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  • Writer's pictureMarissa Galvan

The Holy Trinity

Villengard Algorithm

The other day, I was watching one of the latest episodes of a show called "Doctor Who." In an episode called “Boom,” the Doctor lands on a war-torn planet and steps on a landmine manufactured by the Villengard weapons company. Villengard doesn’t only manufacture landmines; they also manufacture ambulances, vacuum drones, and other weapons. Their ambulances can create voice-activated AI simulants of people who die in battle.

All their equipment is controlled by an algorithm designed to maintain an “acceptable casualty rate” to keep the war going and, therefore, increase profits through the sales of Villengard products. One example of how the algorithm works is that if the ambulance finds an injured person, the algorithm calculates whether their recovery falls within acceptable parameters for a conflict as budgeted. If a person falls beyond those parameters, they are eliminated. Another example is if a group of people lands on a deserted alien planet, the algorithm creates the precise environment to cause the group to unknowingly go to war with itself. Profit needs to happen by any means necessary.

As I was watching, I was thinking about the situations of war that exist in our world today. I wondered about who profits from them. Profiting goes beyond money; it can involve gaining land or power. The algorithm makes it sound logical and reasonable. In a situation perceived as unstable or dire, war arises as one of the preferred courses for humanity time and time again. Michael Mann writes that most wars have been irrational because choices for war are influenced by “emotions, ideologies, domestic politics, and the tyranny of history, as well as by the more rational pursuit of material and strategic interests.”

Human beings want to think that wars can be controlled by algorithms, that they are justified and logical, but emotions, fanaticism, politics, and beliefs—good or bad—are also in the mix.

A Call in Chapter 6?

I mention this because when I read Roger Nam’s commentary about Isaiah 6:1-8, it helped answer a longstanding question for me. In call stories, typically the calling of a person occurs at the beginning of their narrative. Isaiah starts with a simple statement: "The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." Then Isaiah begins delivering God's messages. There's no account of how God decides to call Isaiah, nor an explanation of how the prophet hears God’s voice. For that, we must wait until chapter 6. But this chapter starts with unsettling news: King Uzziah has died.

Professor Nam sees this as the context for Isaiah's call. He notes that King Uzziah reigned for five decades and was seen as a righteous king who followed the ways of God, until pride led to his downfall and death. After a period of stability and economic prosperity, his death could evoke feelings of instability and fear. Nam reminds us that

"the Judeans faced threatening encroachment from the Assyrian Empire… In contrast, Jerusalem was a city with hastily erected defenses, filled with refugees from the countryside and other captured cities."

God choosing this precise moment to contact God's prophet is not a coincidence. God needs to bring comfort to the people and present a different point of view. Nam interprets this by noting how Isaiah emphasizes the holiness of God rather than God's might. Even when Isaiah uses the title "Lord of Hosts," Nam suggests that the prophet is choosing to "emphasize the grand holiness of God, expansive to the ends of the earth." He notes that the passage makes two assumptions:

  1. Holiness, not military might, will protect the people.

  2. The glory of the Lord extends far beyond the borders of the vast Assyrian empire.

The recognition of God’s holiness confronts Isaiah as it does us. We are different from God. Our attempts at holiness do not compare to God's holiness. Therefore, the prophet must acknowledge his inadequacy before God. The CEB translates Isaiah’s response as, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Once there is repentance, a recognition of meagerness, and an acknowledgment of the holiness of God, then there can be forgiveness, purification, and preparation to lead a life that offers a distinct perspective to the usual solutions of power, fear, insecurity, hate, and war. Then, the prophet's lips are purified to prepare him for what lies ahead.

Poet Khalil Gibran has a quote that resonates:

"I purified my lips with sacred fire that I might speak of love, but when I opened my mouth to speak, I found myself mute."

These words reflect the challenge of expressing true love through words. When the seraph touches Isaiah's lips, it is a brutal yet necessary act because the prophet's task is not to remain silent but to speak of love, peace, holiness, and obedience in a world inclined towards hate, war, and rebellion.

Nam concludes that the coal to the lips cleanses the prophet and prepares him for a life of prophecy. He ends his thoughts by stating that the endorsed words of a fierce prophet prove more powerful and enduring than any military leader. Isaiah’s ministry urges God's people towards lives of holiness, setting them apart from other nations.

The message of the Trinity

Leonardo Boff, the well-known Brazilian theologian, philosopher, and writer has a book called Holy Trinity, Perfect Community (Santíssima Trindade É a Melhor Comunidade) where he proposes that the Trinity is a good model for human relationships and social structures. He explains his perspective saying that:

  • The three persons of the Trinity exist in a relationship of mutual love and interdependence.

  • In the Trinity, each person is distinct yet united in a profound communion that invites humanity to live in solidarity, inclusivity, and collective well-being.

  • In the Trinity, no person is subordinate to the others; there is fundamental equality. Therefore, humanity should advocate for the dismantling of hierarchical and oppressive systems in favor o more egalitarian relationships.

  • He also connects the Trinity to an emphasis of justice and the preferential option for the poor and incorporates ecological concerns, saying that the interrelatedness seen in the Trinity should inspire humans to recognize our interconnectedness with all of creation and to act responsibly towards all of it.

Amid the mystery and the holiness of the Trinity, we, like Isaiah, must recognize our otherness, but at the same time we need to be challenged by that otherness. There will always be algorithms out there trying to control human history. There will always be powers and principalities that want to fill the world with messages of fear that make people fight with each other and see no other solution. We need to remember the Trinity and it’s call to community. We need to remember God’s holiness and its call to be holy like God is holy, to love as God loves, and to seek God’s peace for our lives and for the world. We need to hear God's call beyond the algorithms and the solutions of violence and war that try to tear us apart: "Whom should I send, and who will go for us?" And respond with our burning lips and hearts: “I’m here; send me.”

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