June 1, 2012

The Trinity and the Chocolate Fountain

In Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace Miroslav Volf invites us to think of God’s generosity and our response not as linear, giving and receiving, but as circulating, going around and around and spilling out all over the place.

The gifts of grace, love, and joy circulate first among the Trinity. The Three get so caught up in giving and receiving among themselves that their delight in generosity and praise becomes a mighty whirlpool. It spills over into creation, showering all things seen and unseen into our midst. As ones created in the image of God, we are moved to bless, break, and share all that we have in God’s name.

But wait…how do we make that happen? We can’t truly “give” it back to God—God created it! From God’s point of view, it’s like my giving my child some money to go buy me a birthday present. I’m empowering the child’s generosity, enabling the child to express her love and appreciation, but I’m not actually receiving anything that I don’t already have access to. Is her ability to pull up my online wish list really that special?

What if my child pocketed the money and gave me a hand-drawn card, and maybe threw in a poem she wrote? That would certainly be a gift from the heart that I would always cherish. I would most definitely not be so crass as to ask her where my money went. But would you blame me for feeling a little cynical? Does God ever look at us and think, “Stingy brats!”

On the other hand, what if my child made me a hand-drawn card that said, “Dear Mom, I donated a mosquito net in your name and bought diapers for the local pantry. Happy Birthday.” She still didn’t buy me anything, but she did honor the idea of generosity and joy in celebrating my special day. She has invited me to reflect on my gift and ponder, “Who will this random unknown child somewhere in the world grow up to become simply because she doesn’t die of malaria?” She has launched my new year of life with the quiet knowledge that another mom out there is getting a few diapers’ worth of support for her challenges this day. The abundance of my life and longevity, entrusted to my child, has become something completely new and wonderful.

Transforming abundance in new and wonderful ways doesn’t always come naturally. Nor does the unbounded joy modeled in the Godhead always sit neatly in our cultural norms.

Consider a scene from The Vicar of Dibley. It’s Christmas Eve, 2004. During a pre-worship cocktail party in the manor house of the village’s grandest estate, the senior warden surprises the vicar with a chocolate fountain—not the usual table-top model; this one is probably about eight feet tall, absolutely flowing with sheets and sheets of chocolate waterfalls. The vicar takes one look at this extravagance and announces, “I’m goin’ in!”

It is then of course that the second surprise of the evening arrives and the humor turns on the vicar’s embarrassment as the Archbishop of Canterbury enters the room to offer his blessing on this special day. Quickly composing herself, the vicar drops to the floor, kneeling on priceless carpets, a dripping mess of chocolate running down her hair, face, and shoulders. She manages to stutter out a greeting and the Archbishop figures out a way to bless her without getting too messy himself.

As hysterically funny as this is, I wonder if Professor Volf would agree with me that the vicar’s response is not wholly inappropriate. It certainly runs counter to our cultural norms of decorum—that’s why it’s so hilarious, after all. But might we argue that the only difference between the vicar and the rest of us is that she actually did it?

Look at the vicar through God’s eyes: Here is a woman who knows a lavish gift when she sees it. The church committee’s love and affection for her has spilled beyond the niceties. They have determined to do something lavish and loving—they are already standing back, because they know as soon as they unveil it that she’s going to do something outrageous. They love her for that, and through her they have, over time, grown to understand why Jesus allowed insanely expensive oil to be poured at his feet without apology or concern for the cost. As she kneels, streaming with chocolate, I can’t help but see the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard; upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! (Psalm 133)

That is what God asks of us on this Trinity Sunday. God did not create all that is, seen and unseen, just so that we can stand back politely, or treat it as our entitlement, or just sort of live in it without really paying attention. No! I believe that God wants us to delight in the stream of life-giving abundance that flows in us and over us and through us, that spills beyond us, that is transformed through joy and generosity.

So dive in. For it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.


This blog is reprinted with permission from mainestewards.