Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15; Psalm 8
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
There is so much great television out there recently – so many shows that speak brilliantly about the human condition. Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos, The Walking Dead, the list goes on and on. A show from several years ago that drew me into the midst of its complicated narrative was the show entitled “Lost.” “Lost” was about many things: love, relationships, physics, time travel, good and evil, faith and reason.
I was curious about the characters and wanted to always learn more about them and their motives. The setting for the majority of the show was the stunningly beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu, but as beautiful as the setting was, what kept me coming back was not just the setting, not just the characters, but rather the unexplained mysteries of the show itself. Bizarre, unexplainable things routinely occurred on this show that simply couldn’t be explained.
When “Lost” finally ended six years ago, there were some who were pleased with how the show ended. And there were also people who were upset with the ending and found it disappointing because it didn’t tie all the loose threads together. There were still mysteries left unexplained that the viewer had to consider themselves.
For me, I personally enjoyed not having the mystery revealed entirely, because if a mystery is unveiled completely, it is no longer mysterious. Revealed mystery becomes something boring: a fact, something we can pick apart and measure. But if it remains mysterious, then it remains aloof, and that always seems to be more interesting.
Such is the case with the mystery of the Trinity, which we honor today. The Trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) has been dissected time and time again. Many thick, heavy books have been written in dense academic language with fancy Latin words to try and explain what exactly the Trinity really is. My experience of these books is that they all tend to be rather dull and boring.
We aren’t meant to treat the Trinity as a biologist treats a new species. The Trinity is a holy mystery that reveals God’s rather peculiar mathematical sense – in this case that God + Jesus + the Holy Spirit does not equal three, but one.
Centuries ago, the Italian mathematician named Rafael Bombelli discovered imaginary numbers, which are numbers that technically do not exist in our world, but must exist somewhere because there are certain mathematical equations that can only have imaginary answers. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, it doesn’t really make sense to me, either. But I will share one equation that has an imaginary number, and that is the square root of negative one. If I try to get my calculator solve that equation, a message pops up on the screen which reads “invalid input for function” meaning there’s no real answer. The answer exists out there somewhere, but it is unknown, it is a mystery.
Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel today “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” In other words, there is a lot out there that we don’t know, that we cannot know, because our minds are simply too small to comprehend such things. Our minds are too small to understand God’s math, how three is really one.
When I was in seminary, I remember being told by one of my professors that by the time I graduated, there would still be so much I wouldn’t know or even comprehend. He went on to say that the purpose of seminary, and really of education, was not to discover all the answers – it was to learn to ask better questions.
I’m not sure how satisfied I was with my professor’s comment, but I know in my heart that he was right. There is so much we want to know, that unfortunately, we never will. The renowned Anglican theologian and former atheist C.S. Lewis writes that the most frequently used word in heaven is probably “aha!” It is his belief that when we are in that special presence of God in the life to come, we will understand things we do not understand now. Perhaps all mysteries will be revealed at that point. I have to wonder, though, if finally receiving the answers to our deepest questions will be nearly as satisfying as the pursuit of the mystery itself. I wonder if we will like the answer we receive that day, or if we might think we were better off not knowing?
True wisdom, I believe, is seen most clearly in the ability of a person who can live with mystery in their lives and be okay with it. To be comfortable with not knowing all the answers, to live into the words of the prophet Isaiah to whom God says “my thoughts are not your thoughts nor your ways my ways.” AMEN.