Each week I have the privilege of teaching several groups of children a story from the Bible, generally a story about Jesus. Not long ago I began a teaching session with a group of preschoolers, and a few of the kids wanted to start with singing. As we began, I noticed one of the girls looked mad and she wasn’t singing along. When we started a second song, she crossed her arms over her chest and began glaring at me. And when I said, “Let’s do one more,” she burst out, “When are you gonna’ bring me some Jesus, Ms. Jen?”
Well, the truth is that I’m not just bringing her Jesus. I’m bringing her the very best picture we have of God—seen (and touched and heard) in the person of Jesus, God the Son. “If you want to know who God is,” says theologian William Placher, “attend to these stories about Jesus Christ,” for Jesus is the “best clue to who God is.”* Daniel Migliore writes that there is no side of God “altogether different from what we know in the story of Jesus who befriended the poor and forgave sinners. God is self-expanding, other-affirming, community-building love.”** (p8 of Witvliet) So Jesus isn’t just giving us a picture of God the Son; Jesus is giving us a picture of the Triune God, the God who is three-in-one, one-in-three, three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—fully equal, having one will but distinct in their persons.
So if (since) Jesus presents God to us and he interacts in beautiful, intimate, communal, harmonious ways with the other two persons of the Trinity, then we can know that “divine life consists most fundamentally in interpersonal communion. …God’s life is one of abundant communion, a kind of fellowship … that overflows to include us.”
Can we see those communal, harmonious ways of relation among the Father, Son, and Spirit in the Gospel stories? Yes! Let’s just take a super abbreviated gander through the Gospel of Mark and look at a few examples:
- The Baptism of Jesus—this is how Mark begins! John the Baptist announces that Jesus will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit, and then, at Jesus’ own baptism, the Spirit hovers over him like a dove and the voice of the Father affirms him as his beloved Son—before he’s done any earthly ministry!
- Jesus’ miracles. Scholar Gerald Hawthorne emphasized the point that Jesus “depended on the Spirit of God.” He wrote, “The Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations, rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality.”*** This means that every single time we see Jesus doing something no human would be able to do (cast out demons, heal the sick with a touch or word, feed great crowds to the full with a single lunch, control nature…), he was doing this through intimate communion with the Spirit.
- Jesus referred to God the Father AS his Father. “So?” You may wonder, but this was NEW! The writers of the Old Testament Scriptures didn’t refer to God as their personal Father. Jesus does! Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you.”
I could give many more examples from Mark alone, but this post is getting too long, so I’ll end with an idea for you:
Pick a Gospel to read through. Every time you encounter the word “God,” read “Father, Son, and Spirit” or “Triune God.” We generally tend to see the word “God” and automatically think of God the Father; see if this exercise affects how you see Jesus and the Spirit and how you view the Trinity.
*quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 7
** quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 8
***The Presence and the Power, p. 35