I Believe in One God, the Father Almighty – Part One & Two By Mark Shea: reblogged

I Believe in One God, the Father Almighty – Part One & Two

By Mark Shea

The very first thing we do as followers of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is believe and speak. The two go together like the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ. We say, “I believe” because we are taking personal ownership of a revelation we did not invent but which God, in his grace, has revealed to us.  God desires that we take that ownership and treasure it away in our hearts the way the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus’ first and greatest disciple, did when she “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). That sense of personal ownership was a particularly passionate (and costly) thing in the Church of the first three centuries because it could and did get you and everyone you knew and loved killed.

In antiquity, only two groups worshiped one God to the exclusion of all other gods:  Jews and Christians.  “All other gods” included the Divine Caesar, who demanded a pinch of ritual incense as a worship offering and a sign that you knuckled under to his Empire.  Jews generally got a pass from the Empire on this score because Romans had a policy of respecting ancient ancestral religions, including the religion of Israel and its God who commanded “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

But Christians were, in the words of Tertullian, “but of yesterday”.  They had just popped up a few years ago during the reign of Tiberius.  So the Romans regarded them with the same skepticism that moderns have for devotees of Scientology or some other newly minted sect and saw their refusal to worship Caesar as a combination of blasphemy and treason.  The result would be three centuries of sporadic Roman persecution of Christians, climaxing in the murderous Diocletianic persecution that ravaged the Church from 303 to 313 AD.

For their part, Christians took their cue from the Jewish prophets and spoke in dismissive terms of the “gods of the nations”. They said things about pagan gods that postmoderns would not at all find polite today.  Pagan cultic sacrifices were offered, said the apostle Paul, to “demons and not to God” (1 Corinthians 10:20), and were rejected by Christians in language that mirrors Jewish Scripture:

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;

their libations of blood I will not pour out

nor take their names upon my lips. (Ps 16:1–4)

In short, to become Christian was not merely to agree to worship the one God of Israel as a sort of “lifestyle choice”.  It was to renounce and reject the “gods of the nations” and to vigorously assert that there simply is no other god than the God of Israel.  There was a certain quality we might today call “punk” in the blunt aggressiveness of this profession.  But given the brutality to which this politically and economically powerless sect was subjected by their pagan neighbors (crucifixion, roasting on griddles, torn apart by beasts in the arena for public entertainment, etc.), it’s hard to blame them.  In the early Church, Christians saw themselves as the plucky Rebel Alliance vs. the Evil Empire that was trying to keep God himself from saving the world.

This meant not so much the Roman Empire as the cosmic world system that is “in the power of the Evil One” (1 John 5:19).  They saw themselves fighting, not against flesh and blood, but “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  And (this is important), they saw themselves fighting not with swords or violence but with what Paul called “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Corinthians 10:4) meaning prayer, sacrifice, and martyrdom.  So, for instance, one seer in the early Church would describe the fight against “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9) in this way: “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11).  These were not militants killing other people but martyrs offering themselves as Jesus had done.

So there was a ring of defiance in the assertion of belief in the One God because he himself had been an underdog and been crucified right along with his followers in the Person of his only Son, Jesus Christ.  They held aloft the Cross of Jesus as a kind of taunt against the powers of both Caesar and Satan, saying “Nothing you do can stop us because nothing you did could stop Jesus.  He has beaten death.  So bring it!  It will only lead to resurrection!”

The Creed is, therefore, both a joyful proclamation and a gauntlet thrown in defiance of the idols of this world: money, pleasure, power, and honor–and of the demonic powers who tempt us to abandon God and run after them as our sources of life and happiness.  As Paul says:

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35, 37-39)

This is why, when the time comes for the renewal of our baptismal promises (often when somebody else is being baptized) our communal confession of the Creed begins with the priest asking the community, “Do you reject Satan? (I do.) And all his works? (I do.) And all his empty promises? (I do.)” To believe is not a mere drift or a tendency: it is a decision and a choice in which we invest all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

ABOUT MARK SHEA

Mark Shea is an American author, blogger and all round Catholic savant whose writings have sometimes gotten him into trouble, but for all the right reasons. He blogs at Catholic and Enjoying It.

