Biblical archaeologists painfully discover that crucial mistakes can be made when they anticipate what they're going to find before they turn over their first trowel of dirt.

A classic example was the excavations at Jericho during the 1930s. Digging to unearth the famous walls Yahweh had helped Joshua knock down, John Garstang informed the biblical world that he had found the fallen fortifications.

Twenty years later, Kathleen Kenyon dug in the same place, but she showed that the walls had actually been destroyed hundreds of years before Joshua. This mistake is one of the reasons today's archaeologists dig without any presuppositions about what they're going to find.

Search for truth

Something similar happens when we dig into Scripture on the Feast of the Trinity. Without knowing the historical background of Sunday's liturgical texts, some might be tempted to use them to prove the Council of Nicaea's famous statement that there are "three persons in one God."

But, if such a detailed doctrine had been in Scripture, the Emperor Constantine would never have been forced to assemble Christianity's bishops to hash out the issue in 325.

The authors of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures know whenever they attempt to convey concepts of God, they're working with a terrific handicap. As one scholar succinctly put it: "They're on this side, dealing with the other side."

We hear one attempt to cross sides in the first reading (Proverbs 8:22-31). The author expands his readers' idea of Yahweh by personifying their quest to experience Him. Those who seek such wisdom know from the beginning that part of Yahweh's divinity has already been embedded in their search.

"When Yahweh established the heavens," the passage begins, "I [wisdom] was there; when He marked out the vault over the face of the deep,...made firm the skies above,...fixed fast the foundations of the earth,...set for the sea its limit,...I was beside Him as His craftsman."

Christians added another level to the ancient Jewish pursuit to define God in their lives. As we hear in the second reading (Romans 5:1-5), Paul, who first experienced the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, began to understand how Jesus' relationship with God eventually became the same relationship with God that His followers experience.

"Since we have been justified by faith," Paul writes, "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand."

But, as the Apostle reminds his readers, this expanded idea of God doesn't stop there. He states, "The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Like all Jesus' original followers, Paul is convinced there's a new dimension of God, a spirit which pervades the communities who profess the faith Jesus professed.

Permanent force

In the Gospel (John 16:12-15), Jesus promises this Spirit will be a permanent force in His disciples' lives, helping them treat situations and people as He wants them to: "When He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth....[He] will take from what is mine and declare it to you."

Perhaps we, like Garstang, are so driven to find proof for our beliefs that we overlook what Scripture actually tells us. Just as Kenyon was able to demonstrate what really happened when Joshua and the Israelites entered the Promised Land in the 12th century before Christ, so those who stop using Scripture as a proof-text for later dogmas will discover the amazing faith journey of those who first tried to understand God, a journey we share with them.

(5/24/07)