So, this is Trinity Sunday. It is the day that we are to ponder and celebrate the mystery of God that is revealed in the Trinity. The careful explanation that I am asked to lift up is that God is one, only one, not three. Yet, God’s oneness is known to us in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One, but not one. Three, but not three. Got that? Because the Trinity is such a hard idea for me to get my head around I make the associate pastor preach on this Sunday. Pastor Liz foiled my intentions by getting me to approve her vacation before I checked the worship calendar. So, here we are.
I should take comfort that throughout the history of the church really smart people have stumbled over this idea, too. My seminary professor after teaching for an entire quarter on the Trinity in Systematic Theology, suggested with resignation, after looking over his dull class, that when we preach on the Trinity, “Choose your heresy and run with it.” I think what he meant, was something like, “Let’s be honest, you guys are going to screw this up. Better, to choose carefully which wrong direction you are going to go, then to mess it up every which way.”
We read this Proverbs text on Trinity Sunday because the early church spilled a lot ink on this eighth chapter. They thought it pointed to a trinitarian God. Someone else is in the room when God created the world. Even though she is Wisdom, not the Son, it isn’t a completely crazy idea to equate the two. John does this when he begins his story of Jesus with, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was God.” The Word was another ancient way of speaking about Wisdom. The Word, Wisdom, Son, they were all mixed together by the early church.
Reading the Trinity into these verses of the Old Testament, does create a few problems. In verse 8:22, Wisdom is created by God. The first born, but born nonetheless. The idea that God the Father created God the Son, is one of the earliest battles of the early church. You can’t go there, because then the Son is somehow less than the Father. So, a lot of linguistic gymnastics have been spilled over what exactly that Hebrew word means. If you have kids, next time they get out of line, tell them they are going to have read 100 pages on early birthing stories from Mesopotamia. These efforts remind me of what seems obvious. The writer of Proverbs wasn’t writing a poem about the Trinity. If he had, he might have been more careful with his verbs.
The other problem, which I can’t believe is a still a thing, is that the character of Wisdom, who shows up in all sorts of ancient literature, not just Jewish scripture, is always a she not a he. She even has a name, Sophia, in Greek writings. This shouldn’t be a problem because we all know God is not any gender, right? Even though we almost always use male pronouns for God and get uncomfortable, even mad when someone tries to slip in a female pronoun, God is not a man or a woman. Even, though we exclusively use male metaphors to describe the Trinity, Father and Son, we know that God is not a father, mother, son or daughter. One recent scholarly paper I skimmed this week went on for pages making the point that just because the character Wisdom is a woman does not mean it couldn’t also be the male Son. Okay, point made. But then he deliberately retold the story of creation in Proverbs 8, insisting on referring to Wisdom as a man. I thought really? You couldn’t let women have just this one?
All this talk about whether Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is the Son in the Trinity, distracts us from delighting in this wonderful poem about God creating the world. In the poem, Wisdom is the first thing born from God because when God speaks to create, what else would come out of God’s mouth but Wisdom, right? God surely isn’t like me when I open my mouth to speak and nobody’s quite sure what’s going to come out. That Wisdom is the first born of God aligns with the ancient idea that I am sure many of you believe passionately, that the older you are the wiser you are. Can I have an amen from the seniors in the room?
Once Wisdom is born, the poem is playful as this little girl seems to be running about as God does, what God does, create. It is an image that reminds me happily of a Disney animated movie with an enraptured child, magically enjoying the creative work of the fairy godmother. Wisdom sounds like a delighted, giggling girl as God raises up mountains and digs out oceans. And God seems to create just to delight that little girl.
This is the reassuring truth about God within this poem. God creates. This is what God does. When God acts, God creates. For all who think that there is nothing new under the sun. That what has been will always be, you don’t know God. God creates and because God is living, God is still creating. If God stops creating, not just God disappears, but we stop being, too. It is as simple as that. Next time you hear that tired old Greek belief that God never changes, say uh, uh. The Jewish God Jesus revealed is always changing because God lives. And the living God delights in creating.
The other truth in this wonderful creation poem is that God protects. The intention of God’s creation is to keep us safe. The oceans are told to stop here and go no further, because God’s precious cargo, is on that land. The mountains are planted at the corners to hold up the dome of the sky, like massive foundational pillars, so that the heavens and stars don’t crush us all underneath. Chaos is kept at bay, so that our lives are not overpowered. If we say yes to God and become co creators with God in our world, than we need to do those things that protect God’s world and keeps chaos at bay. Wise things that keep our oceans from rising and breaking their boundaries or blue skies from darkening into thick, muddy smog.
And the role of Wisdom in all of this is to simply take delight in what God has done and to share that delight with God’s crown jewel, you and I. Wisdom not only witnessed God’s creation, she is the link that explains God’s work of creation to us. Wisdom’s role, as the voice of God is to translate the language of God for us. God’s hopes are spoken by Wisdom so that they become our desires. Wisdom is the voice we should pay attention to in the cacophony of voices in the world vying for our attention. Wisdom is the voice of the creator, speaking words of love to the precious world.
What does any of this have to do with the Trinity? Maybe nothing. I do believe this poem encourages our imagination of God as Trinity. In God’s creative work we see a Father and Mother, who long to give birth. In God’s voice of Wisdom longing to be heard by us the beloved, we hear the Son whose actions speak God’s heart. In God’s ongoing, playful delight creating and recreating we see God’s Spirit, wonderfully present and with us today.