Even a quick glance at Scripture tells us that images of God constantly change. No matter what portrait a sacred author offers, we can surface another (often contradictory) portrait within a few pages.

And if we think these changing images stop with the closing of the biblical canon, remember that the image we celebrate today - three persons in one God - wasn’t formally developed until the Council of Nicea in 325!

The author of Deuteronomy tells us why our concepts of God constantly change (Dt 4: 32-34, 39-40). He believes the only way we can find out anything about God is to reflect on what God is doing in our lives. “Did a people,” Moses 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 testing, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which Yahweh, your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” The Chosen People know about Yahweh because they know what Yahweh has done for them.

Jesus and God

As good Jews, the first Christians simply carried this same principle over into their experiences of Jesus. They eventually realized that this unique person who came among them speaking about God actually was God.

Though they were first attracted to Jesus because of the way He related to God, they gradually began to understand they could have that same relationship once they began to imitate Him. If they gave themselves over to Jesus’ Spirit, they also could become “children of God” in many of the same ways in which He was a child of God.

Paul even goes so far with that insight that he claims Jesus’ followers can use the same familiar name for God as Jesus did: “Abba” (Rom 8: 14-17). Technical-ly, “Abba” means father, but it’s the way a small child, not an adult, refers to his or her father. It would make more sense to translate it “Pop” or “Daddy.”

When someone uses “Abba” about God, they’re saying they have an informal, dependent, familiar relationship with God, different from the formal, technical, solely physical relationship we hear in the word “Father.” As most of us know - especially on Father’s Day - someone can be a person’s father, but not their Daddy.

But before we start using this special title for God, Paul reminds the community in Rome that there’s one condition for developing such an intimate relationship with God. It only happens to those who are willing to “suffer with Jesus.”

Trinity

The Gospel (Mt 28: 16-20) takes us one step farther in understanding God. We know from Paul’s letters that the earliest Christians baptized people only “in the name of Jesus.” Our Trinitarian formula - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - evolved after Paul’s martyrdom in 60.

It seems to have developed, not because the risen Jesus appeared to someone one day and handed him or her a new sacramental ritual. It happened because the more people reflected on the relationship with God which Jesus brought them, the more they understood that the Father and the Holy Spirit were just as much involved in their lives as they had been in the life of the historical Jesus.

In this passage, Matthew shows that he not only realized that a mission which Jesus had originally thought would encompass only Jews was now being expanded to “all nations,” but that one’s relationship with Jesus was now being expanded also to a relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Those who today hesitate to use feminine pronouns and adjectives about God probably don’t know how we originally got our biblical pronouns and adjectives of God. If the people who began that process hadn’t presumed it would continue beyond their writings, we’d never be celebrating Trinity Sunday.

(06-12-03)