Regular thoughts on the oft-neglected Old Testament Lectionary passages.
Here it comes again – the Sunday preachers love to hate. How do we help people to understand the mystery of the Trinity? To be honest the OT doesn’t help, the Trinity not being much of a Jewish idea. In fact the Jews were so fiercely monotheistic, and you can see why when you look at their history and the problems false worship got them into. Much of their resistance to the infant church was the apparent belief in three different gods. Even the NT only hints at the doctrine, which was not formalised by the church until the 4th century. So the fact that Isaiah’s seraphim cried out ‘Holy’ three times does not of itself prove much, and it would be bad hermeneutics to suggest that it did.
For what it’s worth, whilst clover leaves and ice, water and steam go some way towards illustrating the Trinity, I prefer an aural rather than a visual aid – that of a musical triad. Each note of the chord is distinct, and each has a special purpose within the triad, but heard together they become much more than the sum of three individual notes. I’ll let you play around with that idea.
I wonder, though, whether our job on this Sunday is to help people understand the doctrine of the Trinity? Hands up anyone who does understand it? Frankly it’s an impossible task, so it may be more productive instead to focus on what difference it makes in real life, to illustrate the doctrine rather than nail it down tightly for all to comprehend. If that’s the case, and as long as we understand that this is not what the passage means or is about, I believe we might find something helpful in Isaiah 6 after all, as a trinity of motifs lead to and facilitate Isaiah’s prophetic ministry.
Firstly there is a God who calls. He is a God of holiness, majesty and power, reigning from his throne but affecting the earth too. It is he who calls human beings into his service.
Then there is the seraph who comes to Isaiah as he expresses his natural reluctance and lack of qualification for such a task. He is sent by God into Isaiah’s world to deal with the problem of human sin.
Thirdly there is the burning coal, which actually affects the cleansing and makes Isaiah ready and able for service. Of course it is highly fanciful to see in this trinity a reflection of the Holy Trinity, with the Father who reigns and calls, the Son who steps down into the human world to deal with sin, and the Spirit, who comes with burning flames to cleanse and equip God’s people. Of course, as with any illustration of the Trinity, there are limitations. The Son is of course more than an angel, and the Spirit more than a lump of coal. But to think ourselves into Isaiah’s position, and to meditate on our calling and obedience (or not), our experience of sin and forgiveness, and the touch of the Holy Spirit’s fire on our lives might be a profitable thing.