Today is Trinity Sunday, the culmination of the celebrations following Easter and Pentecost, a day when we are challenged and invited to try and explain a mystery, to define the indefinable, and to celebrate the reality of the Trinity, one God, three persons, each one wholly God but not three separate Gods. The Spirit of truth described by John’s Gospel (16:12-15) offers us breathtaking whispers and experiences of wisdom and insight into the startling truth of God as Trinity, breaking open God’s loving relationship with the disciples and all humanity with and through this Spirit. God constantly reveals and creates the relationship in new and transforming ways between us all.
However, we live in a world which never seems to agree on what is the truth. So, Jesus’ promise to send us the Spirit of truth is utterly outrageous, foolish and wonderful. We are told:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide us 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.’ John 16:13
I’ve been reflecting on this extraordinary description of the Spirit of truth. I have been wondering what this means for us today, just as the disciples would have grappled with it when Jesus spoke about it with them at their last meal together.
In the preceding verses in John’s Gospel (16:7-10), Jesus describes the Spirit coming in his place because Jesus must return to the Father, enabling the Spirit to come into the world instead. The Spirit is an Advocate, the Paraclete or judge, a comforter who walks alongside us, a guide in all things, a Spirit of truth who will open our understanding of sin, righteousness, and judgement.
In this context, I’ve been imagining how I might define or know truth? Is it the same thing as fact? Most of us usually conflate the two ideas to mean the same thing. Indeed, we are suspicious when claims of truth don’t match the facts of the evidence.
Did you know there is a ‘truth’ which says at least 50 percent of what we accept as truth today will be proven not true in the future. Many centuries ago, people thought the earth was flat, directly contrary to the clear evidence the world is round. There was a biblical view the earth was the centre of the universe. Our understanding of the evolution directly contradicts the biblical description of the creation stories. The biblical ‘support’ for slavery, opposition to the ordination of women continue to show old truths becoming different truths. Today, the full-throated roar and clamour of division and conflict in the way the news is presented is simply another version of our debates about truth.
So, what is truth? What will the Spirit of truth bring to help us on Jesus’ way? Truth ultimately, is more than the sum of the observable facts. This means I’m back to where I started. John 16:13 boldly asserts the ‘Spirit of truth’ will guide us ‘into all the truth.’
The deepest truths are made evident through the Spirit. According to John, this Spirit comes from Christ, as Christ reveals for us the deepest truth about God, this being God’s grace. When through Christ we are open to God’s grace, we can experience in our own lives the power of the Spirit. This helps us to see the meaning of our lives and of the factual world into which we are born.
This Gospel together with the whole bible, teach us the distinction between truth and fact. In retelling the Jesus stories and expanding how we understand Jesus, we see John’s ‘truthfulness’ depends not on literal facts but upon its coherence, its sense-making as a statement of Christian faith.
The naming of the Spirit of truth as the paraclete or judge, reminds us the Spirit will guide us into all truth, leading us on the Way, where Jesus himself is the Way and the Truth. The Spirit helps us as disciples to change our lives more and more to what Jesus taught. The Spirit sheds light on and reveals the implications of what Jesus taught, so we might live truthfully.
The grace which God gives us without limits, lovingly and relationally, helps us recognise our sin, our separation and distance from God. The grace of God in the Spirit, we realise is given to us in spite our unworthiness. We learn we can count on God’s steadfast love.
There are actions and attitudes, social institutions, beliefs and opinions making it more difficult for us to see and receive God’s grace. We need always to remember God is not rewarding us for good behaviour, it is our bad behaviour which prevents us from receiving the gift of grace given so freely from God. So irrespective of what is labelled as sin, the question really is whether it does or does not stand as a barrier between us and God. We are also reminded whatever helps us to receive grace is to be celebrated.
Here we confront the reality of how our worldly lives, our institutions, politics, beliefs and culture governing our lives, either support or hinder God’s work in the world. We may know an unchristian social order by whether it makes good people to do bad things, and a Christian social order by whether it makes bad people do good things. While this is simplistic, our openness to God, one God, three in one, in community and relationship with us and one another is critical, and we need to see what is making us more open or closed to God’s love.
So, however you see the Trinity, however you understand the fact and truth of the Trinity, the Spirit of truth is here to lead us as the fullest expression of God’s love for us and all people. The Spirit leads us into an ever-deepening relationship with God, Creator, Word and Holy Spirit.
Jesus is the definitive revelation of God. Like Jesus, the Spirit of truth declares only what the Spirit has heard. Jesus promises the Spirit ‘will take what is mine and declare it to you’, assuring us of the reliable continuation of the revelation and experience of God’s love for us all throughout all generations.
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Eds]. 2015. Feasting on the Gospels, John Vol.2 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.