The Unemployed Trinity and a Fragile Earth: Refocusing the Christian God

The Christian understanding of God is upside down. For some odd reason, we emphasize a God of power and might when the God of Jesus Christ was hidden and humble. Christians profess belief in the consubstantiality of Father and Son, but Jesus experienced a deep parental love at the heart of his life, by which he called God “Abba.” Jesus was Jewish and died as a Jew. Christians, however, have distinguished themselves from Jews by making claims of knowing the one true God and being saved, in such a way that they have implicitly turned Jesus into a Christian. The Christian God was co-opted by the quest for political power in the Early Church and turned into a philosophical argument by later generations. I do not think Jesus would recognize the Christian God today.

In my last blog, I wrote about Jesus as a mutation, based on the insights of New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado. Jesus showed a new type of religious consciousness by which he experienced the God of Abraham and Moses as the deep personal Thou of his own life. His felt unity with God was what we might call a breakthrough in consciousness. The Hebrew God was known by Jesus as a personal God, a God deeply present within him, empowering him to stretch the boundaries of the world into an inclusive community and shared life. In Jesus, the God of heaven became the God of earth; the God of power became the servant; the God who parted the seas in two and provided manna in the desert was now felt by one who was so filled with the Spirit of life that he named the new temple of worship as the human person. Something decisively new broke through the life of Jesus, and the disciples experienced this newness as a new presence of God. The God who created the heavens and the earth was no longer above; now God was within, actively alive and doing new things. 

Not until the resurrection do we begin to get a glimpse into this new reality of God. Jesus, murdered on a cross, was buried in a tomb and raised to new life. The story is so incredible that no Jew would dare to concoct such a story, according to N.T. Wright, but more so, the disciples experienced a new presence of Jesus in their midst, and they were on fire with the good news that Christ had been raised from the dead. Something took place in the disciples just as it had taken place in Jesus; they too experienced a breakthrough in consciousness. Hence, the seeds of the Christian God were planted in a mutation of consciousness and the immanent experience of God. The God of the Old Testament was now experienced not only as the power of creaturely life but more so, as the power of personhood; not only a God who could part the seas but one who seemed to be completely self-giving in love. Christianity marked a disruptive God-shift.

The early Church tried to articulate this God-shift by focusing on the experience of Jesus, who called God “Abba” or “Father,” and who sent the Spirit of life into the world. The early Church recognized that the God of Jesus Christ was radically new, not a singular divine power but a Trinity. Theologians, such as Irenaeus of Lyons, spoke of the Son and Spirit as the two hands of God, a power of life sharing divine life with the world in a deep personal way, the way of the Son, and in an energetic way, the way of the Spirit. The glory of God, Irenaeus wrote, is the human person fully alive. While the Trinity marked the religious breakthrough in God consciousness experienced by Jesus, the early Church, beginning with the Nicene Council in 325 AD, became preoccupied with the question of whether or not Jesus was truly God. Hence the locus of attention shifted from the personal experience of God to philosophical speculations on substance and nature; from concrete engagement to abstract formulas. 

Once the Christian God was merged with Greek philosophy, the originality of the Christian mutation was lost. We begin to see a theological distortion from Augustine onwards, insofar as the Trinity no longer reflects the original experience of Jesus nor the relational Hebrew God. Augustine was a Neoplatonist and adopted the exitus-reditus scheme of the pagan philosopher, Plotinus. Essentially everything flows from God and everything returns to God; God is essentially the transcendent One. For Augustine, the mark of the Trinity was the unity of divine essence. He distinguished between God’s inner life and God’s work in creation. 

This distinction was affirmed by Thomas Aquinas, who spoke of the One God (De Deo uno) and the Trinity (De Deo trino): God is one essence existing as three persons. Both Augustine and Thomas identified the essential Trinity as marked by relations, processions, and missions. They described God’s incomprehensible essence as simple, perfect, immutable, omnipotent, and ubiquitous. God is pure essence. Moreover, they agreed that the Holy Spirit, while recognized as a divine person, is the bond or nexus between the Father and the Son, so that the Spirit is dependent on the relationship between the first two persons of the Trinity. Thomas Aquinas claimed that God has no real relationship with God’s creatures, only a logical relationship. Simply put, since God is Being itself, all creaturely life participates in God, but God has no real relationship with creatures. God creates out of God’s own internal freedom and desire to create. God loves Godself and then everything else. In short, God does not require the world to be God.

The Franciscan theologian, Bonaventure, a contemporary of Thomas, distinguished his theology by stating that God is Trinity; there is no divine essence apart from Trinity. What God is in Godself is what God is for us. Given that reality at its deepest levels is a dynamic diffusion of divine love, Bonaventure saw creation not as an anomaly in light of an inward-looking deity but a limited actualization of the infinite and dynamic life that marks the divine order. 

