Chapter 1

INTRODUCTION: Being Formed by the God who Dances

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“Through prayer, I am being drawn into the dance of the Trinity.”

Ilia Delio

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In the early 20th century, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously penned the phrase, “God is dead.” Unknown to many is that Nietzsche goes on to say, “And we have killed him.” Nietzsche’s point seems to have been that God is a human invention and an invention of which man had grown tired. So, he reasoned, it’s time to move on.

Nietzsche had personally grown tired of stale arguments about the existence of God as he commented, “If they want me to believe in their god, they’ll have to sing me better songs. I could only believe in a god who dances.”

As I read those words, I find myself thinking about a God who does indeed dance, a God who lives with passion and delight and profoundly deep joy which He invites others to share. In many ways, this is the God in whom we all desire to believe. The existence of God is not really the core problem, but trusting deeply in God and vanquishing all other suitors for our affections is at the heart of the spiritual journey. And, a God who dances is a God who is compelling enough to call us into this journey.

However, even the word belief is a word that has grown stale for many but God presents a picture of interaction with Himself that is more holistic than the detached Westernized concept of belief which is often merely an intellectual exercise. For many, the early stages of faith, with all their excitement and newness, give way to boredom or confusion about whether or not Jesus is really everything we were promised. The solution given by many church leaders is to get more involved and serve more and learn more, but frequently this only serves to numb the feelings and stuff the questions.

In Ephesians 3, the Apostle Paul offers a prayer for the Ephesian church which requests that they might, “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” This is an astounding prayer! How do you know something that surpasses knowledge? He goes on to pray, ”that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Clearly, what is being suggested is that God is someone to be experienced. Indeed, it is a relationship which surpasses knowledge about the other person and transcends into participation and communion … a sharing of lives.

In Philippians 4, Paul writes about a kind of prayer that produces a peace that “surpasses all understanding.” Again, how do we interact with something that surpasses understanding? The word peace is a reflection of the Hebrew concept of shalom which speaks of wholeness of being.  This is not simply an intellectual process but a holistic vision of relationship that affects all of who we are. Paul elaborates that our hearts and minds are guarded by this kind of prayer.

So, how do we interact with Him (pray) in a way that surpasses mere knowledge into a realm where we are bursting with joy and peace?

It all begins with understanding Him as the God who dances. The prayer of Ephesians 3 is the center point of Ephesians. Paul intended to stir a desire for the God who is described in the first three chapters. This is a desire for the God who dances.

In Ephesians 1:3-14, the image of God as three and yet one is powerfully displayed in the theological description of all the spiritual blessings that are graciously given to us because of Christ. The idea that God is three and yet one defies logical explanation but enlivens that imagination.

The early church fathers wrestled with this idea quite frequently and the word “trinity” or tri-unity was used to express three and one in order to combat misconceptions. However, in an effort to protect the concept from heresy, much of the discussion centered on what the Trinity is not. In the fourth century, the word perichoresis began to be used to describe the “three in one” in a beautiful, compelling way. The word, perichoresis, is a compound Greek word meaning “around” (peri) and “dance” (choresis). The idea is that the three are involved in an eternal dance with one another in which they are interconnected relationally and moving with one another, depending upon one another. The three indwell one another. Jesus says of the Father, “You are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). Just a few verses later, we see that they love one another and give one another glory (John 17:24).

The very concept of a dance evokes so many ideas and emotions. It speaks of relationship and beauty. It envisions a party where there is joy and laughter and energy and sharing. Indeed, David Bentley Hart suggests:

The Christian understanding of beauty emerges not only naturally, but necessarily from the Christian understanding of God as a perichoresis of love, dynamic coinherence of the three divine persons, whose life is eternally one of shared regard, delight, fellowship, feasting, and joy.

At its core, the idea of the God existing as Trinity in some kind of eternal dance explains everything, but not in the way that philosophy or typical religious thoughts might. As Darrel Johnson in his work on the Trinity writes, “At the center of the universe is a relationship.”

The essence of life is relationship. God, existing in an eternal, joyful, loving relationship, simply had to create and share that love in the same way that a young couple desires to have children. We were created in His image with the same capacity and desire to relate with others in this dancing kind of way.

