‘I believe in one God…’

In what way do we believe in God? The expression at the beginning of the Creed, translated into English as ‘believe in’, occurs a number of times in the New Testament. John the Theologian mentions believing in the name of Christ (1:12; 2:23), and represents Christ as speaking of those who believe in him and his Father (14:1). In other words, ‘believing in’ does not mean believing that God exists. Rather, it seems to involve having faith or confident trust, not surprisingly for a Greek verb (pisteuo) based on the word for faith (pistis). And so the Creed begins with an affirmation of confident trust in God. ‘The knowledge of God which arose from Abraham’s personal encounter with him has nothing to do with theoretical assumptions, reductive syllogisms and logical proofs. It was an experience of relationship only and, like every true relationship, it was based only on the faith and trust which is between those who are in a relationship with each other.’ (Chr. Yannaras)

It may be possible to go a little further. Punctuation scarcely existed in late antiquity, and the uses we make of it to lay out pieces of text can  be exercises in interpretation. The beginning of the Creed generally punctuated so as to read: ‘I believe in one God, Father, Almightly, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.’ The basic message, that the Church positions itself between belief in a plurality of gods (polytheism) and in no god (atheism), is clear. But the use of a comma after the word ‘God’ has the effect of transferring the following word, ‘Father’, to a list of things that are said about God. What would happen if we removed the comma, so that the text was understood as beginning ‘I believe in one God (the) Father, Almighty…’? Discussing this, an Anglican scholar cites occurences of the phrase ‘God the Father’  in the New Testament, and comments that ‘of the two descriptive predicates FATHER and ALMIGHTY, the one which is associated more closely with GOD is FATHER. The basic, primordial verity in which belief is proclaimed is GOD THE FATHER.’ (J. N. D. Kelly)

Perhaps, then, the Creed envisages a trusting relationship with God that is understood along the lines of the relationship one would have with a father. And this seems to be the way things are understood in the Liturgy when, at a very important point, the priest says: ‘And make us worthy, Master, that we may with boldness and without condemnation dare to call upon you, the heavenly God, as Father, and say: “Our Father…”‘

I accept that the unhappy experiences of some people make the image of father less serviceable for them than it is for most people. We must also acknowledge the feminist insight that this image is gendered. I think this critique can be partly overcome with reference to the Orthodox notion of the unknowability of the God who lies behind any image we might have, but it remains a difficulty.