IS GOD A “SUBSTANCE?”
Aristotle (Greek philosopher 384-322 B.C.) composed a list of ten qualities or “categories” of things (e.g. "location", “quantity” and “quality”). For our purposes we need to consider just two of these: “SUBSTANCE” and “RELATIONSHIP”.
A “Substance” is something independent of everything else (a tree, a stone), while “Relationship” obviously requires something else for its existence (daughter, father). Substance was for Aristotle the highest category, precisely because it does not depend on anything else for its existence, but can stand on its own.
By 2nd-3rd Century, Western Christianity found itself using Aristotle to prove that this God of ours, the Holy Trinity, was a substance. We wanted a “substantial” God, a god whom we could prove was as good as any pagan god. And so it was that God became an object of our study, just like any other thing in the created world. (Can you see trouble coming?)
GOD AS ZEUS
When Jesus’ idea of God the Father encountered the Graeco- Roman world, people immediately made a connection: they identified Jesus’ “God the Father” with their Greek God, "Father Zeus," the all-powerful one who sat alone on top of Mt. Olympus and hurled thunderbolts on people any time he felt like it, but especially when he got angry.
This image of a vengeful, fearsome Zeus-God whose approval is only conditional and can be lost or earned, this image could not be farther from the doctrine of the Trinity, in which God is pure love. Since God is love, God can't not-love us, no matter what we do. God can never stop loving us. On our end, however, we are free to deflect or interrupt the Flow of divine love in our lives -- that's called sin, which is its own built-in punishment, and hardly needs God to intrude in order to punish us for being outside the dance.
SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF ZEUS-BASED RELIGION
The Zeus-God keeps score; he gets even, he metes out punishment to those who don’t measure up.
Zeus-based religion becomes the grim pursuit of mastery over a system of requirements and obligations.
A Zeus-based saint is someone who has mastered the system and knows how to avoid getting God angry, and who scores very high on all the criteria for holiness.
GOD AS TRINITY
Western Christianity is so bound up with this image of a solitary vengeful, fearsome Zeus-God sitting alone atop mount Olympus, whose approval can be earned and lost, that we find it nearly impossible to get along without this kind of God. This God is, after all, very comprehensible -- there’s no mystery involved, and in such a view God follows all of our rational rules and expectations.
But this image could not be farther from the idea of God as Trinity, as the flow of love in the world. The Trinity is a divine, universal circle dance that includes all of creation, from electrons whirling around nuclei to galaxies strewn across the immensity of space. We humans are included in the dance, in the “flow.”
If God is Love, then, by definition, God can't “not-love,” no matter what we do. God can never stop loving us.
On our end, we can deflect or interrupt the Flow of love in our lives, we can isolate ourselves from the divine circle dance, but the Spirit is always working to draw us back into it.
Jesus in the gospels reveals himself as “Son of the Father” and “one with the Father,” giving clear primacy to relationship. God is not, nor does God need to be a “substance” in the sense of something independent of all else: God is relationship itself! Although it took Christians a couple of centuries to come up with the doctrine of the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit, Jesus already spoke about “I and the Father are one,” and said “the Spirit blows where it will.”
And St. John wrote that “God is love, ” God is relationship, while St. Paul wrote lots of tantalizing things that work best from a trinitarian perspective.
The Father, Son and Spirit love one another, God is this mutual loving, the Divine Dance. And we are all involved it that Dance, along with everyone and everything in creation, from neutrons and molecules to exploding stars and galaxies.
SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF “TRINITARIAN” RELIGION
Holiness: A holy person is one who can stay in relationship at all costs.
-People who are toxic (psychopaths etc.) are always people who cannot maintain relationships - they run from them. Loners, lonely people, cut off from others.
“Sin” means blocking the flow of the Trinity’s love and conversely
a “saint” is one who allows that love to flow freely and visibly in his or her life.
Salvation is the readiness, the capacity, the willingness to stay in relationship.
The Holy Spirit helps us in this difficult task of maintaining relationships. If we refuse to give others any power or influence over us (“You’re not gonna convince me!” “You have nothing to teach me.”) then we’re spiritually dead.
Kingdom of God, the central metaphor of Christ’s teaching: "My kingdom is not of this earth." It is a new way of relating to God, to others and to self. The Kingdom is relationships: it’s what characterizes the spaces between us: love, forgiveness, generosity.
Most of Rohr's comments about the Trinity are not his, but reflect the thinking of many saints, mystics and theologians over the centuries whose thoughts and writings have been overshadowed by the Aristotelian mindset of the Western Church. Roh'r's book is truly worth reading and reflecting on!