This last week, a man with a rifle hijacked a bus full of kindergartners in South Carolina. This is not a situation you can adequately prepare for…to be relentlessly harangued with endless questions from a bunch of 5-year-olds. He wasn’t ready for that.
“Are you in the Army?” “Why are you doing this?” Those are some of the reported questions.
But anyone with a kindergartner knows there had to be more: “What color is your house?” “Do you have a dog?” “What’s his name?” “I have to go potty.” “Can we get ice cream?”
He didn’t like the kids’ questions. He lasted six minutes before he kicked everyone off the bus and drove away. Thanks be to God.
So, speaking of God, and speaking of questions…
Here is a short list that your 5-year-old or your 35 year-old might ask on Trinity Sunday:
Is Jesus God?
Is the Holy Spirit God?
Is God three Gods?
Why is three the same as one?
Please avoid answering with bad analogies. But also, please don’t get frustrated with the questions. God, who made you in His image, made you rational. He gave to you your eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them.
He loves when you use them, so go ahead and use them. Go ahead and ask and wonder and ask some more. But also, please don’t get too discouraged. Ever since the fall into sin, which includes the fall of our reason, some things remain beyond our capacity to figure out.
Consider that God created a universe that is beyond our comprehension and ability to master; which is to say that He created a universe that says something about who He is in Himself: beyond our comprehension and our control. But for all that beautiful and intriguing mystery:
The Holy Trinity, God’s revelation in creation, and the limitless curiosity of kindergartners, the mystery of Trinity Sunday has a completely different character – one which I don’t think I really recognized until this year.
Consider the readings from Isaiah (6:1-7), Romans (11:33-36), and John (3:1-17). The chief mystery of Trinity Sunday isn’t the Holy Trinity Himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Isaiah was not troubled by the fact that God is Holy-Holy-Holy, as those angels in the throne room sang. Neither was Paul’s great acclaim of God’s wisdom and knowledge rooted in His Triune nature. Even Nicodemus didn’t come asking about the fact that there is plurality within the Godhead, since this has been clear from the First Book of Moses.
What humbles Isaiah? What causes Paul’s ecstatic praise? What confounds Nicodemus? It is the grace of God. Isaiah is undone by the majesty of God, but he is redone, reformed, and redeemed, when the angel presses the coal from the altar to his lips, proclaiming the Gospel, that by God’s grace in Christ, his sin is atoned for. Likewise, the awe and wonder that St. Paul expresses is God’s grace toward the Gentiles. In ways beyond our comprehension, God in His mercy has brought salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles, i.e. to everyone. He has consigned everyone to disobedience, and holds every last person accountable…Wait for it: so, “that He may have mercy on all.” These are the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God that evoke the Church’s praise.
Finally, Nicodemus. He may be the most like those little, curious kindergartners. He’s like a child up past his bedtime, coming to Jesus with all his brothers’ and sisters’ inquiries. They even sound like kids’ questions:
How can I be born again?
Can I go back into my mommy?
Aren’t I too old?
Aren’t I too big?
It’s the grace of God. That’s the answer beyond Nicodemus’ comprehension. God’s Spirit brings God’s Word to God’s Water, and brings forth God’s children into God’s Kingdom. It’s so simple. The only question left is the one that addresses that grace: Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”
Despite the gentle chiding, Jesus loves Nicodemus’ questions because He loves Nicodemus.
“Aren’t you the teacher of Israel?” “I’ll make it easy for you: Remember the snake in the wilderness that Moses lifted up? I’m the One who will be lifted up, and whoever believes in Me may have eternal life. Because that’s how God loves the world – by giving up Me, His Son, for you.”
This is something children understand best.
My five-year-old daughter knows that her mommy loves her with her whole heart. She knows this even though she knows that mommy also loves Christoph with her whole heart…and Ambrose and Nicholas, as well…with her whole heart. This might present a challenge for her when we get to fractions, kind of like the Holy Trinity. But that’s ok, too.
The newborn babes, pulled from that font where the Spirit brings the Word to the Water, those children understand, and some adults understand, too. Nicodemus does. The next time he speaks up, he is defending Jesus (Jn 7:50). And by the end of John’s Gospel, he is burying Jesus (Jn 19:39). All this because of God’s great mystery. All this because of God’s great and magnificent grace, poured out for everyone everywhere: Jews and Gentiles, Kindergarteners and hijackers, and you. Get to the bottom of that, and the Trinity won’t seem so tough.