July 2019

Heads or hearts?

Let me use the privacy of these pages to make a gentle personal confession. I have issues with church creeds - the statements of what we believe that form an omnipresent part of so many services. And my issues are three-fold. I have issues with what they leave out: they have bold statements about the nature of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, but in the section about God the Son, they pass straight from Jesus’s birth to his passion, leaving out all of his ministry, his teaching, his healing, his acts and his dealings with people, as if, from the point of view of developing our faith and understanding, such things are utterly irrelevant. I have issues with what they include: they all say that the risen Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead: yet Jesus in his lifetime said more than once that he has not come to judge the world but so that the world through him might be saved. So where did all this about judging come from? It has at best been a convenient hook for inadequate parents, teachers and  priests over the years. The creeds also talk about Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary, whereas the word ‘Virgin’ is an iffy English translation of an iffy Latin translation of a Greek translation of a Hebrew word in one verse of the prophet Isaiah - but a voice in my head is telling me that this might be a hornets nest best left unprodded.

But my main issue with the creeds is the impression they can so easily give that what is important in being a Christian is what one believes and understands: that following Christ is primarily an exercise involving the head. But I don’t believe that. Yes, you need a level of understanding about the nature of God and the ministry of Jesus, but you don’t need to take that too far to realise that the Christian life is all about relationships. God is all about relationships. We have recently marked - celebrated might too strong a word - Trinity Sunday. It is a day when preachers have notoriously wasted their and other people’s time waffling on about three-leaf clovers and the like to try to explain what three-in-one and one-in-three might mean, but the important thing about the Trinity is not its incomprehensible members, but their relationship - a relationship of dynamic love. And it is vital that there are three in that relationship. A loving relationship between two can be exclusive. But the Trinity is never exclusive. It is a dynamic loving relationship which we are all invited to share, regardless of who or what we might be. But sharing in it is, of course, active. It involves also being dynamic and loving, not feeling smug or self-satisfied or able to judge or criticise others. It involves sharing in God the Father’s creative love by using our gifts creatively for the good of others; it involves sharing in God the Son’s compassionate love by being loving, forgiving and compassionate at all times; it involves sharing in God the Holy Spirit’s life-enhancing love by making other people’s lives richer and fuller. It involves the heart rather than the head.

Christian faith is not difficult to understand. It is centred on a God who gives himself lovingly to us, and asks us to give ourselves lovingly to others. If you find sticking to the creeds easier, I might gently and, I hope, lovingly ask why exactly you think that Jesus gave himself lovingly to us, if not to provide us with a model which we might, inadequately, follow.