When we are placed into relationship with God, we are told that we are “in Christ” (Col. 3:3) and also that “Christ is in me” (Gal. 2:20). It doesn’t seem logically possible that both could be true unless we think in terms of being invited to live in the way that the Trinity lives with one another. 2 Peter 1:3-4 reveals that we are invited to participate in the divine nature:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

The promise is that we can “partake” or participate in the divine nature which is love. We can learn how to dance and live like the Trinity as we live with the Trinity.

This is the good news: there is a God who dances. Rather than understanding God as an old man with a white beard who has a Son who died and a Spirit of some kind, God lives in a dynamic of loving, joyful relationship. At the heart of God lies joy and love and delight. Yet, we frequently understand God to be distant and demanding and maybe a little angry. So, this concept of an “old man” god is a human creation that we can allow to die.

And so, the Trinity is not so much a doctrine to be defended but a relationship to be experienced … a love to be embraced. That Trinitarian dance of love is the very thing for which we hunger. However, love is mysterious and uncontrollable. And relationship is something to which we give lip service, but usually don’t actually experience. We talk about forgiveness but don’t feel forgiven. We claim to have freedom from sin but keep doing the same old things over and over.

Karl Rahner, a Jesuit theologian from the mid twentieth century commented, “We could drop the doctrine of the Trinity tomorrow and 98% of Christian practice and prayer would remain untouched and unchanged.” Clearly, interacting with God as Trinity rather than viewing God as something less is critical to being all that we were created to be. In light of this, let me suggest three things as we begin this study of “The God Who Dances”:

First, refuse to be satisfied with less than living life with the God who dances. In 2 Peter 1, the idea of “sinful” desire is introduced as the reason for the corruption that is in the world. Because of Christ, we have been rescued from sinful desire as the dominating reality in our lives. Sin, put simply, is living life independently of God. Sinful desire is the desire to live life on our own terms. So, rather than cultivating sinful desire, let your desire for Him, the desire to dance with Him become the core of what you actively desire.

Next, recognize the obstacles to a vision of God as Trinity. We frequently hold images in our hearts of God that are not consistent with that of a loving Trinity. We might think that we have to act a certain way or live up to some standard in order to be worthy of Him. We might believe that God is a nice “back up plan” when life isn’t going our way. Or, perhaps, we use God to feel good about ourselves and as insurance that life will go our way. We can hold ideas about God to make our relationship conditional or duty bound, but He comes after us and invites us to be a part of His life, to be partakers. And, by His power (2 Peter 1:3), He gives us everything we need to do life with Him. We must ruthlessly and consistently eliminate messages that suggest anything other than the truth that God is absolutely, passionately, intimately in love with us. There are no strings attached. There is only gracious invitation and He pays the way.

Finally, receive His love. Over the next eight weeks, we will be working through six “dance steps” that allow us to move step with the rhythm with His love. His love is transformative and restorative and satisfying. But, first, we have to learn to slow down. Without slowing down, we run the risk of responding to old images to God that don’t correspond to reality. Without slowing down, we will likely respond to old desires rather than our truest, deepest desire which is to live life with Him.

In Psalm 46:10, God invites us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Being still means that we let go of the worrying and striving and controlling, and quiet ourselves in His presence. The following verse describes the focus of our “knowing” God in the stillness: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

The hosts are the armies of heaven and metaphorically speak of God’s great power. We first quiet ourselves before Him as we remind ourselves of His power. We can release our strivings and worries because He is lovingly present with everything we need to enjoy life with Him. The phrase “God of Jacob” is equally encouraging. In Genesis 32, we learn that God came and wrestled with Jacob. Jacob had made quite a mess of his life through deceit and manipulation which resulted in fear and striving. God met him in his brokenness and transformed him through giving Him a new name and a limp. Jacob understood the gracious nature of God’s interaction with Him and named the place where they wrestled Peniel, which means “vision of God” because he had seen God face to face. For the ancient Hebrew reader of Psalm 46, “the God of Jacob” was a reminder of God’s personal, loving nature to meet us right where we are … face to face.

So, as we begin looking at the God who dances, it begins with just that: a look. It is with a slow, determined look at God that our vision for God, as one who lovingly lives in Trinity, flourishes. As old visions of God are dropped, we are ready to learn how to dance.

Far from being only an intellectual exercise, Francisan scholar Ilia Delio shares that “through prayer, I am being drawn into the dance of the Trinity.”


