My friend Gary Arinder told me about a sermon that he heard some years ago. The main character in the sermon was a young boy who would visit his grandparents every summer during his teenage years. Late at night he and his grandmother would play monopoly, which she would inevitably win. Over the years he dreamed of finally beating his grandmother at their favorite game. At length, I think it was the summer before his Senior year, he won. He, of course, was gloating as they put the pieces back in the box, having achieved the cherished victory after so many years of games. As they put the game away, the grandmother turned to her grandson and said, “Monopoly is like life, in the end it all goes back in the box.”
When Gary told me the story, my mind raced with thoughts and questions. Chief among them was, ‘what do we take with us, if anything, as we move from this life to the next?’ What is really important? Our answer is dictated to us by what we believe about God. I have heard sermons, even recently, when the preacher proclaimed that the chief concern of God was his own glory. Plato would be proud. If God is concerned with his own glory then what we take with us—what counts—are those moments when we glorified God, whatever that may mean. But if we, with the early Church, throw Plato and his in-turned, self-centered God out of our minds and focus upon Jesus, and thus his Father and the Holy Spirit, then we are at once in the world of relationships.
The doctrine of the Trinity means, among other things, that God is not self-centered at all, but profoundly and beautifully other-centered. The Father is not preoccupied with his own glory, but loves his Son and the Spirit. And the Son is not bound in narcissism. He loves his Father with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, as every page of the Gospels shout. And the Holy Spirit is not burdened with the revelation of his own significance. He glories in shining his light upon the Father and Son and their relationship.
My friend Bruce Wauchope of Adelaide, Australia likes to say that 'the currency of heaven is relationships.' The value system of the blessed Trinity is markedly different than ours. In our world money, position, power and prestige matter. But—even as we are learning again in the United States—these are mere illusions which are no more real than the Jolly Green giant. What difference does it make if you are the richest person in the world? For a while you are ‘somebody,’ maybe even ‘the’ somebody, but then you die and your money, and the opinion of your peers goes back in the box. At that moment you find yourself in another world, a world where money and its prestige and power are not valued at all. Your investments prove foolish. You have nothing with which to commend yourself. What really matters? When the game is over and it all goes back in the box, what is left? What do we take with us?
It is beautiful how the blessed Trinity has designed life and history. Everything goes back in the box. We are free to dream our dreams, free to invent our own value systems, free to define and then crown ourselves with glory, but then we all die and face the real world and the real value system. And what do we meet on the other side? What is valuable in heaven? What is the only thing the blessed Trinity favors?
Clive Staples Lewis, in his breathtaking sermon, ‘The Weight of Glory,’ talks about how we all crave fame. What we all want, according to Lewis, is to be famous. But here is his wrinkle, it is not fame with others, not fame with our peers for which we so dearly yearn. It is fame with God. We want to be famous with God. While part of us would never dare to dream of such a thing, another part could never deny that a hint of the Father’s smile is worth more than a thousand dreams fulfilled? So what makes the Father smile? What makes us famous with the blessed Trinity? Preaching? Missionary passion? Money? Power? Prestige?
Could anything thrill the heart of the blessed Trinity more than seeing their own other-centerd care and love and giving expressing themselves in us? Today I was on the receiving end of such fame. An old woman brought me a glass of ice water. It was hot. I was thirsty.
In fifty years she will have moved on and so will have I, and all that we had, made, possessed and valued will have vanished, as well as all the things possessed and done by the grandmother and her grandson. It all goes back in the box—all that is, except relationships. How Trinitarian.