What shall we name God?

John 16:12-15
2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Names come and go. A century ago my predecessors were baptising plenty of children called Ada, Esme, Edith, and Agnes; and Tom, Fred, Arthur, and Alfred. Thirty years ago, there were plenty of children called Gary, Jason, Kylie, and Tracey. Now it’s Tom and Jack, Olivia and Emily; not forgetting Eugenie and Beatrice, William and Harry!

Names always used to be chosen for their meaning, so that Faith, Hope and Charity were common names chosen by our spiritual ancestors, who were more earnest than most of us. Yet, at other times Hyacinth, Daisy, Violet, and Rose enjoyed an airing. But even though names are rarely quite so obvious these days, the meaning is still important and books are devoted to the meanings of modern Christian names.

Grace is a name with a profound meaning, a meaning which was perhaps made popular by Paul. Today the words of The Grace are almost as well known by Christians as the words of the Lord’s Prayer, so grace is a fairly familiar word to churchgoers. But it’s much less familiar outside church, and I wonder just what it means to most people today.

According to the dictionary, grace means “charm, elegance, attractiveness, especially of a delicate, slender, refined, light or unlaboured kind, a sense of what is fitting, courtesy, and the unconstrained and undeserved goodwill of God”. I’m not sure that charm, elegance, attractiveness, and courtesy are very usual descriptions of God, but they do open up a whole new way of thinking about God, and they do therefore add considerable significance to these characteristics in human beings.

Courtesy begins to sound really important if it describes God, as does a sense of what is fitting, charm, and elegance. When I think of God in that way, it’s much easier not to think of God as a tyrant, bent on the punishment of sinful human beings, and more as concerned with making sure human beings are comfortable and well tended in a pleasant, unthreatening, background sort of way.

None of us ever understand the whole picture of God, and I do wonder if that can lead us to tend to look for those characteristics of God with which we feel comfortable, and ignore the rest? But, as none of us can understand the whole picture of God, the picture has been made three dimensional for us, and Paul is the one who brings all three dimensions together into one whole, in which each dimension is equal to the other two dimensions, separate from the other two dimensions, and yet completely united with them.

What I mean by this is that when we think in one dimension, you have a straight line. When you think in two dimensions, those lines can be combined in ways they couldn’t in one dimensional, for instance they could form a square. When you think in three dimensions, those squares can be combined in ways that are unthinkable in two dimensions, for instance, they could form a cube.

I think we can understand that one person is one being. I am me, and you are you. Perhaps we might get a fleeting glimpse of “two becoming one” in a strong, loving, long, marriage, but for most of the time one person is one being, and we can’t really think of it any other way.

The point of trinity is to suggest that God is, in fact, three persons while remaining one, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. If you were a square, and someone tried to tell you about the reality of a cube, that person might be able to draw something like a picture of a cube, but what you’re looking at isn’t really a cube: it’s a two-dimensional picture of what a cube would look like. We get a general idea, but unless you step into a three-dimensional world, that drawing will still be beyond our understanding.

Having thought of a cube, now think of a football. A real football (for soccer, not the real game!) is made of panels of different shapes stitched together. Thank of all the lines needed to make the football, and now much more complex than the cube that is. God is a trillion times more complex than that!

So, even though the Trinity is something that’s beyond what we can understand with our minds, it can be how we can experience God. God (the Father) is the one we pray to, God (the Holy Spirit) is also the thing inside us urging us to pray, and God (the Son) is bridge or road along which we are pushed to that goal.

The reality of God, of course, is always much deeper and more complex than we can imagine. Our intellect, our reason, our language, can never fully grasp God. Yet, we can and we do experience God, on a personal level, and not merely on an academic or intellectual level. So, the best way to try and make sense of God, to learn about God, is surely the whole Christian community, working together, serving each other, and loving one another. It’s in loving relationships that we don’t just know God, but we can experience God.

And I suggest that a world where terrorists attack and murder, using the name of God, a world where nations threaten other nations with weapons of mass destruction, a world where children go hungry and without education, a world where too many women live subjugated as second class citizens, a world groaning with the damage of climate change, such a world needs to hear the name of the God who is love.

I suppose trinity all comes down to trying to name God. God isn’t Ada, Esme, Edith, or Agnes; nor is God Tom, Fred, Arthur, or Alfred. God isn’t even Gary, Jason, Kylie, or Tracey. God isn’t Tom, Jack, Olivia or Emily; nor Eugenie, Beatrice, William or Harry. God isn’t Faith, Hope, or Charity; nor Hyacinth, Daisy, Violet, or Rose. God’s name isn’t even Grace, even if that’s God’s nature. The trinity is the closest we get to trying to name God, but we can’t really give a name to God. But, the point is that the name doesn’t matter. What matters is that God is love, free and undeserved, offering life and hope to those who need it most.

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