“We believe in God…”
The Creed is an ancient statement of belief that many Christians around the world recite each week. There are several creeds, and the Nicene version is commonly used. Most every line is the result of an argument – as much an assertion about what beliefs “we” don’t accept as of what “we” do affirm.
That history troubles me. I know too well what drawing those lines in the sand between “us” and the other does, what an insistence about what we know to be true of great mystery can become.
It comforts me that the Creed’s actual language is “I believe” rather than “I know” (though it seems it has been treated much more as a statement of the latter).
But what about when I am not even sure what I believe? Then it comforts me to remember that the Latin credo may be better translated “I trust,” than with our modern, enlightenment understanding of “believe.”
But credo has deeper roots than that. Its original meaning is “to place one’s heart.”
Where does my heart find its place, its rest?
Not always in the carefully constructed words of the Creed, words that sometimes revel in mystery and sometimes seem to wall it in.
There is an early tradition in the Eastern church called apophatic theology that says the only way to think about God, the Divine Good, is by asserting what God is not. Everything that we say God is falls short – incomplete at best and too often misleading altogether.
The best of the apophatic tradition leads not just to an intellectual exercise or sort of mental qualifier footnoting everything we assert about who God is. At its best, it opens us up to approaching God beyond our categories. It expands our ability to trust God beyond our understanding.
If Ultimate Reality is Love, definitions don’t come easily.
Love is messy and confusing and full of pain as well as joy. Too often I have experienced love as qualified and redefined past any recognizability or, in truth, any actual loving.
That is not love. Love is not an intellectual exercise. Love is not rejection, not alienation, not abandonment. It is not self-serving and doesn’t keep score. Love isn’t arrogant or presumptuous. Love doesn’t find satisfaction in being proven right. Love doesn’t look back, doesn’t hold back. Love doesn’t give up on people.
The old Anglo-Saxon word “believe” comes from the same root (lief) as the German belieben, which means “belove.”
When I’m not sure how to say the Creed, not sure what I think or “believe” about these things, it helps to know what and who I love. It helps to know I place my heart, my trust in Love.
And it helps to know that when he was asked what was most important, Jesus didn’t say anything about what we were supposed to believe. He said the most important thing was to love.
And when I don’t know what I believe, I do still know I love.