Our God is a Community and the difference that makes

Fr Noel Connolly SSC

Last week was Trinity Sunday, the day when we meditate on the type of God we believe in.

If you were to ask most Christians who is God? They would say, “The creator of the universe, all powerful, all knowing and all present God. That is what many of us learnt in our childhood catechisms. It is not wrong but it is the Greek philosophical answer. It is not the biblical answer.

Today we celebrate the fact that our God is not one powerful person but a community of three people who love one another very much. Father, Son and Holy Spirit constantly giving and receiving, totally open to one another. In their love for one another, they, like parents, give birth to a child, the universe. Again, like parents they continue to love their child wanting to draw it and us into their divine life. One of the most telling images of the Trinity’s love came to me about twenty years ago. At the time, I was Vicar General of the Columbans and living in Ireland. I came home one January and was sitting with my mother in the kitchen at Maroochydore. Suddenly, I realised that my mother was concerned about me. I was surprised because I was relatively young, fit, successful etc. I could understand her worrying about my younger brother but not about me. After all, I was an important person, the Vicar General. Then I realised that as my mother she would always be concerned about me. It is the nature of a mother and it is also the nature of God. The Trinity is concerned about creation, their child. The three Persons of the Trinity are constantly creating, healing, reconciling, transforming and uniting the world. They want the very best for us. They have a liberating plan for us all.

There are two major consequences to believing in a communitarian God rather than one powerful God. It is dangerous to have an image of God as all-powerful. Dangerous for us, not God.

Throughout history people have tended to “make Gods after their own image”, after the things they admire and desire. We make Gods of the things, beyond our control and the things we long to be. That is why people who imagine God to be all-powerful tend to be people who respect and long for power themselves. So a powerful God is a great temptation for us.

For many people, religion is a way of trying to use God’s power to our own advantage. Right through the Bible there is a tension between the power and the love of God. If we read the Psalms, we find even the holy men of Israel praying to God to help them take revenge on their enemies, to right all the wrongs that had been done to them. In the Gospels, we have the disciples asking Jesus if he could bring down fire and brimstone on the towns that did not believe in their message. It took all the Old Testament and much of the New to convince the disciples that our God was not like that. Our God is full of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in mercy, abounding in faithful steadfast love and always forgiving.

God’s greatest strength is weakness and love, not power. Jesus was forever correcting his disciples in this regard. Remember how frequently when his power seemed greatest e.g. at the Transfiguration or at Caesarea Philippi and Peter declared him the Son of God, Jesus immediately told them that he must go up to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die.

Another corollary of believing that God is a community is that we can only be saved in community, in relationship. This means that if we are to be like God then we too cannot develop alone. No matter how powerful, how successful or even how holy we become, if it is in isolation from others then we are not God-like. We can only be God-like in community. We will only be holy when we want life for others just as much as we want it for ourselves.

We do not save ourselves. We are only saved in relationships, when we care for one another, when we share with the poor, when we learn to respect everyone even those we do not particularly like.

If being in relationship is the way God lives, then it is also the way we must learn to live.

Columban Fr Noel Connolly is a member of the Adult Formation Team with Catholic Mission Australia and is a member of the Facilitation Team for the Plenary Council 2020.

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