Page last updated



Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Hosts
Isaiah 6:1-8; Ps. 8; 2 Cor 13:5-14; John3:1-17
S.A. Taylor

Pity poor Mrs. Elizabeth Jones! She is "Mrs. Jones" to her neighbours, and "Elizabeth" only to close friends and family, she is "Libby" or "Betty" to the unknown Mega-Mart check-out girl, reading her name from the credit card, "Liz" or "Beth" to the smiley minister shaking her hand after church on Sunday, and any other combination of unwelcome nick-names, abbreviations, and familiarities to other half-known strangers or acquaintances. It may seem old-fashioned, or un-friendly, and perhaps it is, but surely Mrs. Jones has a certain right to name herself to others.

Our names are given by father and mother, imprinted on us in Baptism, and define us to ourselves and to others. In heaven we shall learn our secret name, the true and secret relationship of God to each and every beloved soul. It is part of our freedom and human dignity to have circles of closeness, and to give the right of name-use depending on who we understand ourselves to more or less close to. At the inner circle may be childhood nick-names, pet names shared between husband and wife.

But we may be the gate-keeper over who knows or names us by any, all, or none of these ways. In the realm of thinking about God, much ink and breath has been spilt recently telling us we need to change the name of God: the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are old-fashioned, repressive, unfriendly to women, hierarchical and really quite bad. How we survived this long is a mystery– we must now tinker with the images, reflect ourselves and our concerns more, and not be bound by the chains of Scripture, tradition, and 2000 years of spirituality. So one leading modern hymn-writer has called the idea of the Trinity a kind of sickness, or theological infection, adding "...the Bible's language and imagery cannot control or restrict us..." (What Language Shall I Borrow? Brian Wren p. 130.).

This all sounds exciting, liberating, up-to-date, and has been the behind-the-scenes programme of too many people who call themselves Christians, clergy, professors, in the last number of years. God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and his holy name, is under attack. But what are the unintended consequences of this way of looking at God? For if we cannot know God truly, as he has named himself, can we really know much about God: what he is like, what he says, what he does? We cannot then trust the Bible, apparently.

If we cannot know what he says, is, and does, what is there to believe in, hope for, and to love? If we have nothing certain to know, hope for, and love, do we not find ourselves precisely in the spiritual darkness of ancient paganism or the chaos of modern emptiness, enslaved to various movements, fads, or circumstances, looking about at the troubles of our souls, politics, the world situation, uncertain about whether there is a God, or if he cares, or if he or we can make any difference in the mess around us.

We find ourselves on the dark side of the garden of Eden– being as gods, trying to puzzle out good and evil, cut off from God and one another by sin, thinking we are the centre of things, but finding in ourselves no satisfaction, no answers, nothing greater than ourselves to help us out of the mess we are in. Thus the miserable modern world. What if instead we look at the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and think on what it has to say to us, the good news and cheer it brings, the clarity and peace, faith, hope and love, we may have by attending to who God is, what he has said about himself, and what that means for us. What if?

 ~ 2 ~

What's in a name? Fundamental to any understanding of God's name and nature is the moment at the burning bush, when at the burning bush God names himself to the uncertain Moses as "I AM", or "I AM THAT I AM". God is what he wants to be, he is what he is, and he wants to be all that he is. He is perfect, complete, holy, true, good. He is not as we are– in process, unhappy with some parts of ourselves, wavering in being, not all we want to be, nor wanting to be all that we are, or falling short of perfection and goodness.

Note– like Mrs. Jones, God names himself to us in his Word, the Bible. Without this record, this revealing, this speaking and self-naming, we cannot know anything about God, or in the end, about ourselves or our relation to him, or to one another, or even who we are. God is one and three, Christ teaches us– there is within God, an interpersonal life, like that of a family, yet it is so united and perfect, it is one life. It is a perfectly thee-fold reciprocal life: God speaks in himself and shares in himself, the eternal Father speaks his word, the eternal Son, and the Son returns to the Father in love and fullness of life, and the bond and fire of their eternal life is the gift of the Holy Spirit. So what? What have the gods to do with human beings, as the ancient pagans said– these are high things, and too much for us to grasp, understand, or share in.

Yet God comes down to us, in ways we can grasp, and in ways which capture our minds and hearts, born a dear little child, speaking as one of us in Christ, taking our sins and rejection upon him, yet using these very things as the means of our redemption. So what? Well, if God has revealed himself in Christ, and named himself, then there is redemption– this ultimate reality of God is greater than we or our troubles; he calls us into relationship with himself, and provides the means– believing in his Son– that we may have friendship with God; that in Christ, our labours, our struggle and courage, our relationships are meant to be holy and saving; that in God, we may know and live the truth and love of God, have communion with God, have forgiveness of sins, and a vocation in this world.

Threefold love: the very nature of reality is community, sharing, self-giving love, overflowing joy, perfect truth in eternal light. Those who would draw a curtain across the face of God, or deny his Three-fold name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, doom themselves to darkness and error, and the world to worse and worse, to blind ignorance, despair, and greedy selfishness. As I said in our parish paper last time, theology has lots of relevance to who we are, and who we are to be. Christian teaching is light and nutriment for our souls, and it is a confession of our wickedness that we do not often hunger to draw closer, and learn more of this wonderful love, that we would make any manner of lame excuse, and grudge any moment of time in worship, though we have eternity to prepare for, and eternal joy or misery in the presence of God just on the other side of a last breath or heartbeat.

Let us then ask for hearts aflame with love for God– that as we pray, we may understand that we are in the Trinity, and he is in us: for the Son of God kneels beside us, his hand upon us, presenting us, with himself, to God; The Father is above us, from whom our lives descend, to whom we turn up our faces and stretch out our hands; and the Spirit of God is within us, soul of our soul, root of our will, inexhaustible fountain of eternal life: so we pray: "O threefold love, one in yourself, unite your forces in me, come together in the citadel of my conquered heart– you have loved me with a threefold love, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– teach me to believe, to hope, and to love. AMEN.