In the twentieth century, German theologian Karl Rahner used Bonaventure’s insights to develop an understanding of the Christian God for the modern world; he recognized that the Trinity had become irrelevant. He wrote: “Should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.” Rahner tried to reset the Christian God by formulating an axiom: “The immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity, and the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity.” That is, the inner life of God is the outer life of God and vice versa, so that revelation is the experienced self-communication of God in history. God could not communicate Godself in history if God was not, by nature, self-communicative. In this respect, the life of God does not belong to God alone; it is our life as well.

Teilhard de Chardin was familiar with scholastic theology but saw that evolution evokes a new theology, one much closer to the original Christian experience of God, a felt presence, a power of love. Jesus called this presence “Abba”; Teilhard called this presence “Omega,” not a God draping the world in power but an energetic presence of love immanent to the world’s becoming. Teilhard recognized that something is taking shape in evolution, a wholeness rising up through intensified relationships and increased consciousness. This led him to posit that God is not the starting point for creation but a power of evolution, both within and ahead. The name “God” symbolizes wholeness and unity of life and emerges with the development of the human person and self-reflection. Teilhard wrote: “The birth and progress of the idea of God on earth are intimately bound up with the phenomenon of hominization” (Human Energy, 43). The idea of God and hence belief in God is not a given from the start but emerges in evolution. The purpose of religion, Teilhard writes, is “to sustain and spur on the progress of life” (Human Energy, 44). The locus or starting point for religion is the experience of God, that is, the experience of wholeness, unity, beauty, goodness, and truth. It begins within, on the level of the psyche and experience, and emerges without, in co-creating the world. 

Teilhard’s paradigm is based on the complementary relationship of God and world. There is no inner life of God turned outward; there is no essential Trinity. Rather, God is the power of life within the elements of unfolding life and emerges in human thought and action. The Trinity describes the self-involved God of evolution; an incomprehensible wellspring of love, the expression of the particularity of love, and the breadth of life loved into more being. The Trinity is not about God; it is about God in relation to persons and the power of love that unites persons into greater unity and freedom. Hence, we can say the Trinity is the evolving reality of personhood which begins with the personal experience of love and faith in that love, the expression of that love, and the energy of love to go forth and actualize love through shared life. 

Locating the Trinity in the inner life of God, as if God is like a divine Rubik’s cube, is the basis of atheism. The Trinity is not the starting point of creation but the outflow of personal divine love and incarnational life; it emerges by awakening to the immanent divine power of God and directs itself in response to love. The Trinity symbolizes the openness of divine love to becoming more personal in love. Christianity, as Teilhard realized, is essentially the religion of personhood because it is the religion of cosmic personalization. He wrote, “there is only one real evolution, the evolution of convergence, because it alone is positive and creative” (Christianity and Evolution, 87). God and humanity are in an entangled state, and the individuation of each is inextricably bound with the other. The evolution of God and the evolution of humanity cannot be separated. God is the personal depth, breadth, and future of life—Trinity—divine life personally shared in dynamic bonds of love. Hence, “The essence of Christianity is neither more nor less than a belief in the unification of the world in God by the incarnation” (Human Energy, 91). In short, we are oriented toward the fullness of relational life with all creaturely life entangled with divine life.

The Christian God was deflected two thousand years by the dominance of patriarchy, power, and politics. The distortion of God still prevails, and the earth is now suffering from abstract theological speculations that have led to an unemployed God. I do not think that Christianity has failed; rather, it is in the process of being born, not as the exceptional religion of truth, but as the personalizing process of building the earth into a community of justice and peace. Teilhard’s words ring true: “In the future, the only religion possible is the religion which will teach us, in the very first place, to recognize, love, and serve with passion the universe of which we form a part.” With our fragile earth imploding, it is time to reclaim the Christian mutation, an interpersonal God of love dying to be loved unto greater unity.

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41 Comments

  1. Kay Jackson on March 23, 2024 at 6:27 am

    I believe there is but one God. There are permutations representing the various paths of journeying to our God, just as Nirvana, Valhalla, and Heaven all point to the state of being where our full potentially meets the “Garden of Eden” within our Reality.
    Thus, a Christian pantheism is still Pantheism. It is still the Wisdom of finding God within all. God within place. It is

    ” Merton at the corner” realizing that all is one and that he loved all within sight with intensity. That is a pantheistic response to finding and loving the God within all. Within the place you find yourself.

    Its the response of a Shinto believer as they gaze upon the hidden waterfall among cherry blossoms and take in the awe-some and awe-filled experience of thunderous water among fragile cherry blossoms. Its the Celtic Christian who finds the hidden wells of Bridget, recognize her ancient path and stories, and find the divine within Mother Goddess as well as Christ.

    Pantheism reconnected us to Mother Earth. Keeps us intensely focused on the complete sacredness of our Universe. Our Whole that contains all other wholes. There is nothing secular in this Whole. This Universe. This World.
    One God, of many names and ways, made all.
    .

