Thursday, January 10, 2013

I Believe in God

We are starting a series today on the Apostles' Creed, the oldest rule of faith that has been recited by saints since the early church.  Today, self-professing Christians wander about without knowing this creed.  Over the next few weeks, I'm going to go through it a line or a few lines at a time and really get into the meaning.  Here is the whole creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;
    who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried.
    He descended into hell.
    The third day he rose again from the dead.
    He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.
    From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting.

Notice, I'm using the Rite I creed, which will be important when we get to talking about the "quick" and the dead, among other things.  This time I'm going to talk about "I believe in God."

I had a friend, an atheist, who told me once that faith meant, "to believe in something where there is no proof that it exists."  Apparently, the no proof of existence is a pre-requirement for faith.  This is simply not true.  Faith is putting stock in something.  Trusting.  Belief in the existence of something is different from believing IN something or just believing something or someone.  I can put my trust in someone or something like a chair.  I am believing that the chair is not going to collapse on me when I sit in it.  This doesn't mean that the chair might not exist.  There's proof that the chair exists.  Just so, we have proof of God's existence.  We have external evidence, internal evidence, and eyewitness testimony.  Eyewitness testimony is scoffed at these days by modern man, and perhaps one eyewitness is unreliable.  Three eyewitnesses of the same event with the same testimony are more reliable.  Think of millions of eyewitnesses to something for over two millennia.  That's a lot of evidence.

The other aspect of faith in God is that it is not the same as faith in something else.  Faith in God is something of utmost importance.  I can't have faith in God on Sunday and then faith in the stock market on Monday.  God is not just one thing you spread your faith among.  Look at this passage in Isaiah:

In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. Because Aram—with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah—has plotted evil against you, saying, Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it; therefore thus says the Lord God:

It shall not stand,
   and it shall not come to pass. 
For the head of Aram is Damascus,
   and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
(Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered, no longer a people.) 
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
   and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you do not stand firm in faith,
   you shall not stand at all. (Isaiah 7:1-9)

Two kingdoms rise up against a third, and the first and the third are two kingdoms that used to be one.  It's like if your sibling turned against you.  The king of Judah and his people are terrified, but God, through Isaiah, tells him, "do not be afraid. This attack on you will not happen.  The two enemy kingdoms do not have faith in me.  They will fail to win against you.  You, too, must have faith in me, or you will not survive."  Faith in God is not something you just have on Sunday and then turn off.  Our very survival depends on it.  Our whole lives hinge on our belief in God.

What is God?  We're not going to even get into the Christian God at this point.  We will talk about the trinity next time, but for now, what is God?  I heard a conversation recently where someone was touting an atheist as being "so clever."  This atheist, when she was a child, asked her mother, "how did the world come to be?"  Her mother answered, "God made it."  The "clever" retort from the child was, "well, who made God?"  I wondered, what did the mother answer?  Apparently, she was stumped, and therein lies the problem with our modern Christians: they cannot answer a simplistic question like, "who made God?"  The question, "Who Made God," has been asked by children for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  It's such a common question that there is an actual book titled Who Made God that handles the most common questions asked by children and non-Christians about the faith.  Why can't we answer that question?

Anyone know the answer?  Who made God?  NO ONE MADE HIM!  God, by definition, is unmade.  God has no beginning and no end.  He is infinite, immortal.  To ask, "who made God," is the same as asking, "what is the last number in infinity?"  There is no last number in infinity.  Infinity, by definition, has no last number.  The definition of GOD is the unmade, first cause.

That second part of the definition is important, because there are many "gods" out there that may fit the belief of the believer.  For example, if you believe the universe is God, and there are many out there who do, then you are saying that you believe the universe has always been and always will be.  The universe is the unmade, first cause.  But then you get into tricky things.  The universe being the first cause means that creation is accidental, since the universe has no consciousness.  This gets weirder when you hear people say, "the universe is trying to tell me something," as if the universe can think.

We treat people like gods, but we shouldn't, because all people are created, and no one has no beginning or end.  We may be immortal, if we believe in Christ, but we still had a beginning.  So, God means, "the unmade first cause."  As Christians we build on that to mean creator and sustainer.  As fallen people, we also build on that to mean "savior."

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” (Acts 17:22-28)

In every culture there is the awareness of the creator God, put in their hearts by God himself.  Many missionaries have gone into unreached regions, where a tribe of people may worship ancestors  but when the creator God is mentioned, they respond in shushed whispers, "we don't talk about HIM."  Why?  Because he is unknowable.  The Incans, Aztecs, and Mayans all worshiped many gods, but all of them had that small untouched temple in the hills, where no one went, and that was to the creator God, who is unknowable, so don't bother.  God planted awareness of himself in the hearts of all, but he didn't plant specific knowledge of him there.  Knowledge of God comes through the revealed word.

Here is Paul in the same situation.  He is encountering the polytheistic Athenians.  Here, again, is the shrine to the unknown God, and Paul reveals to his listeners that he knows that God.  He is not tricking them.  He's not using an unknown shrine to his advantage.  That shrine IS for the creator God, and Paul is called to reveal that God to them.

Finally, remember this: God places this creed in our hearts.  We believe because God has called us to believe.  We believe in God, because God has revealed himself to us.  We do not seek God without his call. Next week, we will describe the God of the Bible, who is personal, relational, and trinitarian.