Things Fall Apart is the title of the powerful 1958 book by the late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It tells of the tragic life of a young man, trying to find respect for himself and his family by overcoming what he considers the failed and ignominious legacy of his father. It also tells of the arrival of Christian missionaries with their doctrine of the Trinity.
At one point in the book the author points out that it is not the “mad logic” of the Trinity that holds appeal. Instead, it is the Bible’s stories of God’s persistent, merciful presence—stories such as that of God walking with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the burning, fiery furnace.
Things seem to be falling apart in the United States, and indeed around the world. Speaking as a member of that “vulnerable age” and condition, who also meets regularly with many similar older people of the white race—people filled with anxiety because virus-borne death awaits us outside, and our friends and loved ones are dying without us—people who see buildings looted and set afire because of the sins of our ancestors and the sins we continue to commit ourselves—we despair that there is any hope for a world intent on falling apart.
Of all the lessons for this coming Trinity Sunday, the portion that seems to cry out for attention is this ending of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13.11-13):
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
This letter is really a compilation of several epistles (letters meant to be read aloud to an audience), that Paul wrote because a community he had spent a long time building up, was being torn apart by severe critics of his message and methods. His own manhood was being attacked as he was criticized for being a weak messenger of a wimpy gospel. The problem of real strength and weakness is argued by Paul especially in chapters 12 and 13, leading up to this conclusion of his letter. It is obvious that the Apostle is under pressure, and is struggling to convey what real strength is as he contemplates Jesus on the cross, dying for others.
And, typical of Paul, he concludes his letter with a series of imperatives. So, translators are probably wrong in translating a Greek word in the first sentence as “farewell.” It is better to see this as the start of his list of charges to the Corinthians: “Rejoice!” The other imperatives start with the main one: “Put things in order.” The Greek here is a single word that means repairing something and putting it in working order again. In Galatians 6.1 the Apostle urges his friends to so restore any fellow believer who falls into sin.
Paul then goes on to add to the list: Agree with one another, live in peace and God’s love and peace will undergird you, and garnish it all with a ceremonial holy kiss.
Then the Apostle, whose manhood is being challenged, and who believes the unity of believers is the strongest witness to the creative power of God, talks Trinity talk. And for him, the Trinity entails three cardinal goods: Grace, love and communion. In Greek these are charis, agape, and koinonia. The last of these can also be translated as “unity” or “oneness.” Over and again the Apostle and the early church strive for “oneness” as a prime value and objective. Above all we are not to lose people, much less drive them away or dismiss them. We are not to stubbornly insist on our own way. We are not to use our doctrines or our words as weapons to win arguments. We are to say all and do all to bring people back into a unity, just as Christ died on the cross to break down the walls of hostility (Ephesians 2.14). We are not to be so anxious about looking strong that we then push away others who are themselves in need of this unity in Christ.
So, let us pray for our President, who at this moment seems so worried about his own manhood that he cannot be a man of unity and peace. Let us pray for our President when he urges governors to dominate, and threatens to use dogs and brutal force as his methods of choice in dealing with people in a time when things are falling apart. Let us pray that our President not only hoist the Bible as a prop in a photo opportunity, but also read, learn, and inwardly digest it.
Let us pray for Donald J. Trump; and let us resolve ourselves to be people who not only say we believe in the Trinity, but who use the restorative tools of the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the “oneness” of the Holy Spirit.
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