A bit more on The Shack

In my previous post about The Shack, I mentioned that Young is on solid if unfamiliar ground here when writes, “Papa speaks: ‘Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it.”

I recently came across a post from Maggi Dawn which draws on this important worship principle from the Trinity being in a circle of relationship. She cautions that “it’s a mistake to move too quickly from [this model of] Trinity to a model for church. Stop and savour for a bit first.” Dawn very helpfully continues:

The old fashioned discussion of Trinity in terms of mathematical conundrums (three-in-one? how come?) is really not the point; the point is that God is intrinsically social and relational. It doesn’t therefore present a problem to suggest that three really equals one, because the point of the discourse is to demonstrate that the Godhead is not static, but relational; there is movement – exchange and difference – within the Godhead.

This gives us something much more profound than a ‘model for church’. It gives us an image of God, and in response to it, a theology of worship, that enables us to understand ourselves as drawn into the embrace of God. If God is pictured as ONE – predominantly, for instance, in the image of God the father – then any meeting with God that you and I might attempt is like a stand-off, an encounter in which we may come as close as face-to-face, but in which the image reinforces our position as separate beings.

In the context of worship, this can produce some sense that we are performing for God. Think of the rhetoric of much of the worship of the 80”s and 90’s – how often you would hear people encourage us to ‘wait’ for the presence of God; or how often a phrase was misappropriated from Psalm 22:3 (God is enthroned on the praises of his people) to suggest that if we worship, and if we worship in a good enough way, then God would reward us with his presence.

Of course, we didn’t really believe (did we?) that God was NOT present in the first place – God is everywhere, right? But the words we used did say fairly frequently that God would somehow be more present if we worshipped properly. And what you say often enough you end up believing.

This is a what I mean by a stand-off view of God – the idea that we meet God in some kind of relationship combat, hoping that he might yield to our advances. Acts of worship conceived in this way suggest that we approach a flat, one-dimensional God in the hopes that we might get what we need from him…..

… At its worst, it makes a monster of God by separating the Trinity into rival, not cooperative, persons (a Father who must be stroked and cajoled into being present, a Son who must be sacrificed to appease him, a Spirit to help us manipulate the Father into gracing us with his presence.) Yet even at its best, it still leaves us with a view of ourselves as ultimately separated from God, only intermittently being drawn into God’s presence.

But conceiving of the Trinity as a relational being offers quite an alternative understanding of worship. A social trinity gives us a picture of worship that is already taking place within the Godhead. The Father, the Son and the Spirit have, from time immemorial, been in mutual companionship, joy, worship and adoration of one another. Their creative activity was an act of mutuality.

Read the Bible slowly and carefully and you’ll see that ‘the Word’ (later called Jesus Christ) and the Spirit were actively involved in conceiving and delivering the creative activity behind what we understand as the genesis of our existence.

Jesus was never “plan B” when it all went wrong; no – the second persona of the Trinity was always completely present in the creation and sustenance of the world (See, for instance, Colossians chapter 1 for Paul’s version). If a relational understanding of the Trinity is the context of our coming to worship, there is no longer a need to please or impress God in order for him to bless us with his presence.

We do not need to create, as it were, a good enough party to wake God up and make him think he might join us. It’s quite the other way around. The Trinity are already having a party of their own. There they are, communicating, loving, worshipping, laughing, dancing, always and forever, without a break. Grace, love and adoration flows constantly between the Godhead. And, if you look again at Rublev’s icon, you’ll see that there is a fourth, empty place at the table – an implicit invitation. Come and join us?

The call to worship is therefore an invitation to join in with God’s party. Worship is already underway – come and join in if you like. No need to DO anything – if you want to dance you can, but if you want to sit for a while and let it all wash over you and through you, you can do that too.

Of course, at some point you will get drawn into the giving, communicating, adoring, loving activity – but there’s no pressure, because God doesn’t need your little mite of energy to drive the worship machine. But if you sit long enough in the presence of God, you’ll stop being a wallflower and find that the dance is irresistible. This is a theology of worship that allows us to rest in God, that acknowledges that we are wanted, needed, invited in the right sense – but that the impetus, the initiative, is always God’s.

Welcome to Trinitarian worship – the party where God is, and always was, and always will be, engaged in mutual adoration and praise, and where you can be drawn right into the centre of God until you can hardly spot the join. In the words of the old hymn writer, ‘How can I keep from singing?'”

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