I love to study people, as in humans and human behavior. In my undergraduate studies, it took me a while to land in the field of sociology, but I can say with certainty that I think like a sociologist. Thankfully, now as a seminarian, I think like a minister-sociologist. Psychology is intriguing, too, but what happens inside one person is only a fragment of the bigger picture. None of us behave in a way that is isolated or neutral regarding our relationships with other humans. We have our own thoughts and beliefs, but what we do is always invariably an interaction. As much as we might think that what we do can be done without affecting others, it is rarely true. (I only say “rarely” because I try to avoid any broad statements that include “always” or “never.”) Similarly, much of what we do is directly because of a relationship with another person or group of people. In general, our behavior is weaved into the lives of others in ways we can’t always see or else in ways we often deny.
As humans living in relationship, we have certain ways of dealing with relationships when they become tense or difficult. One of the prevalent tools we use is something referred to as “triangulation.” Triangulation is a systems-theory word that means, simply put, when things become tense between two people, one of them pulls in a third party to help stabilize his or her situation. In psychology and other anthropological studies, there are many, many variations of the triangles that we create in relationships. Google it – you will find more than you care to read!
So much of what I liked about sociology in college was that the concepts were things I had experienced and could understand – I just never knew there was a name for “it!” Even from my description of triangulation, I suspect you have made connections to the idea based on your own experiences. Picture this: On Saturday morning, Wife and Husband argue about housework and other shared responsibilities around the house. Husband leaves to work on a car project with a friend and Wife takes teenage Daughter to have lunch and then to do some shopping. Wife is upset and cries to Daughter about the morning’s events. Daughter consoles her mother (Wife) and is annoyed with her father (Husband) when he arrives at home later that day. (Triangulation.) Meanwhile, Husband has spoken with his Friend about his frustrations at home. This Friend offers to take him to a sporting event to which he has tickets that evening to get away from the worries he has at home. Friend pulls up to the house and honks the horn without coming inside to take the Husband out for the rest of the evening. (Triangulation.) The problem with triangulation is that, while both Husband and Wife received temporary comfort, the tension has not been eased within the primary relationship in the least. In fact, it is worse.
So, what do Christ-followers do with scenes like this? What can we learn from scriptures about ways to deal intimately with each other without creating so much drama? John 16-17 is really one of my favorite passages in the entire bible. In this passage, Jesus (God, the Son) is preparing his disciples for what is about to happen to him – specifically, his pending death and resurrection. (“Huh?!?” Can you imagine being one of the disciples at that moment?!) He speaks to them of an Advocate (God, the Holy Spirit) who can only come if he goes through with this thing and who will speak to them only what Jesus (God) instructs. And in chapter 17, Jesus prays to God the Father for his mission, his disciples, and for those who will believe because of their testimony (us!) I can’t think of a more intimate threesome – so much so that He is our one true God!
The concept of the Trinity is no small thing to understand. We may never fully get it. But we can read those two chapters and begin to wrestle with our own relationship patterns and lack of unity. Surely, from these two chapters, we can learn to reach toward our Holy God for stabilization and unity and to learn from Him exactly how “intimacy” is done correctly!