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From Felicity to Trinity

Thirty-five years ago, I learned the word felicity when I found Jane Austen in the “A” section in fiction at the Loma Linda University library. Austen’s stories motivated me to look up this word since she frequently used it in her stories.

“Felicity" is a term for happiness that was used, apparently, in English a couple hundred years ago,  I discovered.

Thus, in 1991 when American Girl introduced the American Revolution-era doll, Felicity Merriman, I already knew the meaning of the doll’s unusual first name— Felicity meant happiness.

But my knowledge of the concept deepened a couple weeks ago while I was reviewing a lecture on the topic of Grice’s Maxims for Effective Conversation. I learned a different layer of meaning for felicity.

"Felicity: the blissful experience of conversation which occurs when the participants find appropriate expression for thoughts that leads to satisfying and effective communication." With my new appreciation for this second dictionary definition, one that I had been oblivious to for decades, I am finding many ways to incorporate the concept of felicity. Beyond being a 19th-century relic, felicity can be a relevant idea now.

Similar to my growing understanding of felicity, I am noticing new implications when considering the reality of a Triune God. In fact, a Trinitarian God is an example of felicity. The three beings completely understand one another. Moreover, they are in one accord with no daylight between them, as the saying goes. But, unlike simply reading further in a dictionary listing, finding power in the concept of Trinity is ongoing and nuanced, requiring reflection. Like other Biblical truths that begin with explicit words but take on expanded importance with reflection, Trinity offers multiple facets for one to examine. Thinking about God as Trinity is like looking at a jewel from varied angles. I have discovered a handful of ideas that a Trinitarian God brings to believers.

My first experience of seeing Trinity beyond a flat, plain, biblical truth was while studying St. Patrick’s missionary efforts in Ireland; I noted that he used a three-leaf shamrock to teach the people about Trinity. Also, I realized that three legs bring stability. Think tripods and three-legged stools. In addition, the idea of a God in three parts is extraordinary and puts God into a realm of mystery, somewhere far beyond what one can fully know or examine using scientific or rational methods.

A Trinitarian God provides stability in our lives. His existence, in three parts, ensures His presence in all realms: in flesh, in celestial realms, and within our souls.

Trinity demonstrates mutuality and flow within the person of God. This view is opposite of a Static Imperial Image of God or a Terror-Inspiring Monarch in isolation. Not God as the Removed One. Instead, think of God as Most Moved Mover (Pinnock, 2001). The tripartite God has power in concentric circles not in hierarchical structure. He is not a God of celebrity or wealth-based power. Rather, His interlocking power includes shared identity. By beholding we are changed. Maybe like Trinity, Christ followers can also live in mutual dependence and mutual honor—in community.

Trinitarian God is a beacon in an era of individualism where one is easily disconnected from others because of selfishness or fear. Trinitarian God is an example of wholeness and love in an age when it is easy to disconnect even from oneself and live a fragmented life with emphasis of physical over the needs of the soul. Trinitarian God is one that addresses our yearnings as we look inward or outward or upward. Trinitarian God is an example of an existence in loving submission with a bonus invitation for humans to join the tribe. “Partakers of the Divine Nature” is a term made familiar to Seventh-day Adventists by Ellen White.

God invites all to participate in a Divine Dance. It will mean to live fearlessly in absolute relatedness. We call this love. We were made for love. It is participatory knowledge that matters more than rational calculating. God cannot be fully known but can be loved and invites us into the circle of love. Either we are in it or not. It is like being pregnant. You are. Or you aren’t.

Trinity is a piece of the gospel that shows God living in full participation. And this good news includes no debt codes or worthiness screens or test cases or ritual requirements and achievement goals. Do not miss the message of the gospel. God wants to include each of us to live with Him, in felicity, and to participate with Him in the cosmic drama.

Trinity Prayer

God for us, we call you Father.
God alongside us, we call you Jesus.
God within us, we call you Holy Spirit.
You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me.

Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing—
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
Amen
(Rohr, p. 117)

 

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.

Image Credit: SpectrumMagazine.org

 

Notes & References:
Pinnock, Clark, Most Moved Movers: A Theology of God’s Openness, Grand Rapids MI, Baker Academic, 2001.
Rohr, Richard, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, New Kensington, PA, Whitaker House, 2016.

 

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