By John Dickson
What is the Christian view of the world? I know some people at this point might say, 'Hang on, you Christians can't even work out what you believe. You've got so many different denominations! Get back to me when you can agree on something.'.
I get that. But there is one way of summarising the Christian view of things. It's the 83-word summary of the Christian faith called the Apostles' Creed, and all the brands of Christianity agree on this short statement. So it's a good way to summarize the Christian faith. It basically says three things in three stanzas: something about God, the father, something about the son (that's Jesus), and something about the Spirit. And I reckon it's a good way to understand the heart of the Christian faith and how it opens up visions for life.
Stuff isn't an accident. Human beings are not accidents. They are gifts to each other. They are brimming with significance.
The first thing it says is that, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth". That may sound like Theology 101, but basically it means that God is not a God within the creation. God is the source of heaven and earth, not part of heaven and earth. Many ancient people believed that the gods were actually just like superheroes - super beings - part of the creation. But the Jews and the Christians and the ancient Greek philosophers, like Aristotle, knew that there was a source behind the heavens and the earth. And that's the first idea of Christianity. God isn't like I don't know a magic wardrobe sitting in the house of creation somewhere waiting to be found. God is more like the architect. You don't find the architect in your attic or in the cupboard. That would be truly creepy. But the house speaks about the architect, the mind of the architect.
That's the first thing Christians believe. What it means is that life is brimming with the significance of a gift from a father, from the source of all things. Stuff isn't an accident. Human beings are not accidents. They are gifts to each other. They are brimming with significance. And I think what it also means is that it's possible to offend the giver. This idea of God being the creator of all things, underlies the Christian notion of sin. I know that's a bit of a dumb word nowadays, but basically it means to reject the giver while you're pursuing the gifts - ignoring the creator, but loving all the created bits. That is the great offense. And hence the massive emphasis in the Apostles' Creed on the second item of Christian belief: Jesus Christ. The creed goes on to say that, "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day He rose again from the dead..." And so on.
The first thing you notice when you get to this middle stanza of the Apostles' Creed is the massive emphasis on Jesus. 56 of the 83 words of this summary of Christianity are all about Jesus, and a huge portion of them focus just on the three days of Jesus' death and resurrection. The reason for that is that it's in the death and resurrection that human beings find forgiveness from God. We've offended the maker by pursuing made things. We've ignored the giver, while we've relished the gifts. But Christ enters the world, dies for us, takes our penalty out of the way, rises again and offers us mercy. The centre of the centre of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus and this animates life and leads to the entire ethical outlook of the Christian seeking to love others as we've been loved.
There is a third element of the Christian outlook on life. It's in the third stanza of the Creed. It says, "I believe in the Holy spirit, the Holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, Amen." This stanza begins the reference to the third person of the Trinity. Yes, early Christianity believed in a Trinity. And I know that messes with our heads. I wish the maths of God were simpler. Is God one, or is God three? And Christians have the temerity to say, "Yes, God is three persons, but he is one God." And as much as that is a mathematical problem, it actually answers a profound question about life, reality and relationships, because who did God love in eternity prior to the creation of homo sapiens? Was God only potentially love before he made human beings to love and be loved by?
No, the Trinity says that God is eternally a love relationship. One God, but three persons: father, son, and spirit. And it's out of this strange but beautiful idea of divine communion, that Christianity gets its massive emphasis on community, which is what those next lines of the Creed say about the Holy Catholic church and the communion of saints. This just means the community that God is creating to reflect his own internal love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. And this was certainly true in the ancient world when this Apostles' Creed was composed. Christianity was breathing fresh air of community in a world suffocating under the weight of hierarchy and inequality and violence. We saw that in the Undeceptions episode with Professor Teresa Morgan. But the Church is still expressing that community, that communion of saints, as we saw with atheist and Labor MP Andrew Leigh, who said in Episode 5, that the church is a key in Australia in building social capital. The Spirit does more than build community, though. He breeds life for eternity. That's why the last lines of the Creed, that we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Our culture avoids thought of death. Christianity doesn't. And Christianity says that the Spirit who breathes love and community amongst God's people now will also breathe life for eternity in the future.
That may sound all long winded, but as a summary of the Christian worldview, I think it's not bad. It's three thoughts that undergird the whole thing: the reality of God, the creator, and therefore the value of all created things. The history of Jesus, secondly, who died and rose so we would experience forgiveness and love; and the life of the spirit, now building us into a community, and then resurrecting us for eternity.