdom has become personified as “lady wisdom,” a figure who is present at the creation of all things alongside the Lord YHWH. “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago” (Prov. 8:22): as we heard earlier. “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth” (Prov. 8:25): it’s the same word as “begotten.” “When he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker” (Prov. 8:29-30): again, Wisdom is the One who is there when the plan is revealed and implemented.

Wisdom is also present to rejoice in what the Lord YHWH has created. “I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Prov. 8:31). St. Hilary in the fourth century read this verse as a testimony to the mutual delighting of God, who in Genesis pronounced all things good, and Wisdom: “Thus in the creation of the world there is no mere soliloquy of an isolated Father; his Wisdom is his partner in the work and rejoices with him when their conjoint labor ends” (On the Trinity, IV.21). Creation is delightful, the artifact of a Creator; and in that Creation the divine Personality is revealed as a mutual and creative joy of Persons within the Godhead.

For Hilary, Wisdom is the One who is begotten before all worlds, who sets all things in order, as Hilary says (On the Trinity, IV.21). Wisdom is Jesus Christ himself, in other words, the One (as it says in the Creed) by whom all things were made. God is a Trinity of Persons: not only the Source of all things and the Wisdom by whom they are made, but also the Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life.

This is the faith that we confess today, as we celebrate Holy Baptism and Confirmation. We affirm that creation has a Creator, and that we are part of that good creation. We affirm that the Creator of all things revealed himself to the family of Abraham, after sin entered into the world, and made Covenant with them. We affirm that God renewed that Covenant through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was at the same time the One by whom all things were made in the beginning, God’s Wisdom and might. We affirm that God the Holy Spirit now moves over the water of Baptism, and is renewed within us by the laying on of hands. We look for God to act now in the sacraments and sacramental rites of the Church. God is neither nowhere nor everywhere: God is here and now, a Trinity of Persons, delighting with mutual joy in the whole creation.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee