Trinitarian Theology Essay 1

This first paper for Trinitarian Theology is on a particular version of trinitarian theology we have studied to this point. I will say that a few of the early readings reminded me of what I disliked about theological readings, especially those on the Trinity. However, after a few it seemed to get easier. But the theologian to this point that has caught my attention is Elizabeth Johnson. She gave me a fresh look at God through the lens of the trinity. She gives us a fresh look at God in the understanding of the trinity and shows that all of life exists because of God’s indwelling through the spirit and that any good understanding of the trinity will start with the Spirit. She shows us that God is always immanently with us, that God is never neutral in moments of conflict, and that God is related to life in a real way. One issue Johnson brings forth is that traditional doctrines of Christology “serve as a religious tool for marginalizing and excluding women.”[1] She contends that while father is the language we have traditionally used for God, mother imagery is sometimes a better image for how God interacts with us. All of these details give us a clear picture of the trinity and a basis for understanding God in a pluralistic society.

Johnson starts her journey into the Trinity from a traditional understanding which is usually from the unity of God or the “first person” of the Trinity, which traditionally is the Father. Johnson said her encounter with feminine theology “made it extremely difficult to begin anywhere other than the juncture where the dialectic of God’s presence and absence shapes life in all its struggles.”[2] It is the Spirit of God that is present with us in the world, and it is the Spirit we interact with more as God. “The dialectic of the Spirit’s presence and absence is known in effects – new life and energy, peace and justice, resistance and liberation, hope against hope, wisdom, courage, and all that goes with love.”[3] Johnson states that love in the way the Spirit resides in all of life is where we need to start when trying to understand God. Love is not hostile and moves us to want to know more and interact more with God. Johnson gives us an understanding of God “from below” that is not dependent on reasoning but is based on experience.

Johnson tells us that the natural world, our own personal experiences, and the communal experiences of human beings are all mediated through the presence and absence of the Holy Spirit.[4] Johnson explains that life doesn’t exist without the Spirit being present in and through what is happening. God is working in and through everything and “’wherever true life exists, there the Spirit of God is at work’”[5] God’s presence in the world is felt and known through the Spirit. The creativity if God is seen through the Spirit as “Her power makes all withered sticks and souls green again with the juice of life.”[6] Johnson says that this understanding of the Spirit as the God we know seems strange because of the substitution of Mary for the Spirit by the early church. Most of the functions given to Mary by the early church, intercessor, mediatrix, helper, advocate, defender, consoler, and counselor are functions that biblically belong to the Spirit. When we see that these functions are performed by God, even if done through Mary, then we see how the Spirit and there by God are active in the world. And how God is immanently with us.

What is most baffling about forgetfulness of the Spirit is that what is being neglected is nothing less than the mystery of God’s personal engagement with the world in its history of love and disaster; nothing less than God’s empowering presence dialectically active within the world in the beginning, throughout history and to the end, calling forth the praxis of life and freedom. Forgetting the Spirit is not ignoring a faceless, shadowy third hypostasis but the mystery of God closer to us than we are to ourselves, drawing near and passing by in quickening, liberating compassion.[7]

When we say the Spirit doesn’t exist, we are not just denying the Spirit but we are also denying that God is immanent with us. In ways that we do not even understand. God is so close to us that we do not understand it or fathom how it happens, but to look at the Trinity from the traditional view helps us to lose this closeness and presence in our daily lives. The understanding of Spirit as breath and wind in the Biblical languages also add to the imminence of God through the Spirit. The life energy of breathing in and out and connecting that to God moving through us is how close God is to us and why the Spirit is the starting point of God and of all life. The Spirit is never our go to hypostasis for God, but the Spirit is the mode through which all life has its beginning and status.

Johnson tells us through this imminence and relational God that God is not neutral in the ways of the world. We are free in the world through the Spirit living in us and that freedom is what immanently connects us to God. Through our faith we are moved to help the oppressed and thus are moved by the Spirit and through this God is not neutral. Even as God sent Jesus, “In all, his compassionate, liberating words and deeds are the works of Sophia reestablishing the right order of creation:”.[8] God is always working to have creation be what it was meant to be at the start. A place where justice flows like streams of living water. And just as streams feed the land around them God is intimately active in our lives in a real way. This is seen by Johnson in that without the Spirit life as we know it would not exist. The Spirit is immanent and intimately involved in all of life and “the world is held together by her compassionate power while human beings are challenged to be allies of her liberating grace.”[9]

