Week 2: I believe in God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
The housegroup notes for this series will be quite full and detailed. They will take us in a number of different directions as we explore what it means to say ‘I believe’. Groups may wish to use certain sections of the weekly notes and discard other sections as appropriate.
Read: Isaiah 46:6-7, Genesis 2:4-9
What does it mean to say ‘I believe’?
I believe in ghosts. I believe in UFO’s. I believe in the Loch Ness Monster. I believe in God. Many would consider such statements of belief to be exactly the same, statements regarding something whose existence is doubtful.
In reality of course these statements are significantly different. To believe in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster makes no difference at all to how I feel about myself and the world in general. (It also has nothing to say about whether the Loch Ness Monster is reliable or not) But this is not true of the ‘I believe statements in the Apostles Creed. These statements do make a difference about how the world feels and how we feel.
To quote Rowan Williams “I believe in God the Father almighty…” isn’t the first in a set of answers to the question, ‘how many ideas of pictures have I inside my head?’ as if God were the name of one more doubtful thing…to add to the list of the furniture of my imagination” It is something far more important “It is the beginning of a series of statements about where I find the anchorage of my life, where I find solid ground, home.”
When you say “I believe in God…” what do you mean exactly? What are you saying in the statement? Simply that you believe he exists or something greater and more profound?
What led you to believe in the first instance? What sustains that belief now?
Saying ‘I believe’ is actually a statement of trust.
Within society at large trust is in crisis. After numerous scandals we no longer trust our political leaders. Bank bail outs and corporate pension scams have undermined our trust in businesses. On the back of scandal and abuse public confidence in the church is low. Wherever we turn we find an attitude towards individuals and corporations that is at best cynical and at worst utterly distrusting. This lack of trust is perhaps based on the unspoken conviction that these individuals and institutions do not have our best interests in mind or work for our advantage – that their agenda and purpose is hostile.
It is in this culture of distrust that we’re invited to make a statement of absolute trust.
The first line of the creed begins “I believe in God, the Father, the Almighty…” and in this short sentence we affirm, not simply that we assent to the existence of God in an abstract meta-physical sort of way, but that in affirming his existence we also place our trust in him.
In order to place our trust in him we must believe that God is trustworthy, that he is not out to deceive us or harm us.
Rowan Williams, in his book, Tokens of Trust, illustrates this using the well known parable in Johns Gospel, chapter 9. Having cured a blind man Jesus asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. The man asks who this Son of Man is and Jesus replies that it is him. Clearly the question is not about whether the now cured man believes in the existence of the Son of Man - after-all Jesus is standing in front of him – his question is whether the man is ready to trust the Son of Man. The man responds “I believe”, and in responding he affirms that he has confidence that the Son of Man is not out to harm him or deceive him even that the Son of Man is working for him, on his behalf.
Reflect and Discuss:
Read John 9:1-12 and then 35-38. How do these verses expand our concept of what it means to ‘believe’? What do these verses speak to you?
Does your belief in God have at its heart the sense of trust that is spoken of in this passage?
To trust someone we need to know that they are trustworthy…
The God in whom we place our trust is none other than the ‘…Father almighty…’ not just any God, or an undefined spiritual deity, but the God who has actively and purposefully declared himself to be two things (amongst others) The Father and The Almighty.
We’re familiar with the ‘Father’ analogy so I won’t explore that in detail here. Although I you’d like to explore this as a group please do. The next description however is worth unpacking.
In the Apostles Creed God is called ‘the almighty’. Almighty tends to carry connotations of otherness, being ‘on high’ and being ‘above’. All of which are quite legitimate. But there is another important sense of this word that tends to get lost or forgotten, let me quote Rowan Williams again:
“The word translated ‘almighty’ in fact in the Greek means ‘ruler of everything’ or even something like ‘holder of everything’
Interesting I think you’ll agree, but what does this mean about the God in whom we put our trust? It means quite simply that “there is nowhere that God is absent. It means that God is present everywhere, and that there are no situations in which he is powerless or irrelevant.” This means that there is no situation in which God cannot be relied upon – no matter what may happen in our lives or even in the universe in general, no matter what situation we may find ourselves in, God’s love never exhausts itself.
This is the God in whom we are invited to put our trust. The God who is at the same time our Father and almighty. Both close and personal, and supremely reliable and inexhaustible.
Reflect: Have you understood ‘almighty’ in these terms? If not, what difference does this make to your life of faith and ability to trust God? If so, on a practical day-to-day level how do you see the reality of God being present everywhere? Do you live each day in the light of his absolute presence and relevance in all situations?
The second half of the first affirmation offers another reason why God can be trusted.
He is the ‘maker of heaven and earth’ and it is because he is the maker of heaven and earth that we can trust him.