Spiritual Exercise

Print out or write out Psalm 46:10-11 on a piece of paper or note card that you can carry with you this week. Set an alarm that will remind you 4 times each day to read through and meditate on these verses.

As you meditate on those verses, remind yourself that He is lovingly present with everything you need and thank Him for His presence with you. Then, wrestle with Him. Tell Him whatever is on your heart and mind. Don’t hold anything back. He longs for you to be with Him.


Reflection Questions

  1. In what ways does the reality of God existing as a Trinity excite you?
  2. What are the core ideas of God existing as Trinity and what difference do they make?
  3. Ask God to show you places where you find satisfaction in other things besides Him.
  4. What old images of God do you need release?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is understanding God as Trinity so important?
  2. What would life be like if God didn’t exist as Trinity?
  3. What are you learning about yourself this week?
  4. How is it freeing to let go of “old” images of God?
  5. Share about your experience of the Spiritual Exercise.
  1. I think the limitations of English along with a Western mindset have crippled our ability to truly experience God. To translate “ginosko” as “know” is a gross simplification and mischaracterizes the concept of experiential knowledge. Pair that with our literal, logical, analytical culture, and we begin to see God as a being to be understood rather than a God to be experienced.

  2. Awesome! & perfect timing! Thanks from Trinidad, CO, Kathi Ligon

  3. To experience such a great God is to feel something incredible going on in side you and all around you. To see all three of the Trinity doing their part in your life and the lives of others, you can definitely see the dance. To know that God is not just the guy in the sky but a trio of power that can work with you, in you, and around you; can bring a smile to your heart. And in return bring a smile to anothers heart. When you are lifted the easier to lift others. And when you lift others the easier it is to tell them about your faith in Christ. And then you realize again that God has just again Incorporated you in the dance Experience of a lifetime.

  4. Great! Looking forward to the study.

  5. Great insight and direction Ted. I am inclined to seek God in an experiential way, but I have also found that to understand God is also a medium that we are able to then experience God in. I am currently taking a seminary course in Christian Worldview and Media and I sometimes wonder as I experience worship together with others if the verse you have highlighted regarding being “still” is something we need more than the trappings of sound, lights, and media.

    • Wonderful thoughts, Jeff. Your comment that understanding God is a medium for experiencing Him is something with which that the ancients would have agreed. Whatever we are doing is an opportunity to experience Him … however, we tend not to see things in such a holistic manner with modern mindsets. THe Bible was not something to study and master as much as it was a a place to experience God. People didn’t have their own copies and didn’t have the ability to put a Bible verse on their bumper sticker so it was never trivialized into slogans or nice words. I absolutely agree that being still is incredibly vital in any age of history but right now, perhaps it’s need is more glaring because of it’s utter absence.

      • Thank you Ted. There is so much in the statement you made “The Bible was not something to study and master as much as it was a place to experience God.” I have been guilty of living like the 66 books of the Bible fell from the sky one day all bound up and ready for God’s people to study and learn. God however has progressively revealed Himself to his people so that they could experience what He had for them at the time and in their context. Don’t get me wrong, the Words of God need to be taken in and studied and savored in that fashion, but to experience God is to know that He desires to be in relationship with us, is at work around us, and invites us to become involved in what He is already doing.
        Blackaby in his book Experiencing God states it this way:
        “Knowing God does not come through a program, a study, or a method. Knowing God comes through a relationship with a Person. This is an intimate love relationship with God. Through this relationship, God reveals Himself, His purposes, and His ways; and He invites you to join Him where He is already at work.”

  6. Life can get pretty serious. Yet this reminds me that joy is to be the normal for us as those being made in his image. How is joy expressed? It comes out all over! Dancing for joy does that dramatically. Dancing around or with another should be natural. After all if God dances…

  7. Not a reply, but a comment on Ps.46:10,11 which invites a look into Jacob’s relationship with God, an example of spiritual transformation that took years. At Peniel, in perhaps unaccustomed solitude and stillness he gave God the key to his heart. Could this have been a giant leap forward in his ongoing growth in godliness?

    • Barbara -great comment! Yes, it seems that something pivotal happened at Peniel. I appreciate your observation that “he gave God thekey to his heart.” Yes – that would seem to be a giant leap because previously he’d been very calculated over and over through his life.

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