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God’s Colossal, Mysterious Body

By the Rev’d Canon James Mustard 
Since listening to Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s radio series God: an anatomy, it is difficult to ignore the fact that, although we know God to be invisible and completely beyond our comprehension, we seem to know a great deal about his body. Just think of all those references to his “outstretched arm”, his “right hand”, his gargantuan feet on his footstool, his mighty voice that shakes the wilderness and breaks the cedar trees. Though we may read such verses as metaphors for God’s might, they also build up a vivid picture of a mighty colossus. Do they point to a very physical understanding of God? Are they a reminder of the close affinity between those who worship God and their pagan neighbours who worship a pantheon of gods?
Generally, in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, the worshipers of God, the Hebrews, are the plucky underdogs in any political crisis. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Ezekiel record the disastrous consequences of Hebrew Kings believing they could stand up to the might of Assyria or Babylon, or enlist the help of mighty Egypt. Instead of just paying tribute taxes, they stand up to fight and are crushed. The idols of their neighbours seem far more militarily and politically effective than their invisible God. Even the successful bits of their story seem not to be of interest to their neighbours. For example, Moses may be a towering figure in the Hebrew Bible, but he, and the Hebrew Slaves, are not mentioned once in any of the vast corpus of known ancient Egyptian literature. One can understand therefore why the successes of their neighbouring idols might tempt the worshippers of God to describe him likewise.
But this opens up some significant challenges for Christians, worshipping God who, instead of remaining  invisible, has revealed himself as a walking, talking person. How can we worship the almighty, invisible God, if he has become not just visible, but living flesh and blood? In Jesus, God has a  literal outstretched arm! Even more challenging, in the context of a Greco-Roman world when gods routinely sired heroic demi-gods with young maidens, how the full divinity of Jesus be secured? After all, there is no point in worshipping anything less than God, and worshipping a person would make Christians no better than the Romans who worshipped Caesar! So we find our way into the doctrines of Christology (Jesus both fully human and fully divine) and the Trinity (the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit  – or breath of God).
Trinity Sunday is in two days and it is regarded as a preaching minefield – heresies wherever you tread! But at its core, the Doctrine of the Trinity is a statement of faith that attempts to articulate the belief of the Church that  God is indeed invisible, yet God has revealed himself in a human body, and  God’s Spirit remains in the world as God’s “influencer”. Indeed God has always been these one and three persons, even before creation, and therefore to worship Jesus is not the worship of an idol, or a demi-god or akin to worshipping Caesar. It is to worship the one, invisible God.
We are, of course, limited by our human imaginations, capacities and language. So we still, as did our ancient forebears, apply anthropomorphic language to God. It is difficult to express a relationship with another without falling into such language. Personally, I try to refer to God as just “God”. The moment we get into the pronouns of God, we inevitably limit God. “He/Him” is inadequate. God may have revealed God’s self as a male, but God is clearly more a one gender or the other. The same can be said for those who, for good reason, reject patriarchy with a divine “she/her”. Contemporary use of “them/they” pronouns get closer to the mystery of God. But generally those for whom that is their identity would argue that they are still one person. There are, as yet, no pronouns that can adequately describe the mystery of the eternal three-in-one revealed in the two-in-one Word-made-flesh.
So, we have the Trinity. The Trinity that gives us a vocabulary to describe an indescribable mystery, and to justify our worship of Jesus, a person just like us, but not an idol, whose relationship with is defined not by a mighty outstretched, but the outstretched arms of love on the Cross.