Creed: How Do You Picture God?
- Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Editor's Note: Creed is an ongoing series that discusses the core beliefs of Christianity as expressed in the Apostle's and Nicene creeds. Links to the other articles are listed at the end of this installment.
When I was a little girl—probably in the fifth grade or so—my Sunday school teacher asked our class a very important question: What do you ‘picture’ when you think of God?
I can still see the group of us sitting there. The oblong room was bright with sunlight pouring through the wall of windows facing north. The opposite wall was decorated with a morning’s worth of construction paper arts and crafts (fifth graders in those days weren’t as savvy as today). Young boys and girls sat obediently around a long fold-out table; the boys wearing dark slacks, white shirts and clip-on ties, and the girls wearing frou-frou dresses, Mary Janes, and frilly socks.
I don’t remember what I said when it came my turn to answer. But I do distinctly remember Molly’s reply. “I always thought that God,” she said, “looked like a giant squirrel with a big fluffy tail.” Then her brow furrowed. “But now that I’m grown up, I’m not so sure.”
Well, Molly…now we really are grown up…and I can honestly say most of us still have a “giant squirrel” mentality when it comes to God.
The Confusion of: In Whom We Believe….
I always hate it when I get two sides to the same story; especially during the years my husband and I were raising our children.
Anyone who has ever guided more than one child into adulthood can relate to the scene I’m about to describe. It’s a quiet Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day, with the “work week” behind you, you got caught up on the housework or the lawn work, according to your role in the family. The kids slept a little later today than on school days, slurped cereal as they watched cartoons, bringing a warm smile to your heart. Even the oldest of your bunch, nearly a teen, still gets a kick out of an hour with Bugs and Wile E. Coyote. Later, lunch is served—grilled cheese and chips—and then you shoo the little darlin’s outside. It’s your time.
Perhaps you’ve grabbed a few moments to read a book. Or stretch out on the sofa for a nap or your weekly fix of sports. Doesn’t matter. The point is…it’s quiet. It’s your time. Then, out of the blue, you hear the rumblings of unrest. You sit up, then venture out to determine if your supervision and authority is needed…and that’s when it hits you. The Civil War has come to your home.
“He hit me,” one says, to which the other replies, “She hit me first!” followed by “Did not!” and “Did so!”
And, as any good parent would do, you attempt to determine who is telling the truth. Or, like the majority of us, you simply say, “Both of you…go to your rooms.”
God the Father Almighty
Unlike when our children erupt in discord, when it comes to believing in God, we are not left with a choice. We cannot believe in “this part,” but not “that part.” We must believe in the totality of God or nothing at all.
But God is—quite simply—complex.
When I teach the Word of God at women’s retreats or behind the podium of a church and before it’s congregation somewhere, I am often heard to say the following, “It’s as simple and as complex as that.” God is both simple and complex and the things of God are both simple and complex. We cannot dismiss Him to His room. We must break down the parts in order to truly appreciate the whole.
The Apostle’s Creed begins with I believe in God the Father Almighty while the Nicene Creed changes the “I” to “We” and then adds the word “one.” We believe in one God the Father Almighty. With the changing of the first word, those who believe shift from individuals to part of a community.
Breaking Down the Parts
Oftentimes I hear this: “I believe in God and Jesus.” Well…uh…okay, I want to reply. “But, God is Jesus and Jesus is God.”
The problem, I think, is that the Father has been lumped into the God category by most of us and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are given some sort of separate identity. Or, to make that statement a bit simpler to understand, people will say “God, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” Almost as if there is God and then two other entities running around up there in that place we call Heaven.
God is a triune being. And don’t expect me to explain that to the fullest, I can only tell you that He is. Somewhat in the same way I am a daughter, a wife, and a mother. These titles are the parts of the whole, which is all of me.
The Creeds establish “God the Father” first. Believing in God the Father is the foundation to the remainder of the Creeds. To understand the Son and the Holy Spirit, one must first understand the Father of which they are a part, again somewhat in the same way that in order to understand me as a wife and mother you must first understand me as a daughter.
Who is the Father?
For many of us, those of us who were sired and brought up by loving men, coming to understand the “Fatherhood” of God is one of the most exciting, comforting, and drawing of moments. Personally, my earthly father was and will always be “Daddy.” He loved me beyond measure, provided well for our family, disciplined me when I misbehaved, and listened to me when I needed someone to talk things over with. Nobody and no one could give a hug like he does—it includes a quick scratching of the back. Around the neighborhood, he (like the other dads) was also known for building things for us kids to play with and on. I fondly recall a swing dangling from a rope that was secured high in a tree on one end and low on another tree at the other. Hours were spent climbing the first tree, slipping into the swing (which someone on the ground had to keep secure by another rope), and then sliding toward the second tree. It was like Six Flags come to Sylvania, Georgia.
But, for some, the term “daddy” doesn’t come with pleasant memories. I have friends—too many of them, to be honest with you—who cuss and spit (as Dr. Steve Brown would say) at the very thought of their earthly fathers. They tell me of beatings and cold approaches. They speak of men who abused and neglected or who just were not there at all. I heard one woman refer to her father as “the sperm donor,” and it made me want to cry. A youth pastor related to me that the majority of the teens in his youth group were “fatherless,” and that these were the ones who had the most difficulty understanding God’s love. They were also the ones who had rebelled to the nth degree, as well.
I think that, for the latter, understanding God the Father is of paramount in importance.
When Jesus walked among men, He referred to the Heavenly Father constantly. For the Jews of His day, this was a fairly new concept.
God as Father is mentioned rarely in the Old Testament, but when He is, He is referred to as the Father of Israel and the Father of certain individuals.
For example, when God spoke to Nathan the prophet concerning David the king, He said, “[David] is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him.” (2 Samuel 7:14)
Later, God spoke to King David concerning his son Solomon, who would take David’s place on the throne upon his father’s death. “Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.” (1 Chronicles 28:6)
When David’s dynasty fell, Ethan the Ezrahite’s maskil (or contemplation) can be found in Psalm 89. Within the lines of praise and lament are these words concerning David: “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure.” (vs. 26-29)
God the Father continues his covenant with David’s house by foretelling of the Messiah through the wise man (1 Kings 4:31) called Ethan the Ezrahite. And it was Messiah Jesus who brought about a new take on the Fatherhood of God with one word of endearment: Abba.
Next: The Abba of Jesus
BIO HERE (Janet, can you change my bio to: Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson is a recent graduate of Andersonville Theological Seminary. Her work includes Intimate Moments with God and Intimate Encounters with God (Cook). She is the author of Shadow of Dreams, Summon the Shadows and Shadow of Light. (Barbour Fiction) She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at www.evamarieeverson.com.)
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