Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.
The Dimensions of God
Text: “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne" (Revelation 4:2).
This morning's Epistle reading is taken from that part of the New Testament called "The Revelation of St. John the Divine". It is generally accepted that the writer of the book, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, is not the same writer who wrote the fourth Gospel. St. John the Divine was not an apostle he was a prophet. The Book of Revelations is quite unlike the rest of the New Testament. It is notoriously difficult to understand and sometimes it has been ignored as unintelligible. Martin Luther declared that 'in it there are only images and visions not found anywhere else in the Bible'. On the other hand, there are those in every generation who have loved this book viewing it as the only masterpiece of pure art in the New Testament. There can be no doubt that this book and today's Epistle reading from it are difficult to understand and bewildering.
When St. John the Divine wrote this text he had been exiled to the island of Patmos and since the book contains his visions while living on the island he is commonly referred to as the "Seer of Patmos". What we have here from St. John the Divine is not a photograph of God the Father seated upon his throne, instead we are presented with a spiritual vision and a description of the otherwise indescribable glory of God expressed in earthly terms. The vision of God's throne in heaven must therefore be comprehended with our imagination. It's details should not be considered either literally or allegorically.
The image of the throne tells us that the Father is the ruler of all things. The Father sits upon the throne and we are to look upon him like the "jasper" and the "sardian stone" (Rev. 4:3). That "jasper," if we translate it as the white diamond, signifies the perfect purity of God. If we translate it as the green gem, it signifies God’s perfect mercy, and the hope that his mercy gives to the faithful. So it is that we are instructed to look at God in terms of perfect purity and mercy. Over the top of the throne, like a great arch, is the rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant of salvation with man, which is made perfect in the New Testament by the Blood of Jesus Christ (Rev. 4:3; Gen. 9:13).
This vision of God’s glory, however, does not end with the Person of God the Father. God the Holy Ghost is represented by the "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Rev. 4:5). This does not mean, and we must make this very clear, that there are "seven Holy Ghosts," any more than the tongues of fire on Pentecost meant that there is more than one Holy Ghost. In the tradition of Biblical imagery, the number "seven" indicates the complete and perfect operation of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God. We sometimes speak of the Seven Gifts (or sacred operations) of the Holy Ghost which are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord.
God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is not explicitly depicted in this vision of the whole glory of God. The Son himself is the glory of the Father and the express image of his Person (Heb. 1:3). Our Lord said, "Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (John 14:11). Thus, while our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God made man, is depicted elsewhere in St. John’s vision in a variety of ways, here he is not explicitly referenced.
The Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are not "three gods," but One God. They are not, and cannot be, opposed to one another or divided. God does not have a 'split personality'. Someone who does not worship the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three cannot say they know the only God there is or call him Lord. There are not "three lords," but only One Lord, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. These Three Persons of the Godhead are of equal eternity, might, majesty, and dominion, and yet within the order of their perfect love, God the Father is first. He is served and obeyed by God the Son and by God the Holy Ghost, for the sake of love and not out of weakness, compulsion, or necessity.
The Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are, moreover, real persons. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not "just three names for God" or metaphors to describe how we have experienced God. And while we cannot divide the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, we can learn from each of them in particular, as well as in their perfect unity. We must remember, however, that we are created in the image and likeness of God, rather than the other way around.
Christians believe many astonishing things about God, for example, that God is three persons in one, that Christ was fully God and fully human, that God is close, but cannot be seen, and so on. To help us come to grips with such mysteries a nineteenth century schoolmaster named Edwin Abbott wrote a story entitled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. You may find the concept is very helpful in recognizing the limitations in our knowledge of God.
Imagine a group of people who live in a two-dimensional world. They have length and width but not height. Their world would be like strange creatures living on a sheet of paper. Because they have width and length but no height we will call them Flatlanders. They can move across the paper, and along it, but they can never move above it or below it, nor would they be able to see above it or below it.
Now imagine you poked three fingers into their world. All they see are three separate circles. They would have no perception that these circles are finger and that they belong to one three dimensional hand. Or imagine if you put your face close to look at the flatlanders, perhaps just a sixty fourth of an inch above the surface of the page. You would be closer to the flatlanders than two of them standing an inch apart and yet they would have no way of knowing you are there. Or imagine the open end of a horseshoe being placed into their world. All they would see are two rectangles on the ground, separated by some distance. They would assume that these were two entirely separate objects. They would have no sense that these belonged to the same object nor have any idea what the nature and purposes of the horseshoe are.
So it is with us and God. We exist in a three dimensional world, but God potentially exists in many more dimensions. Things that are obvious and natural to God appear as mysterious and unfathomable to us just as we might appear mysterious and unfathomable to the Flatlanders. Our understanding of the Trinity must be comprehended with our imagination because like the Flatlanders we do not live in the same dimensions as God.
This is Trinity Sunday because of who God is and because of what he has done. We worship God best when we glorify God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit according to our heavenly Father’s calling, purposes, and wonderful grace.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost; be ascribed all might, majesty, power and domination as is most justly due this day both now and forever; world without end.