This Saturday we will be gathering at St. Peter & St. Paul’s Church (152 Metcalfe St.) for an evening of worship and prayer. In our busy lives, whether as students or working-professionals, we often neglect contemplation. Yet this ‘Spiritual Discipline’ is one of the oldest ways in which Christians have worshiped. It’s simple really: contemplation boils down to attention. When we contemplate we are saying to God, “I give you my attention — the focus of my mind and spirit.” There will be lively worship and great fellowship. I hope to see you there.
Question 32: “But why are you called a Christian?”
In the, now famous, story of the “blind men and the elephant,” there are six blind men who approach an elephant. Each tries to define the entire elephant based on their particular experience. One feels the side and says the elephant is like a wall. Another feels the tusks and says that the elephant is like a spear, and so on. This story is often used to support universalism, i.e. all religious beliefs ultimately lead to the same place – we all climb the mountain from different places, but all reach the same summit. It is also often used to support a more skeptical view of human knowledge and understanding, i.e. we can never really make absolute claims but rather must content ourselves with relative and particular judgements. It’s interesting that both of these views devalue God and human alike. In the story of the elephant the people are blind and stupid (for lack of a better word) and the elephant is silent. This makes a false assumption about the human faculty to know and God’s ability to make Himself known.
None of us can perceive God in His entirety; in that way we are indeed blind and limited. But what if God was able to reveal Himself in a knowable way? Thus the question from the Heidelberg Catechism this week is, “but why are you called a Christian?” You see last week we discussed our belief in God the Father Almighty. Yet other beliefs and religions affirm a similar belief. Muslims and Jews believe in one God and many people now-a-days hold to spiritual belief in “something.” What sets Christians apart is their belief in God the Father as further defined and made knowable by His Son, Jesus. This is a radical belief, which as Paul says is, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” The Apostle John writes that, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is in Jesus, as equally God and man, that we can know God. It is through Jesus that God’s intent to redeem humanity is made known and available, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” God speaks through Jesus and we see through Jesus; He is the Light which reveals that God is not mute and human beings are not blind.
“What do you believe when you say, ‘I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?” Question 26, Heidelberg Catechism.
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Acts 17:22-23
In a recent interview Oprah Winfrey interviewed Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer who recently swam from Florida to Cuba. The interview touched upon Nyad’s belief in atheism and what that practically meant. Nyad stated that she, “can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist… and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity — all the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt.” Oprah challenged Nyad’s response by saying, ““I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery then that is what God is… It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.” This has created somewhat of a firestorm from Atheists who were quick to correct Oprah about the nature of Atheism and secular humanism. But what does this have to do with the Heidelberg Catechism?
Well, the Catechism has a great deal to say about Nyad’s and Oprah’s response. Question 26 of the Catechism focuses on the first sentence of the Apostles’ Creed which says, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?” Now there are two important things to note here. First is that the Creed, the Catechism, Paul preaching in Athens, i.e. historic and orthodox Christianity, all proclaim a belief in an Almighty God. Second, the Christian faith teaches that God is not only Almighty, He is not just nature or some pervading ‘life force,’ but also knowable as Father. We sometimes forget that these are quite radical statements. Christians claim that (1) God exists and has created and sustains all things, and also that (2) God can be known as Father. Christianity thus rejects Nyad’s claim and Oprah’s. Our belief in God the Father points us to the Creator and not the created. We can admire humanity and nature for its good and beauty, but both should draw our minds to the Creator. Whether or not God has a beard is irrelevant, but what is relevant is God’s define-ability as Father and as some ‘one’ who relates to humanity as such.
Where the rubber hits the road is the outcome of such a belief:
Q28. What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things?
A. That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our first rust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from this love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.