Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
“What Are Human Beings?”
It’s Trinity Sunday – a day when the lectionary cycle of Scripture readings gives us passages that point to that most confusing and mysterious doctrine of the church – that God is three-in-one, and one-in-three; Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, but still One God.
I like the way that the SALT Lectionary Commentary explains how Christians came up with this “Trinity idea” based on their experience of God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit:
“The ancient doctrine of the Trinity arose out of early Christian reflection on scripture, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For his earliest followers, encountering Jesus was somehow encountering God directly — and at the same time, Jesus spoke of God as both distinct from him (as when he prayed to God, or spoke of God as the One who sent him) and yet nevertheless “one” with him. There was both a “two-ness” and a “oneness” in play, and so Christians sought out ways to express this mystery with poetry and precision.
“Likewise, early disciples experienced encounters with the Spirit as encounters with God directly — and at the same time, Jesus spoke of the Spirit as a guiding, challenging presence distinct both from him and from the One to whom he prayed.
“And so arose, over time, the church’s doctrine of the Trinity, the idea that God is properly conceived as both Three and One. Not three Gods — for that would miss God’s oneness. And not merely One — for that would miss God’s threeness, and wouldn’t do justice to the sense of encountering God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.”
In our Scripture readings this morning, God the Holy Trinity is not named. The concept of the Triune God doesn’t show up specifically anywhere in the Bible because it was discerned and developed a little later on. But we did read today about God the Creator – the One who created the heavens and the earth, the moon and the stars, and all the creatures of the earth, including human beings.
And we did read about the Wisdom of God, who was present with God from the beginning of time, and who comes into the world to reach out to human beings with wisdom and love, calling us back into loving relationship with God and one another. It’s an idea very similar to Jesus Christ – the Word of God who was made flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.
And then in John’s Gospel, we read about the Holy Spirit – the continuing presence of God in the world – reminding us of what Jesus taught, and pouring God’s love into our own hearts.
So, Trinity is there in today’s readings, in the three ways, in the three persons through whom we experience the One God as Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.
But although Trinity Sunday is normally a day for thinking deeply about who GOD is, I’d like to suggest that the readings this morning invite us to think deeply about who WE are. In particular, as I read and reflected on Psalm 8 this week, I began to think about what the Doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about who we are as human beings who are created in the image of God.
It was a line in verse four that sent me pondering what it means to be human. After giving glory to God for creating the world and everything that is in it, the Psalmist wonders, “What are human beings that [God is] mindful of [us]?”
It is certainly very clear that we human beings are a part of the Creation of God – one of the many and various creatures that God makes. But it seems that we also have a particularly special place within the Creation.
The Psalmist says this about people: “You have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Having dominion over the other creatures of God’s Creation doesn’t mean that we’re the best or the most important. Like the eldest child in a family, it means that we have been given some extra responsibility.
We are called upon not only to look after ourselves, but to show care for our younger siblings. As human beings we have been given the intellect, the ability, and the responsibility to be caregivers and stewards of the whole of Creation.
We’re not gods. But “a little lower than God,” we do have the power to exploit and destroy the natural environment, and we do have the ability to nurture, protect, and care for the world and its creatures – all our relations.
It’s way back in the Book of Genesis that we first read about our special place in God’s Creation. In the first Creation account, we read that “God created humankind in God’s image.” God blessed the human beings and told them to “have dominion over… every living thing that moves upon the earth.” And in the second Creation account, we read that “God took the [human person] and put [them] in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.”
But we are not just slaves of God, placed in the world to be farmers and caregivers of all the other creatures. We are made in God’s image. We are offspring of God, beloved children who are precious in God’s sight.
I love the description of the Wisdom of God in our reading from Proverbs today – in which the Divine Wisdom is working away in the creation of the world and everything in it. God is establishing the heavens, drawing a circle on the face of the deep, making the skies, setting the limits of the seas, and marking out the foundations of the earth. The Triune God is rejoicing in the creation of the inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.
It’s hard to imagine God “delighting” in us these days, isn’t it? When you think about all the stupid, selfish, and horrible things that we are doing these days to one another in the world, and to the earth itself. Throughout history, and certainly in our time, human beings have been perfecting warfare and violence, conflict and strife, and designing more and more technologies and conveniences at the expense of the air, waters, and land on which we live.
Can you imagine God “delighting” in us as a human race? Can you imagine God being proud of the good creatures that God made? Or is it more realistic to think of God getting frustrated and angry with us, and thinking of wiping us out again like in the great flood of Genesis chapter six?
But regardless of the ways that we have gotten off track, the wrong things we have done, and the fact that we have misused our power and neglected our responsibility to care for Creation, God still looks at us like a parent delighting in a newborn child.
You’ve seen that look in the eyes of a parent, or perhaps you’ve felt it yourself – the absolute wonder that you made this tiny, perfect being, and that they belong to you. But not only that this child is wonderful and beautiful, but that their life just beginning is full of potential, and possibility, and hope.
As you pour your love into them, you hope that they will grow to love in return and pass that love along to others. As you teach them everything you know, and nurture them in faith and creativity and curiosity, you pray that they will grow and learn and contribute more to the world than you can possibly give to them.
They are your children, made in your image, and even when they fail or fall, still they are yours and your love for them is constant. Your hopes for them do not fade. They are your delight.
I’ve already suggested that to be “made in God’s image” means that we have a little more power and a little more responsibility than the other creatures of the earth. We’re not gods, but the psalmist says that we’re “a little lower than God.”
But I think that being made in the image of the Triune God implies a little bit more than just a higher level of responsibility in the world. The Doctrine of the Trinity reveals God as not just an independent being with power over all, but as a relationship of love and mutuality.
If human beings are like God in any way, it’s our desire for relationship, our call to respect and care for our neighbours, and our need for mutuality and love shared in families, communities, and societies.
The Trinity teaches us that it is in our nature to be connected and faithful to one another in relationship. Although it can be difficult when we experience separation, loss, or death of a loved one (just as Jesus and the Creator struggled when Christ was crucified) still our relationships of love are worth the pain of rejection or grief that often come with them.
Human beings are also like the Triune God in our capacity for creativity, in our calling to embody goodness and love, and our ability to give and serve selflessly out of love for another. Like the Holy Spirit, human beings are constantly moving, changing, growing, interacting, and accomplishing more than we expected was possible.
Often we say that “we’re only human,” so of course we mess up and make mistakes and do wrong things. And yes, that’s true. But on this Trinity Sunday, let’s remember that God has made us human beings “a little lower than God” and God is “delighting in the human race.”
We are beloved children, made in God’s image. We are made for relationship, for creativity, for goodness, and for care for God’s Creation and everything in it. May God bless and help us as we live into our true identity.