One of the main differences between modern followers of God and the authors of Scripture is that we think we can know God through our intellect (by reading a book or hearing a sermon), while the Sacred Writers believed that only those people really know God who experience God in their lives. We enjoy philosophical discussions about God; they reflected on and then passed down their personal experiences of God.

Nowhere is this difference clearer than in our idea of the Trinity. The concept as we learned it in our catechisms -- three persons in one God -- was drawn up at the Council of Nicea in 325, almost 200 years after the last book of the Christian Scriptures was written.

Had our Biblical Authors known and passed on such a formulation, there would have been no necessity for Nicea. Reading their works carefully, we discover that the Sacred Writers were more concerned with the God who breaks into their day-by-day lives, a God deeply involved with themselves and their entire community, than they were with hypothetical explanations of God's nature. Their "hands-on" experience of God made them more interested in what God does than in who God is.

God of action

This practice of believing in a God of action goes back to the earliest days of faith. When, in Sunday's first reading (Deut 4:32-34, 39-40), Moses encourages his people to obey God's "statutes and commandments," his motivation springs from concrete instances in which Yahweh had stepped into their lives.

"Did a people," he asks, "ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with his strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the Lord your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?" Moses reminds his people of their history, not their philosophy.

Paul uses a similar argument with the Christian community in Rome (Rom 8:14-17). Falling back on their experience of receiving God's Spirit when they put their faith in Jesus, the Apostle reminds them of their new-found familiarity with God. When they pray, they no longer speak to and of a lord and master. Now they simple address the all-powerful God of the universe as "Abba," a name which small children give their father, similar to our "Daddy" or "Pop."

Having become one with Jesus, they're beginning to understand what it means to be God's children. They have the same faith and trust in God that a little child has in its parents.

Mission from Jesus

We see in the Gospel (Mt 28:16-20) that only an experienced-based faith will ever inspire us to carry on Jesus' mission in the world. It's no accident when Matthew narrates Jesus' command to "Go, make disciples of all nations!" immediately after he mentions that His disciples caught "sight of Him." Before we know what Jesus expects us to do, we must sense that Jesus is part of our lives.

Our mission flows not from a theological concept, but from a relationship. Once we feel that presence, then we know why Jesus can assure His disciples: "I am with you always, until the end of the world!" His presence helps us go beyond the limits which restrict others.

As long as we reduplicate the early Christian community's road to Nicea, we'll have no problem with the Trinity. If we start our faith journey, like our Sacred Authors, by reflecting on experiences of God in our lives, then we're setting out along the right path. But if we begin with Nicea and try to mold our faith around its technical formulation of God's nature, we're probably going to end up with a very technical, bookish idea of God.

Our Bible is a book of experiences, not of concepts. Its authors first heart, felt and sensed God in their everyday lives, and then shared their experiences with their communities. That's why Scripture is so huge. Though a whole Church can eventually come out with a few words to summarize God's nature, no two people in that Church will ever experience God in the same way.

(05-22-97)