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A Declaration of Dependence

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 15 Feb 2018

Lee Gatiss looks at the first line of the Apostle’s Creed, our declaration of dependence. This is part of our Lent series: Believing, Living, Praying, looking at the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty

If you type “I believe” into Google, it helpfully suggests various ways to complete that sentence. “I believe I can fly” is the top suggestion, closely followed by belief in Father Christmas, miracles, and love. Magic, ghosts, unicorns, and angels are not far from the top either. Is this what belief is, in the twenty-first century — a yearning, a wish, for anything beyond the ordinary, something which may even be entirely fictional? And does that matter, as long as it gives me a warm, happy glow to believe it?

A declaration of dependence
The first line of the Apostles’ Creed is not an expression of wishful thinking. Rather, it is a declaration of dependence on the God who is truly there. It says I believe in God — not in myself and my abilities; not in chance or fate or the blind forces of nature. I believe in God the Father, who also has a Son and a Spirit, mentioned later — a specific God, a Trinitarian God.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, who can do anything that he wants to do — whether I believe in him or not! He will accomplish everything he sets out to do. I depend on this God for my existence, my sustenance, and my salvation. Without him I wouldn’t be here at all, and if I get to take another breath it is all because of him. I owe my place, in this creation and the next, to him alone.

Belief and balance
This belief I am declaring is relational, not merely informational. It’s not just about what I believe in my head but what I balance my life on.

So it is an intellectual faith I am confessing in the Creed. I start by saying that all my thoughts begin with an Almighty Father God, and about how everything somehow relates to him. My credo is not something I strap on every Sunday but can easily jettison when I work, rest, or play. Its something that goes with me everywhere and informs all I do and say and long for.

But it is also a personal faith. Being a Christian is not ultimately an ideology or a philosophy, but a relationship to a Father, from whom I draw comfort, strength, acceptance, love, identity, security, and hope. He is a Father I can believe in, and entrust myself to with confidence. People may disappoint, but because he is almighty, God will never let me down.

A privileged relationship

God the Father is first and foremost a Father in his relationship to God the Son. He is not ‘male’ as opposed to female. For a start, he is “without body” as Article 1 of the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles puts it, a spirit without sex as we physical mortals understand it. However, Christians have always spoken of God as “the Father”, because this is his relation to the Son within the godhead, and the name he himself chooses, revealed to us in Scripture. It is not about his relationship to us, primarily, but his eternal relationship to another person in the Trinity.

God is our Lord, creator, judge, refuge. And he becomes our Father, when we are born again by his grace and he gives us the special privilege of becoming children of God (John 1:12). He is first and foremost the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3). But Jesus himself teaches us to pray to God as “Our Father…” He is not our Uncle, our Mother, or our Pet. He wants to be known as Father.

So in the Creed we take that intimate name upon our lips and dare to say we believe and trust in him. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us,” the Apostle John rejoiced, “that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). It is an immense privilege to call him Father.

Questions for reflection:

1. What does it mean for us that God is our Father, as well as the eternal Father?
2. What difference does it make to know that God is Almighty?
3. Why do some people find it difficult to acknowledge their dependence on God?

Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, you are unchanging and all powerful: renew us by your Spirit and inspire us with your love, that we may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent, and in whose name we pray. Amen.

Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society

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