God is more than a 3-letter word

Lawrence of Arabia spent many years in the desert alongside the Bedouin during the Arab Revolt in the First World War. He observed their view of God to be different to that of the westerner. The Bedouin could not look for God within himself, for he was sure that he was within God. He could not distinguish anything which was not God. God alone was great. And yet he noticed that there was a homely quality to the Arab view of God: he was their eating, their fighting and their lusting; the commonest of their thoughts; their familiar resource and companion. He was the most familiar of their words and they felt nothing strange in bringing them into their everyday activities.

A person’s concept of God may be affected by landscape and climate. Living in the wide open, scorched expanses of the desert might make the Bedouin ponder the impossibility of being anywhere where God is not, of being able to escape him.  Exposure to the power of the sun, might heighten his appreciation of the power of God.

We who live in busy cities and towns might find it hard to believe that God is everywhere, in every dark corner. We might think that we can get away from God, in the crowds and the busyness of our lives, and that God’s power is not so great in comparison with the mighty works of mankind.

Today we celebrate the gift to faith of the Christian understanding of the Holy Trinity, the definition of who God is. The Holy Trinity renders the ineffable, comprehensible, but there is the that the definition might diminish God, reducing him either to a mathematical equation or to a quaint artistic representation of a beard, a bird and a body.  

The Trinity can confuse our Muslim brothers and sisters. How many gods do we worship, one or three? They can see that God the Father is Allah, and that Christ is a prophet, but what is that bird? What is the Holy Spirit? Is he a djinn, a spirit created by God, what in English we call a genie?

The Jewish people do not dare to presume to put a name to God. Lawrence remarked how we lost much eloquence in making God the shortest and ugliest of our monosyllables. What should be the most sacred of names is abused and treated without reverence. People often apologise to me for saying things like ‘hell’ in front of me, I would much rather they apologized or refrained from using without respect the names of God and Jesus Christ. As Christians do we set a good example in this, for if we do not respect his name, what will people think of how much we value the one we claim to worship?

While for the most part we just refer to ‘God’ the Muslims have the most-beautiful names of God, some ninety-nine of them, which highlight God’s attributes and help them to understand God’s nature in terms they can understand: the all-merciful, the all-compassionate, the maker of order, the shaper of beauty, the subtle one, the forebearing.

God is so much more than a three letter word, an exclamation. The Trinity combines at once the majesty with the intimacy: God the Father, the creative force of the universe, who relates to us all personally through the Holy Spirit. He entwines the mystery with the revelation: God, beyond human understanding is given to us in flesh and word in the Son.

St Paul, when addressing the Athenians, told them that God wanted man to seek him and to perhaps reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  The Bedouin view of the immanence, the closeness of God, echoed Paul’s words when he said, ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’  

The Reverend Augustus William Hare, never visited the Arabian desert, but he is buried at the foot of a pyramid, in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, where he had gone for the sake of his poor health, which did not improve and he died in 1832. He used an image which might have helped the Bedouin to understand the Trinity, for he used the image of the Sun. He compared the celestial being shining and burning away in the sky to God the Father. You cannot gaze on the sun, for you will be blinded; but the light that issues forth from it, illuminates the world, that is God the Son. The sun produces heat, the great fosterer of life, that is God the Holy Spirit. The sun, the light and the heat are all bound up together, separate and distinguishable things, yet distinct as they are, what can be more united than the sun and its rays or the light and heat which those rays shed abroad?