Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
This Holy, Unsearchable, Inscrutable God!
16 June 2019
Rev. Philip Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
Soli Deo Gloria!
On Holy Trinity the Christian Church considers the inconsiderable, God as he really is: God in himself apart from man. Unsearchable and inscrutable are the words Inscrutable might be best translated/understood as hidden. Paul uses these terms in his doxology about God. It comes as a summary of chapters 9 through 11 where Paul had been discussing God’s choosing of Israel to be his people and their subsequent failure. Then comes the discussion of the engrafting of the Gentiles, and yet there is a deep mystery about it all. To human reason it makes little or no sense. And so Paul concludes by saying that no one can know the mind of the Lord. The human mind simply cannot grasp all of God in his divinity nor understand his ways.
We confessed the Athanasian Creed. It wasn’t easy. We stumble at the very things being described. Faith is required but not understanding because God cannot be grasped like that.
The power of God is unmistakable. Talk by many people, especially politicians, about man controlling the climate is the height of arrogance and absurdity. Yet, many have simply written off the notion that there is a great and powerful God who controls the universe. Vulcanologists, scientists who study volcanoes, warn that the massive volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park could suddenly explode and wipe out a significant portion of the human race. Volcanoes around the world keep erupting and there is nothing that man can do except get out of the way. No one controls them.
The prophet Isaiah wrote:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand?
All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? (Isaiah 40:12-14, 17-18).
Scripture describes people as approaching God with fear and trembling because of his great power. When God confronted Moses at the burning bush [Exodus 3.1-6] he told Moses to take off his sandals because he was standing in God’s presence and that was holy ground. Moses hid his face and was afraid to look at the burning bush. God hid his majestic power behind a burning bush.
When God revealed himself to Isaiah in the temple he concealed his majesty behind the seraphim. And the whole temple was filled with the smoke of incense underscoring the unapproachability of God in his majesty. As the seraphim called to each other they chanted those familiar words of the Sanctus,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” [Isaiah 6.1-7]
Angels hide their faces and humans lie prostrate before This holy, unsearchable, inscrutable God. Yet, our age has lost the sense of the holiness of God, this awe and splendor which is his, from which mankind is separated. For many Christians God is simply a good buddy who hangs out with them as they strum their guitars and pound their snare drums in their auditoria, mere gathering places. They call them “praise songs” but I see little holiness in them. People these days have little regard for the holy in the Divine Service. Many dress as though they were going to a sporting event. The same clothes they wear to the basketball game or the bowling alley are the same clothes they wear to come into the presence of the holy God, unless they really don’t believe that God is truly present in the Divine Service. I don’t mean that in some kind of ethereal way, but as Lutherans we confess the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament as well as in the Word. We call our building a sanctuary, literally, a holy place. We don’t make it holy, but God does by his very presence. Should not our conduct reflect that? Should there not be reverence as we enter and quiet as we prepare to receive Christ and his gifts?
We have a conscience because we know we have sinned. Even those who will not admit to such a concept of sin against God have what might be called an “ought.” They feel that they ought to do something to make life right. They might call it finding meaning in life. They see that they are in some way answerable to something they cannot or will not approach. That “something” is really God, whether they acknowledge him or not.
When Isaiah was confronted by the presence of God in his majesty his response was telling:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” [Isaiah 6.5]
But then the most amazing thing happens. One of the seraphim took a burning coal from the altar with tongs and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”. (Isaiah 6:7).
The real glory of God is not his omnipotence by which he could wipe away this world and everyone and everything in it, but rather it is his self-disclosure in the Holy Scriptures. From the beginning God kept himself hidden from mankind, showing only brief glimpses into his nature and will. God’s choosing of Israel to be his holy people makes no sense apart from the promise that from them would come a Savior who would rescue the world from sin and its eternal consequences, death and hell. God continued to be inscrutable until he sent his only-begotten Son to become a human being, born of the Virgin Mary, to redeem the world. Jesus Christ is not merely a “son” of God, as some confess, but he has revealed himself as the “only-begotten Son of the Father.”
The name Trinity is not found in the Bible anywhere. “Threeness” doesn’t really help us understand God’s essence but as Luther himself said, ” . . . since we have nothing better, we must say what we can.” [Luther’s Works, AE 78, p. 3].
Here in Holy Scripture we know God as he wants to be known: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is not some indulgent grandfather who really doesn’t mean what he says, but he is a consuming fire who will not tolerate sin in any form. To assert only the holiness of God apart from Christ Jesus brings no comfort, only terror. God is not your Father because he created you. The phrase, “We’re all God’s children” simply isn’t true. Many reject him as Father, but he remains their Creator and Judge from which there is no escape.
Each of us is a sinner. There is no escape from that indictment and there is no earthly lawyer who can keep you out of hell. Only if sin is forgiven can one escape the wrath which is unimaginable. Only through Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father, lifted up on the cross, is there a way to the Father.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17).
Christ’s work is summarized well in the three ecumenical creeds of Christendom: the Athanasian, Nicene, and Apostles’. The Athanasian and Nicene Creeds became necessary because there were teachers saying things about God that were not true. They questioned God’s very essence and especially who Christ is and what he has done for us. The Creeds are not additional material thought up by man, but concise summaries of what Scripture teaches about the Holy Trinity and what he has done for us.
We would know nothing of Christ and his work of salvation unless the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, had not revealed it to us in the Holy Scriptures. He is the Lord and Giver of life, proceeding from the Father and the Son; he spoke by the prophets; he gathers people of all nations into the holy Christian Church; he enlightens us with the true knowledge of God; he sanctifies us through the Gospel, making us alive forever.
There are three distinct Persons and yet one divine essence. While we truly cannot comprehend how all of this is, yet we confess it without being able to grasp it because this is how God has revealed himself to the world. He is “This Holy, Unsearchable, Inscrutable God!” and with the blessed Apostle Paul we joyfully confess:
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36).
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.