Human Understanding

John 16.12-15

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Can you imagine turning up to a church service and the person preaching announces “There are things that are really essential for us to understand and believe for our faith but I’m not going to talk about them because you wouldn’t understand me and they’d be way above your head”.

Can you imagine the indignation that the congregation would feel?

Yet, as believers, we have to learn to live with the mysteries of our faith. The things that we know in our hearts and experience to be true but we would find hard to explain to others. If you’re anything like me, you will be slowly accumulating a list of questions you want to ask God one day. I suspect, from conversations that I have had with other believers over the years that I am not alone in this little habit?

Us curious types are part of a long chain of people who have asked questions about God. For example, Moses certainly wanted to know the name of the God who had called him so that, when the Israelites asked him, he wouldn’t be flummoxed.

Let us imagine that we are amongst the group that were listening to Jesus when he said “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

How do you feel about that? Does it cause you tension to not know those answers or are your happy living with mystery? At the end of the day, Jesus has taught them how to be merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers. He has told them not to worry. Now he’s saying we don’t need to have all of the answers. He’s telling us that we sometimes need to be ready to hear certain things before we can take them in.

In today’s section of his farewell sermon we curious types are assured  that, even though there are many things that Jesus will delay telling us, in the fullness of time, all will be revealed through the Spirit of truth guiding us and speaking to us declaring all that we need to know. We are given a picture of the Holy Trinity and Jesus speaks of himself, the movement of the Spirit and of his Father.

Any Curate that has been landed with preaching on Trinity Sunday will be able to testify to how challenging the Holy Trinity is as a doctrine of our faith to pin down in words. But, it is not an exam question to understand. Jesus is telling us in this passage that there are things that are yet to be told to us and for us to understand. To try understand it in our human strength is like trying to hold on to a slippery eel. We just think we have some human understanding in our hands then that understanding slips out of our hands and shoots away from us as we realise its is flawed.

That revelation of the Trinity is something that comes from experience. Jesus has wisely realised that to try and intellectually pin down this teaching will be to cause confusion that might diminish his message of the good news being passed down accurately through the generations. His people have encountered God the Father through the generations and have been drawn by Jesus into greater intimacy with the Father as he shows us how to live that Godly life that is pleasing to God. As the Spirit comes at Pentecost, we see that most dynamic relationship with God and his power pouring out in our lives. The Spirit stirs our hearts, strengthens us for the task ahead and is the means by which God whispers into our souls nudging us in the direction that he calls us in.

Catherine Mowry LaCugna explains her book, God For Us, the Trinity is “ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life . . . [it] is the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, [and] what it means to participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.”1

Up to this point in John’s gospel we have glimpsed the Spirit in connection with Jesus. We saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus at his baptism. We know that the Spirit is the gift that we receive once Jesus has been glorified. It is a key gift that Jesus talks of to Nicodemus (we need to be born of water and the Spirit) and to the Samaritan woman (God is Spirit). Jesus has been weaving the connection between Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout his ministry.

The Holy Trinity is about relationship and the indwelling of God in us. It is about collaboration with us and how God communicates himself to us. It is about us being invited into the godhead through the power of the Spirit and it is about us, as believers, declaring god’s love and power to each other. The Trinity is our way of life made possible by God.

As we wait with the disciples for the coming of the Spirit, let us pray for a fresh revelation of that mystery that Jesus declared would unfold in our own lives.


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