Recently, I was talking to some people at a wedding. One friendly soul said to me emphatically: ‘I don’t believe in God’. I replied, ‘Oh, that’s interesting; which god don’t you believe in?’
For ‘God’ is such a misused and overused word. Some people just assume ‘God’ is a concept that always means the same thing. So, they stumble out a few phrases about the god they say they do not believe in: a being who lives up the in the sky, looking down disapprovingly at the world, occasionally ‘intervening’ to do miracles, sending bad people to hell, while allowing good people to share his heaven.
I am not surprised they do not believe in that god. Neither do I. No, I believe in the God I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
My point: what most people mean by ‘God’ in late-modern Western culture is simply not the mainstream Christian meaning.
That is why one should always approach praying the Creed each Sunday with this in mind. We simply do not understand what the word ‘God’ means and manage, somehow, to fit Jesus into that. It is the other way around!
Instead, we must pray and think about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky—indeed, apparently crazy—vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross, and somehow allow our meaning for the word ‘God’ to be shaped around that point.
The Gospels invite us to look at this Jesus—the earthly Jesus, the proclaimer of the kingdom, the parabolic teacher, the healer, the man who wept over Jerusalem and then sweated drops of blood in Gethsemane—to look at this Jesus and to say with wonder and gratitude, not only ‘Ecce Homo’, but ‘Ecce Deus’.
It is this God who became human, whom we paint and describe in the Creed with such words as ‘Light from Light, True God from True God …’ Such ‘portraits’ of God, like the Nicene Creed, are a bit like icons. They invite us not just to say philosophically complicated words, but rather to worship with all our minds, hearts and souls.
Take, for example, the famous Rublev icon of the Trinity with three men visiting Abraham. The focal point of the painting is not at the back of the painting but on the viewer. And so, once we have glimpsed the true portrait of God, the onus is on us to reflect it: to reflect it as a Catholic community, to reflect it as individuals.
Praise, prayer and doxology, therefore, lead to mission! That is why the mission of the Church can be summed up in the phrase ‘reflected glory’.
When we see, as Paul says, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, described so beautifully in the Creed, we see this not for our own benefit! It is not all about us!
The ‘glory’ must shine in us and through us to bring light to the world. As Pope John XXIII pointed out, a cynical world does not need mean ‘prophets of doom’, but disciples who help people discover our God is very near. Pentecost is now!
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Believe…Help My Unbelief’: Meditations on the Creed by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.