The Dance of Reality
Scripture - Mark 1:4-11
Listen, for as Scripture is read, we may hear the voice of God thundering over the waters, hovering like a gentle breeze, or parting the clouds & speaking words of love. Listen, for God is speaking through the ages, & through ancient words, into a changing world with the unchanging promise of God’s constant presence.
Mark wastes no time in establishing the identity of his subject. Verse 1 of his Gospel reads: The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
Having announced him in this way, Mark introduces Jesus in a striking scene that tells us more about his identity: Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, & John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open & the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
For the Spirit of God to be pictured as a dove is not particularly strange to us, but when Mark was writing, it was exceedingly rare. In the sacred writings of Judaism there is only one place where the Spirit of God is likened to a dove, & that is in the Targums, the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Jews of Mark’s time read. In the creation account, Genesis 1:2 says that the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters. The Hebrew verb here means “flutter”; the Spirit fluttered over the face of the waters. To capture this vivid image, the rabbis translated the passage for the Targums like this: “And the earth was without form & empty, & darkness was on the face of the deep, & the Spirit of God fluttered above the face of the waters like a dove, & God spoke: ‘Let there be light.’” There are 3 parties active in the creation of the world: God, God’s Spirit, & God’s Word, through which he creates. The same 3 parties are present at Jesus’ baptism: The Father, who is the voice; the Son, who is the Word; & the Spirit fluttering like a dove. Mark is deliberately pointing us back to the creation, to the very beginning of history. Just as the original creation of the world was a project of the triune God, Mark says, so the redemption of the world, the rescue & renewal of all things that is beginning now with the arrival of the King, is also a project of the triune God.
That is what Mark is doing with his picture of Jesus’ baptism. But why is it important that creation & redemption are both products of a Trinity, one God in 3 persons?
The Christian teaching of the Trinity is mysterious & mentally challenging. The doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one God, eternally existent in 3 persons. That is not tritheism, with 3 gods who work in harmony; neither is it unipersonalism, the idea that sometimes God takes one form & sometimes he takes another, but that these are simply different manifestations of one God. Instead, trinitarianism holds that there is one God in 3 persons who know & love one another. God is not more fundamentally one than he is 3, & he is not more fundamentally 3 than he is one.
When Jesus comes out of the water, the Father envelops him & covers him with words of love: You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness. Meanwhile the Spirit covers him with power. This is what has been happening in the interior life of the Trinity from all eternity. Mark is giving us a glimpse into the very heart of reality, the meaning of life, & the essence of the universe. According to the Bible, the Father, the Son, & the Spirit glorify one another. Jesus says in his prayer recorded in John’s Gospel: I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created (17:4-5). Each person of the Trinity glorifies the other.
CS Lewis, in his wonderful book Mere Christianity, writes, “In Christianity God is not a static thing… but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” Theologian Cornelius Plantinga develops this further, “The persons within God exalt each other, commune with each other, & defer to one another… Each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being. In constant movement of overture & acceptance, each person envelops & encircles the others… God’s interior life overflows with regard for others.”
You are glorifying something when you find it beautiful for what it is in itself. Its beauty compels you to adore it, & to have your imagination captured by it. This happens to some people with, say, Mozart. I listened to Mozart in college to get an A in music appreciation. I had to get good grades to get a good job, so I guess in a way, I listened to Mozart to make money. But today I am quite willing to listen to Mozart because the music is beautiful in itself. It is no longer a means to an end.
And when it is a person you find beautiful in that way, you want to serve them unconditionally. When you say, “I’ll serve, as long as I’m getting benefits from it,” that is not actually serving people; it is serving yourself through them. That is not circling them; it is using them, getting them to orbit around you.
Of course, there are many of us who look unselfish & dutiful, simply because we cannot say no. We say yes to everything, & people are always using us. Everyone says, “Oh, you are so selfless, so giving of yourself; you need to think more about taking care of yourself.” But think about us who do not have boundaries & who let people walk all over us & use us & we cannot say no – do you think we are doing that out of love for other people? Of course not! We are doing it out of need – we say yes to everything out of fear & cowardice. That is far from glorifying others. To glorify others means to serve them unconditionally, not because we are getting anything out of it, but just because we love & appreciate them for who they are.
