‘ . . . endurance produces character, , and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’. Romans 5:4-5
Endurance doesn’t suit the spirit of our times. Instant gratification is what is wanted now. Endurance character and hope might have been fine things in the past, but they demanded commitment and work.. Enthusiasm for discipline, for commitment, for working at things is not plentiful. Instead of seeking the qualities of which Saint Paul writes, we go in the opposite direction; we feel we shouldn’t ask people to think, that everything should be dumbed down, made simple; to be complicated is likely to lead to being accused of being elitist.
Yet a moment’s thought would tell us that the world is not becoming simpler, it becomes more complex by the day. Technology, science, medicine—each field becomes more and more difficult for an outsider to understand. So, on one hand, there is a popular mood that says everything should be simple and on the other there is a world of increasing complexity. The Church has tended to go down the popular route, not applying our minds to things, and dumbing things down; we think that if we make everything as simple as possible, then we will be more attractive. Except, just as we would expect in other fields of knowledge, in church teaching there are some things that cannot be dumbed down; our understanding of God as the Trinity is something that cannot be made easy.
One of the problems Christians have with the media is that God cannot be simplified. God is not simple – no matter how hard you try you cannot make God fit into the simple terms of a newspaper headline. All the words in the dictionary only start to explain God.
Trinity Sunday reminds us once a year that God is not like anything or anyone we can imagine. God cannot be fitted into the mental capacities of the human brain. We can use all the terms from mathematics and geometry and science and philosophy; we can take all the ideas from art and from literature; we can take all of human knowledge and put it together and we would still not have God.
‘endurance produces character’, says Saint Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome in this morning’s Epistle, and for a man with a powerful intellect like Paul, endurance would mean serious thinking. Paul would want us to try to think about God, intimidating as such a thought is to us.
Such endurance can give us a headache! When we come to church, when we try to understand the confusing things that all of us encounter from time to time, when we reach those moments in life when we ask what on earth this life is about, we are dealing with things we cannot cope with. It’s like trying to imagine the whole universe and then trying to think about what’s beyond it.
It is not in the spirit of our time to think about such things. We do not like what we cannot control. We do not wish to imagine things we cannot understand. The Bible is a disturbing book for our times because it doesn’t allow any possibility that people can control this world. The writers of the Bible acknowledge God as God. They do not attempt to describe him, nowhere do they sit down and say, ‘God is this, this and this’. Instead we get just tiny glimpses.
Belief in God in the Bible comes as a consequence of the facts of the experience of God in their lives. If we are to follow the way of the Bible, we have to argue for God from our own experience. No-one can reason another person into belief. God cannot be crammed into human reason or argument. All we can do is to present what we know and allow people to decide for themselves.
The idea of God is not something which will fit into any explanation we can give. God is God, he is who he is, he cannot be controlled, he cannot be simplified, he most certainly cannot be dumbed down.
This day, this Trinity Sunday, this day when we remember God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, prompts us at least once in a year to think about God as he is. In a world where laziness is a sign of the times we live in, it is not for Christians to go down that path, instead we need to listen to Paul’s instruction, ‘endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.’