ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
I BELIEVE …
In this “Occasional Paper” I want to try and summarise what I believe Christianity is all about. You may not agree with everything, because this is my personal statement, yet if you do disagree please think through why you disagree and what your reasons are. Remember what St. Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15).
- I believe that there is a God. This is surely the most fundamental fact of all! If it isn’t true we can close every church and chapel in the land and go shopping every Sunday! However I cannot believe that everything we see around us is a “fortuitous collection of atoms.” I can still believe in God and in the scientific ideas of the “Big Bang”, the Darwinian ideas of evolution and the long eras of geological time. Why God chose to do things that way, I do not know, but He did.
Now that brings me to a very important point. We do not know all that God knows and we never shall. We are not God’s equals but His little children. Some things He has graciously revealed to us, others He keeps under wraps, maybe during our human lives, maybe for ever. We are finite, God is infinite.
- I believe that God is good. gt; There is something instinctive (i.e. God-planted) in all human beings that appreciates good things – the natural world where it is untainted by human activity, the noble deed of a brave man or woman, the genuine skill of an athlete. Surely we appreciate the good because God, who is pure goodness, made the world and us that way.
Whatever we make of the first chapter of Genesis, I believe we can underline two things, (a) “In the beginning God…” (verse 1) and (b) “And God saw that it was good” (verses 10,12,18,21,25,31).
- I believe that God’s good world has been corrupted. We only have to look around us to see the truth of this statement. We are constantly bombarded by news of crime, of selfishness, of tragic accidents and of natural disasters. Our natural reaction is surely to say, “If God is good, how can bad things happen?” I believe that all this evil is down to human sin. Now I have always been careful to say that Mr (or Mrs) X does not suffer necessarily because Mr (or Mrs) X has done something wrong, but I do believe that Mr (or Mrs) X suffers because someone, somewhere has done wrong. Sin pervades this world, spoils it and the folk in it.
I also believe that the devil, maybe a fallen, rebellious angel, delights in all this evil and does everything he can to make it more widespread while he has the opportunity – because in due time he will be brought to account before the throne of God.
- I believe that God has had to permit evil. That may seem a strange thing to say. Surely, if we believe in a good God, He could have created a world without the possibility of evil for us to live in. Yes, He could! However, if God had chosen to do this, we should cease to be human beings, reduced to robots, unable to think for ourselves. Surely one of the great gifts of the Creator to humanity was the ability to choose – to choose for or against God. Those who cannot choose cannot really love (or hate). God loves us and wants us to freely love Him, not because we have to, but because we want to. I believe that this is the hinge upon which nearly everything else turns.
- I believe that God is holy. When Isaiah was given his great vision of God and commissioned as His prophet, he heard the call of the seraphs (heavenly beings), “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty,” (Isaiah 6:3) echoing through the temple. God is holy in that He has an awesome majesty and in that He is absolutely pure (1 John 1:5). So how can a holy God, who is untainted by evil, have loving contact with human beings, every one of whom is stained by sin and evil? This is the question Christianity sets out to answer because Jesus Christ is God’s solution to the problem.
- I believe that people were unprepared for God to act. The whole story contained in the Old Testament is that God chose a people, the Israelites, to whom He would gradually reveal Himself and who were charged to pass on what they had learnt to the rest of the world (Genesis 12:1-3). This they failed to do. They could not even follow God’s ways themselves, turning to the false gods of the surrounding nations (e.g. 1 Kings 11:5,6). What little they did know of God they tended to keep to themselves.
So when Jesus came He faced a very mixed reaction. Sometimes He was welcomed, even enthusiastically (Matthew 21:1-11), at other times people wanted to kill Him (John 8:59). In the end the authorities persuaded their Roman rulers to do their evil work and Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary. So what had changed?
- I believe that Jesus was sent by His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the major things that Jesus revealed was that our limited minds (see 1 above) would get a better picture of God if we saw Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet just one God. Now this doctrine of the Trinity is one that we can never fully understand – because we are human and not divine – but we have to believe that the Father is God, Jesus (the Son) is God and the Holy Spirit is God, yet there is only one God, at least in the sense that the Three always act in perfect unity.
