READ : Matthew 7:7-11
A lot of people today approach their religious faith the way an adventurous cook operates in the kitchen – with a strong desire to experiment and come up with a unique personal recipe. But Christians are not free to make up their own beliefs. We have a creed. We confess a faith that is held in common by all true Christians of all times and places. David Bast explores this common faith in a series of programs based on the Apostles’ Creed entitled “What We Believe.”
The oldest summary of the Christian faith outside the Bible is the Apostles’ Creed. It begins with this statement: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” The God in whom Christians believe is the eternal, all-powerful creator of heaven and earth. He made the universe out of nothing. God alone exists independently. Everything else comes from him. As Genesis says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
God the Father Almighty
But most people in the world believe in God the Creator. Though many today engage in a debate over evolution and its wide acceptance in the academic community, evolution does not provide answers to our ultimate questions. Even if it were true evolution could not tell us how the world began, or explain where the universe came from. The majority of us, whatever our background and education, look at the beauty, order and glory of the created universe and conclude that there must be a God. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” exclaims the psalmist, “and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). It just doesn’t make sense to think that all this came from nothing, by accident, with no rhyme or reason to it, no cause, no purpose, no destiny, no end.
But believing in a God who is the wise and powerful Creator of the universe is just the beginning for Christians. The Apostles’ Creed starts by saying forthrightly, “I believe in God.” But then it immediately adds two more descriptive words. They are “Father” and “Almighty.” And it is in those two words, and especially in their combination, their pairing, that our true faith in God is expressed. He isn’t just the Almighty, all powerful and omnipotent. He is also our Father, which is to say all-loving, all-gracious, all-good.
Do you know the little prayer that begins, “God is great and God is good.” Maybe you learned that as a child, but haven’t thought of it for years. Yet this simplest of all prayers is exactly what we as Christians confess we believe about God. God is both great – sovereign, totally in control, almighty and good – the gracious and kind heavenly Father. The two parts of our confession must always be kept together. We never say that God is Almighty without remembering that he is also our loving Father. We never say he is our Father without also affirming his sovereign power and control.
The Problem of Evil
Of course, it’s one thing to say you believe in the Creator because of the evidence of his design and work in the world. Most people can get that far just by looking at nature. They can accept Genesis 1 because it’s the best explanation of where everything, including us, came from. But to be able to say that this almighty Creator is also our loving heavenly Father – well, sometimes that isn’t easy. When tough times come it takes real faith to keep on confessing that God is both great and good. Something bad happens, and we wonder: If God is great, why did he allow that? And if God is good, how could he allow it?
Here is the problem with our confession of faith. If there is a God such as the one we Christians believe in, then why is the world the way it is? Why do people who don’t deserve it suffer in so many terrible ways? Why does a God who is both great and good – God the Father Almighty – not prevent disasters, heal diseases and bless his children with happiness? Why is our world filled with hurricanes and heart attacks, cancer and car crashes? How in the world can God permit these kinds of things to happen? And since they do happen, could it be that there is no God in the world after all? Does God even exist? Is he powerless to prevent tragedy? Or even more to the point: if there is such a God as our faith confesses, then why is my life the way it is? Why do I struggle with so many problems? Is God indifferent to my tears and cries – a cold, distant, impersonal power to whom our prayers are useless?
You recall the story of Job. Job was an important man, with enormous wealth and a large family. Job was not only the greatest man of his time, he was the most godly and righteous as well. And then came a day when Job lost everything. The messengers visited him, one after another, each with worse news than the one before. The reports of loss fell like hammer blows on Job’s defenseless head. “It’s all gone, Job,” they told him. “Your flocks and your herds, your servants and your goods, your daughters and your sons.” Overnight Job went from being on top of the world to sitting in the ashes, scraping his sores and crying out to God in his pain. And he cried our very question: “God, why have you done this?”
But Job refused to accept the “easy” answer that God hadn’t done this. When he lost everything, his first response was to bow his head in worship and say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). As far as Job was concerned, it was God who was behind everything – not the storm, not the devil, not the enemy, but God. Sometimes we try to help God with his reputation by putting distance between God and the tragedies of life. God is not responsible for that, we say, as if he were just another horrified bystander standing on the sidewalk, gaping at a wreck. But the one thing Job won’t do is to believe or say that somehow God is less than fully God.
The Father of Jesus
Job is a magnificent example of the faith that refuses to give up either of the truths we confess about God. God is great and God is good. But Job isn’t the best example of this in the Bible. There’s an even better one who comes much later and is much greater. The one thing Job can’t do for us is to tell us the whole story, because, of course, he lived B.C. It is Jesus Christ who is the ultimate proof and demonstration that God is the Father Almighty. As Christians we come to know the Almighty God as our heavenly Father only in and through Jesus Christ. When Jesus came into our world, he brought an entirely new understanding of God to his followers. Jesus always called God “Father,” implying a unique relationship with him. In John 5 we read that people wanted to kill Jesus not only for healing on the sabbath day, but, John writes, because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
And Jesus taught us to call God Father as well, though we’re far from equal with him. One day his disciples came to Jesus with a request: “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus responded, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven . . .'” (Luke 11:1). On another occasion he urged his disciples to pray with confidence, arguing by analogy with human fatherhood. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
But Jesus does much more than simply teach us that we should think and speak of God as Father. By his sacrifice for us he restores us to a personal relationship with God and a place in God’s family. He shares his Sonship with us so that we can truly and fully become God’s children. We are God’s adopted sons and daughters. And Jesus gives us his Spirit, who enables us to call God “Father” even in the midst of grief and pain. “You have received the Spirit of adoption,” the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, “by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17).
Believing in God the Father Almighty does not exempt us from trouble and pain any more than it did Jesus. Our Father knows how to give us all the “good things” we pray for, but he always reserves the right to do so in his own time and way. Meanwhile, for those who follow the Jesus’ way there is suffering before glory. In his wonderful book on the cross of Christ John Stott wrote, “I could never believe in God in a world like this if it were not for the cross.” The cross is not only the instrument of our salvation, it is the reminder that God has identified with us in our suffering, that he knows what our life is like from the inside. Beethoven’s gargantuan Ninth Symphony climaxes with a choral setting of the poet Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” in which the poet speaks of “the dear Father who must live above the starry skies.” But this is not the Christian God, the Almighty Father whom we confess. As the German evangelical preacher Helmut Thielicke said, “The Father I believe in does not dwell above the starry sky . . . He was in a man, who laughed and wept as you and I, who was tempted and despaired as you and I, who was assaulted by meaninglessness as you and I . . . and who was shaken by the pangs of death as one day they will shake us.”
On the cross Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). He knew what it was to suffer doubt and even despair. But his last words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). May they be your last words as well – and mine.