PRAYER Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
We live in a society that is fond of conspiracy theories. The enormous
popularity of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code bears this out. There are
various explanations for the current taste for conspiracy, but perhaps
on the healthier side, is an honest question: how come? To cast it in
different ways: where did such and such come from? What is the origin
of, say, the power of an individual or an institution? I think this kind
of question partly comes about with our post-modern suspicion of power
and our culture’s obsession with the cult of individual choice.
Today is a strange Sunday in the Christian calendar in some ways. Unlike
Christmas, Easter or Pentecost, we do not celebrate a key event in the
story of salvation. We celebrate a key concept, a controlling doctrine.
Why do we do this, and how has the doctrine of the Trinity come about
in the first place? I don’t want to go into a detailed history of
the Church’s development of this doctrine. Rather, I’d like
to convey some thoughts which I found helpful and relevant from the Cambridge
theologian Sarah Coakley. Prof Coakley explores the question: how come
the Trinity? And her answers include ideas about Christian prayer, which
is why I think her ideas are helpful and can mean something to the ordinary
Christian. Instead of getting tied up in ancient philosophical concepts
(which are important in their own right) we begin with scripture and prayer.
What is a Christian understanding of prayer? How does Christian prayer
come about and what is distinctive about it? The answer lies in clues
found in the NT. In Romans 8 St Paul describes what it means to relate
to God. In a lengthy meditation that stretches over ¾ of the letter,
Paul ponders the implications of believing in Jesus and how he relates
that to his previous beliefs as a pious Jew. He must believe that we can
only really know God because God chooses to reach out to us, to reveal
himself to us. This revelation came, at least mainly for Paul as a Pharisee,
through the Law, though backed up and interpreted by the Prophets and
the Wisdom writings, which all formed part of Jewish scripture. But now
Paul is convinced that Christ is also the revelation of God and that the
Spirit of God indwells the believer and the Church as a whole in such
a way as to make all of this real. Those who are led by the Spirit of
God are the children of God…and the Spirit brings about your adoption
as God’s children. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that
we are children of God…and therefore heirs...fellow heirs with Christ.
A few verses further on, after today’s portion of scripture Paul
also says: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness and describes
the workings of the Spirit deep in us to bring about true Christian prayer.
Sarah Coakley suggests that the origins of the doctrine of the Trinity
come from Christians discovering what the structure of their prayer is.
Based on this and other NT passages Christians teased out what was going
on as they related to God, especially through deep, contemplative or charismatic
prayer. God reaches out to us (that is the only way in which we might
relate to him). That is the creator God, the one we call “Abba”
Father. It is also God who does the praying in and through us to himself.
That is the action of God the Spirit. This praying that goes on to God
and by God’s action within us is a yearning for God and especially
a yearning for the new creation: for all that is imperfect in our world
to be brought to perfection. After all, that is what prayer is about:
wanting things to be right, seeking perfection. That renewal of creation
comes about through Christ, is fulfilled in Christ the Son. That is why
we are taught to offer our prayer in the name of Christ. These are not
three ways of praying, nor are they simply three ways in which the one
God works. They are all one experience of prayer, from, to and through
the one God.Later Christian thinkers would draw out further logical conclusions,
and build up a precise doctrine of the Trinity. But I find this at least
a satisfying, spiritual and helpful explanation of the origins of our
belief about the nature of God which is distinctively Christian.
© Rev Paul Smith