So, when Jesus came to this earth, born of Mary, He was truly a man but also truly God. Thus the One who was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1), who grew up in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23) and who walked all over the surrounding region was God. It took a while for even those who were closest to Him to realise that this was the case, but in the end they got there (John 20:28).
- I believe that Jesus came to teach, to heal and to die. Each of the four gospels record some of what Jesus taught (John 21:25), and some of the miraculous healings that He performed, including three cases of resuscitating the dead (The widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-56) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44)). However each of the gospels devotes a major proportion of its space to the last week of Jesus’ life and His crucifixion. Indeed, long before this last week, Jesus had warned His followers of what was going to happen (e.g. Luke 9:22). This suggests that while the teaching of Jesus was vitally important, and His power was manifested by the miracles He performed, the most important thing about this God-man was that He came to this earth knowing that He would die a horrific death. He also knew that this death would be through the scheming of those who should have bowed in homage to welcome Him.
- I believe that Jesus came to die on behalf of us and in our place. The problem, as I stated above (see 5 above) is the gulf that exists between a holy God and sinful human beings. That is every human being without exception (other than Jesus Himself) (Romans 3:23). Even the Jewish leaders (who c onsidered themselves righteous) had to slink away when Jesus challenged, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone…” (John 8:7). Yet God wanted to bridge that gulf. The penalty for sin was death (Romans 6:23), death in the sense of permanent separation from life with God. So God decided that the penalty would be born by Jesus. Never think, however that the Father forced His Son against His Son’s will. The “plan” was made in the counsels of the Godhead, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit in complete unanimity as to what had to be done. Jesus knew what He was doing (e.g. John 10:11), that He had come to lay down His life for all who would respond to His love and accept what He had done. He willingly took the burden of our sins on His own back so that we might be seen as clean and acceptable by the Father. To all of this, the Holy Spirit has born witness all down the ages since Christ died.
- I believe that the Father set His seal on this by raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is an event without parallel in the history of the world and is of supreme importance (1 Corinthians 15:14). If there was no resurrection, there is no Christianity. By the resurrection, witnessed by the disciples and many others (1 Corinthians 15:4-8), the Father showed that the “plan” had been fulfilled. There was now a way, by which sinful human beings, cleansed, as a result of repenting and believing in Jesus, could live in fellowship with God. If Jesus had not been raised we would never have known if we were saved or not, whether good or bad had triumphed, or whether God or the devil was the greater. However, praise be to God, Jesus was raised, we are saved, good has won, the devil is defeated. Without Easter day, “Good” Friday could never be called “Good.”
- I believe that Jesus ascended to heaven. After Jesus had been raised from the dead and revealed Himself to His friends, convincing them of the truth of His resurrection and giving them their last instructions, He returned to His Father in heaven (Acts 1:9). However this does not mean that He lost interest in His people, on the contrary He is ready to welcome each of His followers as they come to the end of their earthly lives (Acts 7:56,59), and He also prays for each one of us while we prepare to be with Him (Hebrews 7:25).
- I believe that Jesus offers eternal life to all. What Jesus did on the cross was enough to deal with all the sins of all the people of the world (1 John 2:2). The same point is made by perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, by the use of the word “whoever.” Yet while eternal life (i.e. life in harmony with God now and in heaven) is available to all, because of the gift of choice (see 4 above), sadly many refuse to consider it, or, having considered it, reject God’s offer. The offer has to be personally accepted, it is not automatic!
- I believe that God has work for each of His followers to do. Good works by themselves do not make up for our sins, yet, having been forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are expected to serve Him. Each of us has a different job to do, be it priest or caretaker, reader or visitor, prayer leading or coffee making – each has its place and each is valuable. Quite simply God needs a whole variety of tasks to be performed for the progress of His kingdom.
- I believe that we are moving to a climax. This planet , isolated in space, has, I believe, a finite life. Astronomers tell us that in years to come (many, many years that is) we will be roasted or swallowed by an expanding sun. Yet, I believe, God has a better plan. Jesus will return (Acts 1:11) to bring an end to this present system. He will lead a new “system”, an eternal one, where those members of the human race who have made their allegiance to Jesus Christ through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, will live in unblemished fellowship with the Father, experiencing joy rarely known upon this earth at present. We are told few details about what is to come, but we can rest assured that it will be simply wonderful.
ALL THIS I BELIEVE, WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.