Archbishop Rowans Williams gave a series of talks back in 2004 just before Easter in Canterbury Cathedral on the basics of the Christian faith. His talks were structured around the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Central to the Christian faith, Williams argues, is knowing who and what to trust. Once you settle on who and what to trust, only then can what the Creeds teach us about God, the world, and ourselves make any sense.
But here is the problem. We live in a culture that suffers from a crisis of trust. The evidence is all around us. We don’t trust the institutions of our society, our education system, health care services, police and the media – let alone our representatives in government. You just have to look to our neighbors to the south to see this is true. Consequently, trust feels risky and foolish.
Yet, trust is what the opening words of our Christians Creeds expect of us: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Now, the sort of trust we are talking about here is not the same as trusting there are UFOs or a Lock Ness Monster. When Jesus asked a blind man, he just cured whether he believes in the Son of Man, the point is not does the Son of Man exist, as if His existence has no existential impact on his life. Rather, Jesus wanted to know if the blind man is ready to trust the Son of Man – that is, Jesus in his role as representative of the human race before God. Therefore, when the blind man says ‘I believe’ he is trusting that Jesus will change his life. Whereas believing there are UFOs doesn’t make much of a difference in one’s life.
Ok but why should I put my trust in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth most especially if my trust will impact my life? On the surface we may have reason to feel rather distrustful toward God. Many of us assume God’s ‘agenda’ is hidden from us and a complete alien intelligence, remote and transcendent. That’s why we appeal to God’s mysterious ways when we can’t understand things (especially painful and shocking things).
But the bible teaches us of a very different God. It teaches us that we can trust the maker of heaven and earth because in the events around Jesus Christ, God has made his purpose and agenda known to us to know. The world He has created is meant to be a reconciled world, a world in which diverse communities can share a life together in the Church because they share the conviction that God has acted to set them free from fear and guilt that, not only keeps us apart from God, but also from each other. It’s the Church’s job to share and invite everyone to participate in God’s purpose for the world.
Now, this does not tells us what God is ‘like’. The answer cannot be found in the abstract as if we can somehow think our way to understand who God is. Instead, we learn who God is from what He does and therefore, nowhere is God absent, powerless or irrelevant. The bible puts before us stories of a God who gets his way by patiently struggling to make himself clear to human beings, to make his love real to them, especially when they seem to not want to know, or want to avoid him and retreat into their own fantasies about Him. And the bible does this by telling stories from a human point of view, someone like Abraham, Moses, and David. What we learn in these stories of these human interactions with God, is how they bit by bit discover that God really can be trusted to do the right thing. Moreover, these stories tach us that God is trustworthy because he sticks with sinful, often stupid people, as He promised He would do from the beginning of time.
If I stopped here in my argument for trusting God, I would be failing you. There are a few who have come into a personal, living faith in God as a result of argument (C.S. Lewis comes to mind). But only a few. St. Ambrose said many centuries ago, it did not suit God to save his people by arguments. The bible has no arguments for the existence of God. In fact, the bible, yes contains comfortable and reassuring things about belief and trust. But it also talks about the appalling cost of letting God come near you and trying to trust Him. Just read the Book of Job in Old Testament and you’ll see what I mean.
For most Christians, trust in God starts from a sense that we believe in God. In other words, that we trust in certain kinds of people who take responsibility for their belief in God. We learn to trust in God from trusting in certain kinds of people whose lives we want to live. Faith has a lot to do with the simple fact that there are trustworthy lives to be seen, that we can see in some believing people a world we’d like to live in.
I know this is true from personal experience. What led me to consider and eventually trust in the God of the Gospel were other Christians whose lives – that looked very different from mine at the time – I wanted to live in. It was not their arguments for God, or their biblical knowledge that attracted me. In fact, that only intimidated me. It was that these Christians had somehow become responsible for God, thus making a connection for me with God in the way they committed their lives to Him that argument and speculation could not make.
It puts quite a responsibility on believing people, of course if this is true. It would be much nicer and easier for all of us if we could just rely on arguments, not on the uncertainties of human lives. Nevertheless, the remarkable fact remains, that ALL (not just clergy), believers have this response-ability, or ability to response to God’s call to witness to His trustworthiness. That is what we are called to be as God’s people at St. John’s, Portsmouth.