The Father, the Son, & the Spirit are each centering on the others, adoring & serving them. And because the Father, Son, & Spirit are giving glorifying love to each other, God is infinitely, profoundly happy. Think about this: If you find somebody you adore, someone for whom you would do anything, & you discover that this person feels the same way about you, doesn’t that feel good? It is fantastic! That is what God has been enjoying for all eternity. The Father, the Son, & the Spirit are pouring love & joy & adoration into each other, each one serving the other. They are infinitely seeking one another’s glory, & so God is infinitely happy. And if it is true that this world has been created by this triune God, then ultimate reality is a dance.
“What does it all matter?” CS Lewis writes. “It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this 3-person life is to be played out in each one of us… Joy, power, peace, eternal life are a great fountain of energy & beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.” Why did Lewis choose the image of a dance? Because a self-centered life is a stationary life; it is static, not dynamic. A self-centered person wants to be the center around which everything else orbits. I might help people; I might have friends; I might fall in love as long as there is no compromise of my individual interests or whatever meets my needs. I might even give to the poor – as long as it makes me feel good about myself & does not hinder my lifestyle too much. Self-centeredness makes everything else a means to an end. And that end, that nonnegotiable, is whatever I want & whatever I like, my interests over theirs. I will have fun with people, I will talk with people, but in the end, everything orbits around me.
If everyone is saying, “No, you orbit around me,” what happens? Picture 5 people, 10 people, 100 people on a stage together, & every one of them wants to be the center. They all just stand there & say to the others, “You move around me.” And nobody gets anywhere; the dance becomes hazardous, if not impossible.
The Trinity is completely different. Instead of self-centeredness, the Father, the Son, & the Spirit are characterized in their very essence by mutual self-giving love. No person in the Trinity insists that the others revolve around him; rather each of them voluntarily circles & orbits around the others.
If this is the ultimate reality, if this is what the God who made the universe is like, then this truth explodes with life-shaping, glorious implications for us. If this world was made by a triune God, then relationships of love are what life is really all about!
You see, different views of God have different implications. If there is no God – if we are here by chance, strictly as a result of natural selection – then what you & I call love is just a chemical condition of the brain. Evolutionary biologists say there is nothing in us that is not there because it helped our ancestors pass on genetic code more successfully. If you feel love, it is only because that combination of chemicals enables you to survive & get your body parts in the places they need to be in order to pass on the genetic code. That is all love is – chemistry. On the other hand, if God exists but is impersonal, there was a time when God was not love. Before God created the world, when there was only one divine person, there was no love, because love can only exist in a relationship. If an impersonal God had created the world & its inhabitants, such a God would not in his essence be love. Power & greatness to be sure, but not love. But if from all eternity, without end & without beginning, God is a community of persons knowing & loving one another, then ultimate reality is about love relationships.
Why would a triune God create a world? If he were an impersonal God, we might say, “Well, he created the world so he can have beings who give him worshipful love, & that would give him joy.” But the triune God already had that - & he received love within himself in a far purer, more powerful form than we human beings can ever give him. So why would he create us? There is only one answer. He must have created us not to get joy but to give it. He must have created us to invite us into the dance, to say: If you glorify me, if you center your entire life on me, if you find me beautiful for who I am in myself, then you will step into the dance, which is what you are made for. You are made not just to believe in me or to be spiritual in some general sort of way, not just to pray & get a bit of inspiration when things are tough. You are made to center everything in your life on me, to think of everything in terms of your relationship to me. To serve me unconditionally. That is where you will find your joy. That is what the dance is about.
Are you in the dance or do you just believe God is out there somewhere? Are you in the dance or do you just pray to God every so often when you are in trouble? Are you in the dance or are you looking for someone to orbit around you? If life is a divine dance, then you need more than anything else to be in it. That is what you were made for. You are made to enter into a divine dance with the Trinity.
Let us pray. God has spoken. In ancient words of Scripture, in messages from long ago, & in messages brought anew today. And God will keep speaking. Amen.