I remember as a child my fascination with magnets, those little pieces of what looked like stone or metal that moved decisively, it seemed of their own free will, in response to other magnets. Sometimes they would come together, sometimes they would push away from each other. Their behavior is governed by very strict laws of physics. And these laws are derived from their very nature as magnets. Every magnet has two poles, sometimes painted red and black, but not always. Sometimes they are identified with an N and an S, for north and south, like the magnetic poles of the earth. [None of this is new, I hope.] Sometimes we can’t tell the poles apart, other than from the way they behave. When two magnets come near each other they will snap together quite decisively, but always according to very specific laws of physics—that opposite poles will attract, and similar poles will repel. So the red end of one will only stick to the black end of another. You can try to bring two red ends together, but you will meet with strong resistance pushing them apart. And if you let go, they will snap together quite dramatically so that, consistent with their nature, and following very specific laws of physics, they will join together red to black, and north to south, every single time.
The magnetic principle of opposite poles attracting and similar poles repelling is at times applied to other areas of life, particularly human relationships. Some people are drawn to those most unlike themselves. Not all the time, but the theory is fun to explore. This theory holds that persons with a lot of the same interests, the same patterns of thinking, and the same beliefs, will eventually get bored with each other. Excitement dissipates. Life becomes too predictable. And over time, they turn into zombies. Instead, differences between persons produce a healthy degree of tension that keeps them alert and interesting and interested. Yes, they will mellow eventually and end up becoming more alike in a lot of ways. But by then they will have found better reasons to remain together than just living off the tension they generate. Because one day, you will want to stop holding your stomach in. One day, you will prefer comfort over appearance. And because your partnership is based on more profound truths like unconditional love and steadfast commitment and undying loyalty, the boring stuff won’t matter as much.
A very good reason we are attracted to God is that we are so unlike God. God is good [all the time]; most of the time we are the exact opposite of good. God is eternal; we are born and eventually we die. God is love; we are always suing our enemies in court and dropping bombs on people we don’t like. God is one; we have congress. God is trinity; we are a herd of feral cats. God knows and understands us better than we know and understand ourselves; we will never know God fully, yet we will still pray the Lord’s Prayer while denouncing one another as heretics. God’s love is unconditional and without equal; we don’t always love God above all things with our whole heart, mind, and soul. God calls us to be perfect like him; we are forever creating God in our own image.
When we discover something new about someone we love, the dynamic of our relationship changes to accommodate this new discovery. That is why we try to find out as much about each other early in the relationship, so we can determine whether or not and to what degree we would accommodate each other’s differences. We think if we know all there is to know about the other, the rest of the journey will be smooth sailing. But there will never be a point in time when we will know all there is to know about the other person. For as long as we live, we are growing and changing. We stop growing and changing only when we are dead. So as a relationship grows and changes, we grow and change along with it.
God is eternal and unchanging. Human beings are finite and fickle. And we will never know God fully, God who is eternal and unchanging. Yet God constantly reveals himself to us, inviting us to constantly adjust our understanding of God. So as God determines our readiness to know and understand, God reveals more of himself to us. Now we think we can only handle so much change. Take for instance the pervasive opinion that the God of Israel in the Old Testament is vengeful, temperamental, and tyrannical; while the God of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is merciful, patient, and immensely accommodating. But that passage from Exodus tells us quite differently. Speaking to Moses, God proclaims himself a “merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” So where does that ugly image of God come from? Not from God himself, but rather from people who thought they knew God.
In the gospel, we hear that popular bible verse that often shows up at televised sporting events: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a secret disciple who comes to meet him at night. Jesus tells him our salvation is God’s top priority, nothing less. Is that not the same striking image of God, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity?” So God isn’t schizophrenic after all. Rather, God who reveals himself to Moses is God whom Jesus reveals to us.
So it makes sense that in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls upon the church to “mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” And as God reveals himself to us, God invites us to become more like him.
… Which brings us back to the magnets. I know you’ve been wondering. You see, when opposite poles attract, the force that brings them together diminishes in strength over time, because they equalize. They become more like each other. I realize the analogy goes only so far. Since God is eternal and unchanging, while we are finite and fickle, the one thing that can possibly change in this relationship is us—we become more like God. God will still never force his love on us. On this feast of the Holy Trinity, the scriptures we read don’t burden us with a complex theological mystery. Rather, they invite us to consider a simple yet awesome reality—that God is love, that God’s love is eternal and unconditional, that God desires we become like himself. We may not have clarified better the mystery of the Holy Trinity today. But hopefully, we have come to know God better, and we know who God calls us to be.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014