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Mark Shea: I believe in One God, the Father Almighty – Part Two

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God The Father, St Salvator Cathedral Bruges, Belgium PHOTO: Pixabay


Read part one here.

I Believe

There are two interesting things to notice about these words of the Creed. The first is that the Creed makes not the slightest attempt at argument for the existence of one God. The Creed assumes that the person professing it has already done their homework or has, at the very least, made the choice to say, “I believe in order that I may understand.”

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Those professing the Creed have already, by whatever route, come to the conviction that the things being professed are so. The person professing the Creed is not trying to persuade somebody else to believe what he believes. He is simply telling us that he believes it.

There is an old joke about the Southerner who was asked if he believed in infant baptism. He replied, “Believe in it? I have seen it done!”

This illustrates the way in which the Creed uses the word ‘believe’. ‘Believe’ here means more than merely affirming an abstract philosophical opinion about the existence of God. As we shall see presently, the Church does not even regard the mere existence of God as an article of faith. But to believe in “one God, the Father, the Almighty” does carry us into the arena of faith, since it moves us into the realm of personal relationship. Believing in that sense means entrusting one’s entire lifelock, stock, and barrelyour spouse, your kids, your health, your job, your hopes, fears, dreams, wounds, aspirations, loves, hates, talent, success, failures, heart, guts, and marrow and all the things you haven’t yet thought of into the hands of this personal God to order and dispose them for his glory and your ultimate salvation.

It is to give yourself entirely to God in the conviction that you are encountering not an abstract Ground of Being or First Cause, but a Father who loves you so much that while you were still dead in trespasses and sins, he gave his only Son to be crucified and raised for you. That will mean, ultimately, entrusting oneself into hands that had nails driven through them, lay dead in a tomb for three days, and were ultimately lifted up in unthinkable blessing when the risen Christ ascended into heaven to intercede for us at the right hand of the Father. But for now, we are focusing on the first clause of the Creed and the one God and Father Almighty who sent that Son to earth for us.

Belief arises from encounter

People arrive at the conviction that there is one God and Father through an enormous variety of routes. But what is notable is that belief in the one God usually comes, not through abstract philosophy, but through encounter. Two biblical examples will suffice to illustrate my point. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel wander from their relationship with God and, under pressure from the apostate royal house of Ahab, fall into the worship of cultic fertility deities called “Baals” who are supposed to promise healthy kids, good crops, fair weather, etc. So the prophet Elijah is sent to call Israel back. He does so, not by arranging a series of public lectures demonstrating the existence of God through philosophical argument, but this way:

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent to all the sons of Israel, and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.

Elijah and the prophets of Baal

Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let two bulls be given to us; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; and I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, and put no fire to it. And you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”

Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped about the altar which they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me”; and all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time. And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (1 Ki 18:17–39)

Similarly, in the New Testament, we see this scene unfold as Saul of Tarsus, freshly sent on his maiden apostolic mission by the Church at Antioch, walks straight into a scene of spiritual warfare before the astonished eyes of a pagan Roman:

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. (Ac 13:4–12)

These two stories illustrate in a dramatic way what is often experienced in much quieter ways in other lives: that encounter with the one God precedes rather than follows belief in or philosophical argument for the existence of the one God.

People are minding their own business, going about their lives, and God breaks in through one route or another. A neighbor comes to help during a protracted convalescence and their quiet faith moves the sick person to seek the God they worship. A child is adopted by a loving family and, through their witness, comes to believe in their God. A destitute family is helped to find a new life after a war by Christian charity. A formerly blind man with no training in philosophy or theology makes the eminently reasonable argument, “One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25).

Of which more next time.

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