“I believe…” Such common, ordinary words. “I believe in myself.” “I believe in you.” “I believe the reports I’ve read.” “I believe the weather forecast.” “I believe…” rolls off our tongue and over our lips in so many ways.
And yet, as common and ordinary as these two words may be, when we say, “I believe in God,” they introduce the most important and profound matters of life and death. Jesus sent His disciples out with the announcement, “whoever BELIEVES and is baptized shall be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16). It doesn’t get any more important or profound than that.
And yet, to say “I believe in God…” is never to say enough. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, New Agers and Unitarians, those who identify as having no religious affiliation at all, also say, “I believe in God.”
And so, because there are countless numbers of ‘gods’ to which countless numbers of peoples confess, “I believe…” it is important to be able to clearly state the particular God whom you confess that you believe in. In fact, clearly stated enough so as clearly confess, “I believe in THIS God and not THAT one.” “This is the God in whom I place my full trust and confidence.” “I believe that THIS God and not THAT one can save me.”
The Apostles, the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds are the accepted standards among Christians by which the Christian says, “I believe in God.” Each one directs the Christian to accurately confess, “I believe in THIS God and not THAT one.”
Our focus during these five Wednesdays in Lent is on the Apostles Creed. And today we zoom in on the 1st Article – “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” And it’s right here, before we even get started, that we realize that it is near impossible to completely isolate our thoughts on one article to the exclusion of the other two.
First, to say, “I believe in God the Father…” is an expression of FAITH. And FAITH is a gift that is given by the Holy Spirit – the 3rd Article. So, no one says “I believe in God the Father,” unless the Holy Spirit has already been at work in him.
Second, you can’t confess “I believe in God the FATHER…” unless there is also a child. For apart from a child, there may be God but not “God the FATHER.” And so before we can get through the first six words of 1st Article, we’ve had to already have confessed the 2nd Article, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His Son…”
Am I suggesting that we ought to rearrange the order of the three articles of the Creed and confess the 3rd first and the 1st last? Of course not. But what I am suggesting is that as we begin our exploration of the Apostles Creed, we ought to be aware that we are entering into a mysterious realm that is fathomless in its widths and depths and heights. And so we begin this exploration in wonder and awe and deep reverence, knowing that we are entering into the very holy of holies where the glory of the one, true God will ultimately swallow us up.
God as Father.
When we say, “I believe in God the Father…” we are not only saying that God is the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but that He is also the Father of all who dare to speak these words in sincerity and in truth. To say, “I believe in God the Father…” is an important and profound confession of who we believe God IS and who we believe God IS NOT.
Before we acknowledge anything that God DOES or HAS DONE, we confess that to call THIS God, MY God, involves us in a RELATIONSHIIP with God. He is Father. And as we’ve said, since there can be no concept of Father unless there are children, we who say “I believe” in THIS God also say, ‘I am His child.’ ‘I am a child of THIS God.’ ‘THIS God is MY Father.’
When Jesus teaches us how to pray, He tells us to address God in just this way. “When you pray say, ‘Our Father…’” St. Paul reminds us of the incredible status that is bestowed on us here. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back in to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Rom. 8:15).
So when we confess, “I believe in God the Father…” we are also saying something very important and profound ABOUT OURSELVES. We are confessing who we believe WE are with respect to God. We are not OBJECTS that God uses for His purpose and tosses away when He’s done with or gets rid of us when we no longer serve His purposes. As Paul says, we are not ‘slaves.’
Nor is He a God who is far removed from the cares and concerns of my day to day life, unmoved by my fears and sorrows, or my joys and pleasures. He is NOT an impersonal spirit or force. He is ‘my Father’ and I am ‘His child.’
Luther captures the profound depth of the opening words of the Apostles Creed in his explanation to the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven…” “By these words, God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, that we may, with all boldness and confidence, ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”
God as almighty father.
He is our “dear Father,” who is also our ‘ALMIGHTY Father.’ Let this word ‘almighty’ sink in deeply, because it speaks to the profound depth and height of the comfort we who confess this God to be ‘Father’ are blessed to have.
The only way that we can even begin to comprehend the nature of God as our Father is through the earthly institution of ‘fatherhood.’ When earthly fathers are at their best, they love their children and that love compels them to strive to do all that they can to provide all that their children need. But earthly fathers are not always at their best. And even when they are, there are some things that they simply do not have the power to both provide for and protect their children as they would like to.
But when we say, “I believe in God the Father, ALMIGHTY…” we are confessing that in THIS GOD and not THAT god, we have a FATHER who has all the power necessary to provide and protect His dear children – even the power to rescue us from every trouble and danger and temptation – and even death itself.
God as maker.
“I believe in God the Father, almighty, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.”
The confession that God is ‘maker of heaven and earth’ is tightly wrapped together with God the Father, almighty. That is to say, we make a big mistake when we separate God as Father from God as Maker. There is a reason that there is no “AND” between “God the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The two statements belong together in a perfect harmony with each other. THIS God is not ‘maker of heaven and earth’ solely for the sake of ‘making heaven and earth.’ It is as ‘Father, almighty,’ with regard for providing for His dear children, that He is ‘maker of heaven and earth.’
Over the course of six days, He ‘made’ all that His dear children would ever need, not only to live, but to flourish. And only AFTER He had made the heavens and the earth did He make man in His image. As loving Father, He brings children into this world. As almighty maker, He provides His children with all that they need for this body and life. And he still takes care of them.
THIS is the God in whom we believe and not THAT God, of whom it is confessed that that the heavens and the earth are NOT the product of His power, and human life is merely the accidental product of random mutations and evolutionary processes, and with whom God has no relationship, let alone that of Father.
Before we conclude, we want to come back to the first words which we speak – ‘I believe…’ Of all that follows these two words we can be absolutely certain. “God is Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” This is the ‘OBJECTIVE’ truth taken directly from God Word, the Holy Scriptures which is absolutely true because it is God’s Word – and God is truth.
But when we say, ‘I believe…’ we are not standing on the same, solid ground, are we? In fact, when we say ‘I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth,’ our confession of faith is actually much more like a prayer for help – for we do not believe as we should. In his Large Catechism, Luther writes, “If we really believed this article of the Christian faith, it would humble and terrify us all.”
Just consider how we actually use this body which God our Father has made for us. How we use our eyes, our ears, our reason, our senses in ways that neither confess that God has really given them all to me nor that I am to use them in thankfulness and praise of my Father. Consider how we regard the body of others which God our Father has made for them. No one should be as morally responsible for the physical welfare of the human body – at every stage of life from conception even to the way it is treated at death as the Christian – because the One who made that body is our God, our Father almighty. And this is how dear children demonstrate their love for their dear Father.
Consider also the ways in which we care for all that God has made for our body and life in this world – the air and water and earth – the environment. No one should be as environmentally responsible as the Christian – not only because our neighbor depends on our management of natural resources and science and industry and medicine, but because the One who made it all for His dear children is our dear Father. And this is how dear children demonstrate their love for their dear Father.
And so, to confess, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth” is also to pray, “Father forgive me my sins and help me to be a better child of yours.”
I’ll gladly give Luther the last word here. In his Large Catechism, he writes, “We should daily work at this article and impress it upon ourselves. Every time we see or experience anything good, we should realize that this is a gift and act of God the Father almighty. He does all this for us so that we may look into His fatherly heart and sense how boundlessly He loves us. If we understood this as we should, it would warm our hearts, setting them aglow with thankfulness toward God and give us the desire to use all these good things to His praise and glory.” (LC. p.70)