 

I believe in One God, the Father Almighty – :   by Mark Shea …{part 2}

By Mark Shea

I Believe

There are two interesting things to notice about these words of the Creed. The first is that the Creed makes not the slightest attempt at argument for the existence of one God. The Creed assumes that the person professing it has already done their homework or has, at the very least, made the choice to say, “I believe in order that I may understand.”

Those professing the Creed have already, by whatever route, come to the conviction that the things being professed are so. The person professing the Creed is not trying to persuade somebody else to believe what he believes. He is simply telling us that he believes it.

There is an old joke about the Southerner who was asked if he believed in infant baptism. He replied, “Believe in it? I have seen it done!”

This illustrates the way in which the Creed uses the word ‘believe’. ‘Believe’ here means more than merely affirming an abstract philosophical opinion about the existence of God. As we shall see presently, the Church does not even regard the mere existence of God as an article of faith. But to believe in “one God, the Father, the Almighty” does carry us into the arena of faith, since it moves us into the realm of personal relationship. Believing in that sense means entrusting one’s entire lifelock, stock, and barrelyour spouse, your kids, your health, your job, your hopes, fears, dreams, wounds, aspirations, loves, hates, talent, success, failures, heart, guts, and marrow and all the things you haven’t yet thought of into the hands of this personal God to order and dispose them for his glory and your ultimate salvation.

It is to give yourself entirely to God in the conviction that you are encountering not an abstract Ground of Being or First Cause, but a Father who loves you so much that while you were still dead in trespasses and sins, he gave his only Son to be crucified and raised for you. That will mean, ultimately, entrusting oneself into hands that had nails driven through them, lay dead in a tomb for three days, and were ultimately lifted up in unthinkable blessing when the risen Christ ascended into heaven to intercede for us at the right hand of the Father. But for now, we are focusing on the first clause of the Creed and the one God and Father Almighty who sent that Son to earth for us.

Belief arises from encounter

People arrive at the conviction that there is one God and Father through an enormous variety of routes. But what is notable is that belief in the one God usually comes, not through abstract philosophy, but through encounter. Two biblical examples will suffice to illustrate my point. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel wander from their relationship with God and, under pressure from the apostate royal house of Ahab, fall into the worship of cultic fertility deities called “Baals” who are supposed to promise healthy kids, good crops, fair weather, etc. So the prophet Elijah is sent to call Israel back. He does so, not by arranging a series of public lectures demonstrating the existence of God through philosophical argument, but this way:

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent to all the sons of Israel, and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.

Elijah and the prophets of Baal

Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let two bulls be given to us; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; and I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, and put no fire to it. And you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”

Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped about the altar which they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me”; and all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time. And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (1 Ki 18:17–39)

Similarly, in the New Testament, we see this scene unfold as Saul of Tarsus, freshly sent on his maiden apostolic mission by the Church at Antioch, walks straight into a scene of spiritual warfare before the astonished eyes of a pagan Roman:

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. (Ac 13:4–12)

These two stories illustrate in a dramatic way what is often experienced in much quieter ways in other lives: that encounter with the one God precedes rather than follows belief in or philosophical argument for the existence of the one God.

People are minding their own business, going about their lives, and God breaks in through one route or another. A neighbor comes to help during a protracted convalescence and their quiet faith moves the sick person to seek the God they worship. A child is adopted by a loving family and, through their witness, comes to believe in their God. A destitute family is helped to find a new life after a war by Christian charity. A formerly blind man with no training in philosophy or theology makes the eminently reasonable argument, “One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25). End Quotes

May God Guide and LEAD our Life Paths,

Patrick

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working4christtwo

I am an Informed and fully practicing Roman Catholic

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