Today, we return to our consideration of the Apostles’ Creed. Personally, I’m glad to do so. No one can claim with honesty, whether the result of the referendum declared in the early hours of Friday morning pleased you or not, that we, as a country, are entering anything other than a period of uncertainty and, potentially, turmoil. So it is good to return to matters which are much deeper than politics, matters which are eternal, matters which ground us in the one God who will never fail us.
So far, we have considered the nature of belief, the origins and purposes of creeds in general and the Apostles’ Creed in particular, and thought a bit about what is meant by referring to God as both Father, and as Almighty. We have seen how important the idea of God being in relationship is within the Christian faith. Primarily there is the relational nature of God himself who is, at the same time, both one and three, the three persons of God. Perhaps you might want to think more of three personalities of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – existing in a unity of love. That God is love is the key to understanding, as far as we are able, who and what God is.
That relational nature of God is seen both in his fatherhood, in the eternal embrace in which he holds us, and in the sense that the word “Almighty” conveys of God being the ruler of all things. In order to rule, a ruler has to be in touch with, in relation with those ruled. No ruler is more in touch with the ruled than God is with his creation. His relationship with his creation is one of perfect love. God not only determines what is best for creation, but wills it to be so.
The next phrase of the Creed opens up for us the opportunity to explore the relationship of God with creation a bit more deeply. The Creed doesn’t spend much time on the first person of the Trinity, God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. That’s all it says, picking out just three things to say – Father, Almighty and Creator. It would be a mistake, though, to think of God the Father only as creator, as if his work was done when creation was finished. For a start, creation is not finished and second, we must not separate in any way the First Person of the Trinity from the Second and the Third.
But of all the attributes of God the Father, those who formulated the creed picked out ‘creator of heaven and earth’ as the most important. If you are to say one thing about the First Person of the Trinity, this is it.
As is so often the case with the Apostles’ Creed, it borrows biblical language for this clause. Our Scriptures open with an account, actually two accounts, of God engaged in creating. It is through the act of creation that there is anything at all and, more significantly, anything with whom God can relate. Without creation, there would be no object for God’s love, and nothing to love God in return. Scripture tells us that it is not only we whom God loves and who love God. The loving relationship with the divine encompasses all things, even those which we consider inanimate, but which God in his wisdom and mercy has also created.
We may be used to thinking in global terms, and even know a little of what is beyond this planet, and we have also been thoroughly schooled in thinking of there being only one God, and rightly so. But in terms of the history of religious thought, the idea that there is only one God has been by no means dominant. A few weeks ago we remembered Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal. In his day, many people believed in a choice of gods. They believed that there were different gods for different tribes and peoples, different gods for different things, like gods for rivers, mountains and trees.
The Christian faith, as expressed in the creeds and in Scripture, not least in the First Commandment, contradicts these claims. It asserts that there is only one God, that God is universal, that the God we worship is no local deity but the God of all places and times, the God of every people. The phrase, heaven and earth, was chosen to refer to the whole created reality. The Nicene Creed adds to it, saying that God is the maker of “all things, seen and unseen”. This is one of those points when we need to be more aware of the thought world of those who wrote these words. We probably have different notions of what is unseen. To us, it maybe things at the atomic and subatomic level, or things beyond the reach of astronomers’ telescopes. Maybe we could also mean things which have reality but no physical form, like thoughts and feelings and emotions. But when these words were formulated, most probably people were referring to the realm of the spirits. I would suggest that heaven and earth, things seen and unseen, can include all of these things, that neither interpretation is superior. Rather its points to the facts that religion and faith are not replaced by other forms of understanding, but are complemented by them.
But humanity is in a privileged position, because we have a particular awareness of creation and our place in it. When we confess God as creator, that puts us in context. Faith is not just about us and our relationship with God but about our place among all creation and our relationship with all else that God has created.
Again, many centuries ago, people would have taken a different view of this from us. We have a heightened understanding that our actions can have a very serious effect on the rest of creation. More than ever before, seeing ourselves as part of what God has made places responsibility upon us to join with God in loving care for all that is around us. Confessing that God is the creator, and therefore that all God creates belongs to God, reminds us that creation is not our domain and that we cannot and must not measure the worth of the world purely in terms of its value to humanity. Creation derives its value because it is divinely made, not through some measure of usefulness.
This takes us back to the idea of being in relationship. We know that, as creatures, we humans cannot be wholly independent of one another. It is a relationship which, for God, is entirely voluntary. God did not have to create. God did so entirely through grace, to which creation itself bears eloquent witness.
These few words, ‘creator of heaven and earth’, offer just the tiniest hint of the riches and glories of faith. They are about God, about creation and about us. That we confess God as creator expresses the belief that, as we are in creation, so we are in God. We too are at the heart of the love which is God.