But why? Not simply because God ‘knows’ everything about his creation – there’s more to it than that: As the source of all that is, there is nothing that God is forced to do. God is not forced to do anything that he doesn’t want to do. Likewise as the author of all reality, the one in whom everything has its ground of being, there is nothing that he needs. To take this one step further we might say that there is nothing that God wants for himself other than to be the way he is.
When we view creation in light of this we suddenly see a God who doesn’t create because he’s bored, or in need of company, or because we somehow ‘complete’ him. We see a God who creates out of total and utter unselfish love. A love that finds its expression in a desire to share his joy, his love, and himself.
If we accept this we must, as Rowan Williams puts it “…bend our minds around the admittedly tough notion that we exist because of an utterly unconditional generosity” we are not created in order for God to ‘get something out of it’ because God does not need anything more than he is and has always been.
In conclusion then, we can trust God because we see in the act of creation a God who doesn’t use us for his own personal benefit, but a God who un-reservedly gives of himself to us. Of course we see this in the person and work of Christ too. The love of God demonstrated in saving us is the same as the love of God shown in creating us – absolutely free, un-conditional, and giving us no ground for suspicion or mis-trust.
Reflect and discuss:
How easy is it to trust someone who clearly and visibly demonstrates that they have your best interests at heart? Do you know, in the very depths of your soul that God doesn’t have a selfish agenda and that his love for you is un-conditionally given?
But do we need to be able to prove God’s existence before we can say that we can trust him?
This is a highly topical question and one that is relevant both to our own life of faith, but also, and maybe especially, to how we reach out. In 1 Peter 3:15 we’re told to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give reason for the hope that you have.” Sometimes this is interpreted as ‘be able to prove that God exists’ because proof of his existence is seen as a logically necessary precursor to faith. Although logical this is not quite true.
What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is this: The absolute existence of God cannot be proved in the scientific and rational sense of the word ‘proof’, and so if we’re trying to prove Gods existence on these terms we’re doomed to fail.
Let’s unpack this a little because the idea that God’s existence needs to be proved in order to be legitimized is common currency in the anti-God lobby that seem to dominate public life at present –ultimately it’s a non-sense and the argument that the atheists advance is deeply flawed.
The argument against God because a lack of proof usually follows along the lines of: Empirical observation and scientific proof is the highest authority in demonstrating and proving reality. Therefore, as God is not demonstrable or provable by empirical observation or scientific testing his existence is to be doubted or denied. The argument collapses however when we consider what is required in ‘God-ness’. If God were simply an other worldly reality, observable and measureable by our (at present) limited scientific capacity, if his existence could be verified by experiments or mathematic logic, the God being observed would be no God at all. God understood rightly cannot be an object for observation. If he were then he would be nothing more than an idol, a creation of the human mind.
But its not just scientific observation or mathematical proof that are inadequate to demonstrate the existence or non-existence of God. Logic and rationality too are inadequate tools for the job. Gods existence cannot be proved rationally either. Immanuel Kant was correct in saying “our pure theoretical reason does not reach this far.” Bound to space and time our theoretical reasoning cannot prove or disprove what is outside our experiences within space and time.
When these grounds are appealed to as proving the non-existence of God the proponents of the argument are in danger of stepping beyond the competency of their discipline. Pure reason and scientific observation are unable to answer the question of the existence or non-existence of God.
What does this mean? It means that 1) the ground of argument on which the new-atheists base their claims as to the non-existence of God is non-sense. 2) It means that the missional imperative to draw people to God in Christ does not revolve around conclusively ‘proving’ in the rational scientific or mathematical sense that God exists.
So what does this mean in the context of ‘I believe’?
To quote Hans Kung “…to this extent human faith in God is neither rational proof nor an irrational feeling nor a decisionistic act of the will, but a well founded and…reasonable trust, which includes thought, questioning and doubts…a matter of understanding, will and disposition.”
It means that placing our trust in God is an act of the whole person. Mind, will, heart. It is an act of practical reason – an act of reasonable trust – a like committing oneself in love to someone else.
Reflect and discuss: In light of the very vocal opposition to Christian faith from the new-atheists, do the thoughts above give you a greater confidence both in your faith and in the ability to counter the atheist argument?
Taking into account the words in 1Peter, do you feel able and prepared to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give reason for the hope that you have.” – what might you do to develop this readiness?
We’ve covered a lot of territory in this session – it might be helpful to close in prayer. Some starting points might be:
- Asking for the help of Spirit in deepening your trust in God
- Asking for the Spirit to help you see the reality of God being present all the time.
- Asking the spirit to help you to take to heart the unconditional love of God freely given
- Asking God for a boldness in proclaiming him in an age of fierce opposition