    • Aldina Brás on April 13, 2024 at 6:53 am

      Poderemos encontrar uma relação entre a mãe Terra e a mãe de Jesus?

  2. ClareJulian Carbone on March 18, 2024 at 10:20 am

    Thank you Ilia for continuing to share your brilliance and grace-filled scholarship with us. You may remember me from my time with the PC’s. You are esteemed and we’ll loved among the members of ARCWP. May your understanding of our Loving/Relational God continue to break through our human consciousness.💓

  3. JULIA STESNEY on March 16, 2024 at 3:27 pm

    When Jesus called himself the Son of Man I think that he was saying that he was the first human of the metanoological evolution. That his consciousness was merged into God’s consciousness and that makes anyone who is given the grace to merge their noological consciousness with God’s consciousness becomes a co-creator with God and that is our path to Omega. I also believe the there is value in the Trinity if it conceived as three relationships with man. God the creator, God the Christ, those who have merged like Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit who is the source of wisdom and strength to those of us who have not made the transition.

  4. Barbara Sonnie on March 15, 2024 at 6:36 pm

    WOW!!! That explains why my Apostles Creed changed to ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, ‘ Divine Loving Energy, who created all things and lives in all things’. I believe in Jesus Christ………to sit at the right hand of God to judge AND GUIDE the living and the dead. Thank you, Sr. Ilia for helping me understand the revelations I’ve been receiving during my centering prayer time. I have read 3 of your books & look forward to more. God Bless..

    • Aldina Brás on April 13, 2024 at 6:32 am

      Bom dia Irmã Ilia!
      Eu tenho uma devoção muito grande à mãe de Jesus, Maria.
      Tem algo para me dizer? Obrigada.

    • Aldina Brás on April 13, 2024 at 6:49 am

      É verdade que acredita em Deus todo poderoso?
      Eu acredito em Deus que é Amor.

  5. Jerome austin McNicholl on March 15, 2024 at 12:37 pm

    There is something about risk in all of this…god has taken a stunningly courageous risk with all of us.This is part of the ‘aliveness’ of one’s life, part of the urgency of ‘finding our way’.

  6. william espinosa on March 15, 2024 at 10:33 am

    I am not a scholar of Thomas A. and have not read much of him. I wonder , however, how does one reconcile, “Thomas Aquinas claimed that God has no real relationship with God’s creatures, only a logical relationship.” (above) with the translation of a Thomas poem in Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God:
    The Christ said to us,
    “I have cut you from a garden I tend and set you in a vase for the world to see.
    Soon you will return, for your glorious presence I miss.
    My hands need to touch you again, my divine sense and eyes require your soul’s beauty near.
    Forgive me, my love, for the suffering our separation brought.
    If I said I am in debt to you, could you understand?”

  7. Joe Masterleo on March 15, 2024 at 6:58 am

    The Word declares that “we know and teach only in part” (1 Cor13:9). That’s because we only see in part, in sections, fractions, a measure, one or two of the constituent parts of the whole, without seeing the unity in/of the whole. So we don’t see all the parts united as one in the whole (Spirit). Divinity doesn’t divide itself, it is one in all things. Perceptually, it is we who divide the unified field. This is why, with finality, a whole person (one with God in awareness and identity) who is scientifically informed, and is anointed as such, must emerge to reveal the undivided constituency (make-up) of the whole, as all things reside, live, move, and have being in it, as water to all aquatic life. This Water of Life is the invisible source and substance of all visible form, Light. All things are one and undivided in it, as it is undivided in itself. End of story. End of seeing only the parts, only the individual trees but missing the forest, and end of all the perceptual splits, divisions, doctrines, religions, and religio-scientific hair-splitting divided minds can muster. With that as our understanding and synthesis, let’s move on toward Omega, theirs more work to be done.

  8. Mary Lou Jorgensen-Bacher on March 14, 2024 at 1:54 am

    I went to a talk by Ilia Delio, in the 2000’s . I was very impressed with her then. I am still very impressed.

    I had a brain haemorrhage, 1974, and this has changed me in a RADICAL Way. I was once, before 1974, a good Mathematical student, I could write out my thoughts in a logical way – this has changed. I was an honours student in GR. 13 (Canadian), this too has changed.

    BUT, I am also an “enquirer” – I don’t let my ideas “get a hold of myself” – I do try to understand all of the ways and means that GOD IS PRESENT IN OUR LIVES. (This is where I think that Ilia Delio and I have a very “common way of living” – she has THIS!).

    I worked for 29.3 years time, for the Ministry of Labour – doing up photocopying, faxing, binders and supplies – giving me a cheque every two weeks time, and also giving me a PURPOSE in LIFE. I did go out with people who were my “Bosses” in life. This included Senator Tony Dean – the head of the civil servants in the Province of Ontario, and a GOOOOOOOOOOD MAN!

    I thank her so MUCH for her ideas on “the personalizing process of putting humankind into a process of justice and peace.” She is an amazing lady!

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