Three, Two, One

A snow-capped couple used to sit next to me in a café, clucking away with each other and passing friends. The first time I noticed them, I was trying to read Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” but couldn’t pay attention. I was privately amused at the way they loved each other, giggling as they finished each other’s sentences and offering to get up one for another, because at their age, it was too much of a commitment for them both to stand up.

I was conscious of my eavesdropping, but not of the effect they were having on me. They became part of the aesthetic of the café – the warm, sun-filled widows, the robust, walnut-toned coffee, and the happy old couple as familiar as the furniture. They were always there.

Until one day I saw her alone. When I stopped to ask, I withered to hear of his passing. She was thereafter different than she had been before, as was the café.

cloverThat couple for me is a better metaphor for the Trinitarian God than most of the go-to illustrations. St. Patrick notably used the three leaf clover to explain the Trinity to the pagan Irish, but his metaphor was flawed, because if you pull a leaf off of it, you still have a deformed clover, but a clover nonetheless. A widow is something fundamentally different than a spouse. One does not merely lose a spouse, one loses spousehood. When we love and are beloved, to lose love changes our identity.

Imagine the Trinity not as a mechanical philosophical concept requiring technical definitions of “substance” and “nature,” but rather a being who is so infused with and exuding love that the Father, Son, and Spirit are giddy at finishing each other’s sentences, that within the nature of the one God is a love so overwhelming that it must be reciprocated. Trinity is love immune the frailties of human love. It’s love made perfect, love like the first time a baby laughs, love like a wedding, love like a hero dying to save someone else. Imagine a love so urgent it can’t resist exposing itself to the risk of betrayal and brutality. It will pay the cost if only to love one more. Imagine a kind of love that promises a day when inseparable lovers are reunited, because that’s how a good story is supposed to end.

A friend of mine who is a missionary in a Muslim country tells me that she sometimes tells Muslims that there is “love if,” “love because,” and “love despite” – you can love someone if they will do something for you, because they have done something for you, or despite anything that they do for you. She has been told more than once by the people to whom she ministers that “love despite” isn’t real.

Imagine love despite. That’s a better description of Trinity that most of our metaphors.


Wedding Details

My sense is that the rising generation is afraid of marriage.  I don’t blame them.  It’s not primarily for selfish reasons (though those are a factor).  It’s because they’re shell shocked after a childhood of divorce and dysfunction.  And then there are the selfish reasons.  Or I talk to young couples who don’t want to have kids, because, for however they word it, they are anxious about moving from a position of independence to a position of vulnerability.


There are a few things that I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t get married and have kids, and they’re captured in this picture of a couple getting married during flood season in the Philippines.  If I had to pick a picture that pretty much summarizes what life is like, it would be this one.  And part of the reason why I like being married is because it has made me a realist.  Marriage is a good microcosm of all of life.  There’s just no other way to learn these things than to make one’s self vulnerable to relationships.  And my sense for what life is all about comes out in the advice I give to young couples about their weddings before they get married.  I tell them:

  • There’s always a glitch.
  • It’s not about the details, it’s about the relationship you’re building.
  • Whether or not it’s a happy occasion has more to do with your insides than your outsides.
  • How you respond will tell your friends who you are.
  • Life is a mess.  Learn to deal with it.
  • Are their smiles better or worse because of the rain?
  • Why are you complaining about the rain?
  • You can tell a couple is healthy because you know they will one day laugh about the disasters.
  • On the day you die, the few days of your life that counted will not have been sunny; they will be days when you laughed at and loved despite the rain.


My new book is

Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know

(Abingdon Press, 2013).