For those who want a change from the Gospel
Trinity Sunday – Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
If you’ve ever engaged in doorstep arguments with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you’ll no doubt have heard the contention that the Bible doesn’t teach the doctrine of the Trinity, along with all the other stuff about Jesus not being killed on a cross and all that. I love to disarm JWs by agreeing with them. They’re perfectly right. In fact the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t settled finally until 4th century, while Christians continued to affirm the truth of the Jewish Shema prayer ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one’. It took nearly 300 years for the Church to agree that the best and only way to describe their experience of God as Creator, Saviour and Sustainer was in what we now call the doctrine of the Trinity. So no, you can’t find the 4th century doctrine set out clearly in the Bible. But you can find hints towards it, staging posts on the way to that later full agreement of orthodox belief. You find it in formulae such as that in Matthew 28 about how people are baptised, of in the greeting at the end of 2 Corinthians 13 which we now liturgically call ‘The Grace’. And you can find it in Proverbs 8, which is presumably why this reading is set for Trinity Sunday. Not, of course in a 4th century fully developed way, but hinted at.
First of all, we see God as Creator. He brings forth oceans, springs, mountains, skies and the horizon and all the rest of this vast and beautiful world. But, somewhat surprisingly, he was not alone in this flurry in creation. There was someone else there beside him, whom he ‘brought forth’ before anything else, and who stood by and admired his handiwork. The Hebrew word there is ambiguous, and different English translations treat it in different ways, but usually we affirm, with the Nicene Creed and the Christmas carol, that God’s Son was ‘begotten, not created. So in this mysterious figure, whom OT scholars call ‘Lady Wisdom’, we clearly have a picture of Jesus, interestingly in female form. That might also explain why God says in Gen 1:26 ‘Let us make human beings …’
But what of the Third Person, the Holy Spirit? Is the Spirit pictured in Lady Wisdom too? Maybe. In v.1-4 she is everywhere. On the hilltops, at road junctions, beside the city gates, in the doorways, she calls out to everyone. The Spirit, according to Jesus, was to make his home in all Jesus’ followers, so that the physically located Jesus of Nazareth could become the omnipresent Risen Lord. Another hint lies in the parallel use of the word ‘wisdom’ with ‘understanding’ in a way which suggests that Lady Wisdom is the one who brings understanding, in other words the teacher who will lead us into all the truth. We don’t know how much of John’s write-up of Jesus farewell words to his disciples may have had roots in Proverbs 8, but it isn’t stretching things too much to suggest that they might well have had.
But the eternal question about the doctrine of the Trinity is ‘So what?’ What difference does it actually make to me and my discipleship that God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Maybe we can, as it were, learn backwards. What might Prov 8, read through the lens of trinitarian theology, say to encourage us?
The first thing is the sheer sense of joy, enthusiasm and delight which shines through the passage. As God creates, Lady Wisdom looks on with unadulterated wonder and adoration. You might expect wisdom to be associated with sorting out the problems of the world, or the fight for justice and peace. But no. To say that Wisdom views things through rose-coloured spectacle would be an understatement. Some of the early Fathers used the Greek term perichoresis to suggest that the relationships within the Trinity were like a joyous dance together. In the midst of a continuing threat from Covid, the Ukrainian war and a corrupt but unrepentant government, what would it mean for us to focus, at least for a while, on the sheer joy and beauty of God’s created world?
The second is the delight which comes over in wisdom. The Bible uses the term not to mean intellectual prowess, but like the French savoir-faire, knowing what to do. This gift is highly desirable, and free to all who ask. Imagine if you had even one millionth the combined wisdom of Father, Son and Spirit! We could change the world with that!
But maybe the best thing which comes over through the Trinity is that depicted so clearly in the famous Rublev icon: the space which is there for you and me. We’re invited in, not to the being of God. obviously, but into the relationship of love with the persons share. There is room at the table for us! Lady Wisdom lifts her voice and welcomes us all. She delights in the human race (v.31).