In my sermon last week, we talked about how the fact that God is Trinity--three-in-one, one-in-three--can help us think through "identity," one of the key issues all humans face. When it comes to identity, we tend to be very individualistic. We look inside of ourselves to discover who we are, instead of looking outside of ourselves to dictate who we are. We seek to validate our internal insecurities with external trappings--the status symbols of our world. So, we buy nice things, take on fancy titles, and circle the wagons of our "in-group." (Of course, owning nice things and claiming fancy titles do not require finding one's validation in either. That is a longer discussion for another time.) We also tend to admire self-made people--people who forge their own identity through long nights pushing toward "success."
In contrast, God the Father is only "Father" because of his relationship with his Son. The Son, likewise, is only "Son" because of his relationship with his Father. The "Spirit" (or, literally, "breath") possesses a received identity from the other members of the divine community. Their identity is given, received, and accepted, not self-forged.
Of course, they are still individuals. Yet they are also one. (Welcome to our great mystery.) They have individual identities, but the individualism is borne out of the group's harmony.
In our world, it is very challenging to discover our place. Where do I fit in? Where is my community? Who can I trust with such a task as helping to discover my identity?
As stated, we tend to isolate ourselves in answering these questions (physically, spiritually, and emotionally). After all, we view ourselves as individual persons, therefore requiring individual identity formation.
In the Old Testament, though, we find a contrast with this idea. There, more prevalent than the word "person" as we use it today--to refer to separate human individuals--is the idea of "face." This appears in passages like Numbers 6:24-26:
“The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
There is a type of "interface" reality in which God's people have always existed. The word translated "face" here is all over the Old Testament, often being used to refer to being in God's presence. To pick out a random example, 1 Samuel 1:12: "As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth." Hannah was in the presence of the Lord. She was "interfacing" with him. This was a communicated presence--a transference of selfhood from one to another. Something deep and profound goes on when the divine and human interface with each other.
This thought is inspired by the passage that follows and its surrounding thoughts. Give it a read and let's think through it together.
In the Greek translations of the Bible that we have, the noun used for “face” was prosopon, literally referring to the stage masks that Greek actors wore. This seemed to serve as both an enlarged identity and a megaphone. Teachers like Tertullian and the Cappadocian Fathers used similar language, in Latin persona, preserving the full freedom and identity of what were eventually called the three “persons” of the Trinity—who are nevertheless a perfect and total communion.
Each member of the Trinity was considered a persona, or “face,” of God. Each person of the Trinity fully communicated its face and goodness to the other, while fully maintaining its own facial identity within itself. Each person of the Trinity “sounded through” (per sonare) the other.
Ironically, person is now our word for the autonomous human being, but originally it meant almost exactly the opposite. Each of the Three knew they were soundings-through from the other two. Identity was both maintained and fully shared, which frankly is what makes any mature love possible. ...
We are each a sounding-through of something much more and even of Someone Else, and that becomes our self. Yet we are a stage mask, a face, receiving and also revealing our shared DNA, our ancestors, and our past culture. This has formed our very understanding of what we now call a “person.” Again, ironically, what first implied that all identity was shared now means the exact opposite—a separate individual is now called a “person,” and we do not commonly honor the fact that we are all “soundings-through”! (Richard Rohr)
What a thought. Yes, we are all individual "persons." But being a person is not about being self-made. It is about being a part of something bigger. We are invited (and were created) to be "soundings-though" of our God. As Peter wrote, we "may become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). We were created as his images, set on this Earth to rule, together, by his side. So, we (yes, we--not primarily "I") live (and rule) in the same generous, kind, and sacrificial way of our King. We participate in the divine life and communion with him. We "maintain and fully share" our identity with God and each other--just like our Triune God does within himself.