Johnson begins her discussion of Jesus saying, “Jesus is a genuine Spirit-phenomenon, conceived, inspired, sent, hovered over, guided, and risen from the dead by her power.”[10] The relational understanding of God is deep and rich in Johnson’s understanding of the Trinity. All of the hypostases are one in another, and all are dwelling richly and immanently in the world through the Spirit. One point Johnson makes about the maleness of Jesus is it is a toll used to marginalize and exclude women and how our religious understandings has perpetuated this system. She specifically says, “when Jesus’ maleness, which belongs to his historical identity, in interpreted to be essential to his redeeming christic function and identity, then the Christ serves as a religious tool for marginalizing and excluding women.”[11] This is seen in how the maleness of Jesus is used to reinforce the Patriarchal view of God. If Jesus is a man, then the understanding that one must be male to be divine can be construed from this. Thus, making females not divine. This was further pointed out by Johnson when she writes that “Rosemary Ruether has pointed out, ‘the unwarranted idea develops that there is a necessary ontological connection between the maleness of Jesus’ historical person and the maleness of Logos as male offspring and disclosure of a male God.’”[12] Johnson continues that if we say Jesus’ maleness is linked to the salvific christic works then that maleness gets honor, dignity and normality because it was chosen by God as the “enfleshment of incarnation.”[13] All of this focus on the maleness and not the incarnation of God makes that gender of Jesus more important than it actually is and makes maleness seem more closely related to divine than it is. Also, when we take the arguments as Johnson says to their fullest extents, “if maleness is constitutive for the incarnation and redemption, female humanity is not assumed and therefore not saved.”[14] Johnson changes the understanding of Jesus’ maleness by framing that Jesus’ maleness while important for the historical figure in identity and ministry does not theologically determine the identity of Christ for the community. Johnson says that Jesus had to be male to work and live and do what he did at the time he was here, but his maleness is not the important part of the incarnation. And this is displayed through the women at the tomb and the working of the Spirit in and through Jesus. The crucified Christ is the opposite of the power of a patriarchal society and shows the love and lengths to which God is willing to go to liberate the world. Johnson says, “Maleness is not constitutive of the essence of Christ but, in the Spirit, redeemed and redeeming humanity is.”[15] The maleness of Jesus should have never been the focal point of the Christ, but the imminence and humanness of God, redeeming and liberating the world through intimate love. The understanding of societal norms placed on a God that we are trying to understand makes ways for us in our humanity to mess things up way more than we should, but the intimacy of the Spirit working in and through us can help us overcome our short sightedness.

On Johnson’s understanding of God as mother she speaks of the time Pope John Paul I said that “God is our father; even more God is our mother…”[16] The Pope used clear language to say that God is not just male but also female, however this is really nothing more than the Bible already does. And when we stop and think in society women are seen as the ones who nurtures and creates life. And is that not what God does for all of us and as was stated earlier in this paper and by Johnson that all of life exists because of the Spirit. The mothering image of God is the one that should bring us the most comfort. Pope John Paul I continued, “God does not want to hurt us, but only to do good for us, all of us.”[17] The image of God as mother is comforting and life giving. It is an image of God that “makes imminence mutual.”[18] God as mother is a way to make the relationship more intimate and real to us and that is what God wants for us to connect immanently and intimately with God. Some of the downfalls for me with Johnson’s understanding is the maternal imagery used for God while helpful is also hurting for some of our LGBTQIA+ community members in the understanding of who can give birth and who cannot and how that is a part of gender. Gender, I believe is still something we are figuring out and is way more fluid than binary and we need to expand our understanding to include these understandings.

To me Johnson unfolds the Trinity in a way that allows us to be a part of the relationship that is God in a real and life-giving way. Johnson starts with the part of the Trinity we all have common knowledge of though pretend is hardest to understand and then speaks to the embodiment of the Son and the Mother/Father by that same Spirit and how the interplay and relational aspects of the Trinity is always working. The points that might need more expanding from Johnson’s point of view are an LGBTQIA+ understanding and the nonbinary fluid understanding of gender, which she did work on on the understanding of Jesus’ maleness not being necessary for the christic actions of salvation but fall short to the needed understanding for today. All said I believe Johnson gives us a great way to look at the Trinity “from below” and how we see, experience and understand God, as Trinity and as our creator.

[1] Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. P 151.

[2] Johnson p121

[3] Johnson p122

[4] Johnson pps125-126

[5] Johnson p127

[6] Johnson p128

[7] Johnson p131

[8] Johnson p157

[9] Johnson p149

[10] Johnson p150

[11] Johnson p151

[12] Johnson p152

[13] Johnson p152

[14] Johnson p153

[15] Johnson p164

[16] Johnson p172

[17] Johnson p172

[18] Johnson p186

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