Note: This is a repost from http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/
One of the ideas behind confessions of faith and creeds and the like is to attempt to answer questions being asked by people of the current culture and society as relates to matters of faith and the practice thereof. So, in these posts I make about the articles of the Mennonite Confession of Faith I’m going to attempt to address them in how well they answer the questions of our current society and culture. And, honestly, I do so with great humility. I am by no means an expert in sociology or culture, nor am I a pillar when it comes to theological discussion. But I am someone who struggles at times with belief and faith and what it means. Perhaps we need more people like that talking about theology than people who study in the ivory towers.
So, with great trepidation, here I go.
The first article of the Confession of faith is simply titled “God”. I think this is an important factor. Any religion you pick has some sort of concept of a supreme deity or deities. Even those that are devout atheists (those who adamantly deny the possibility of any existence of such a being) have something to say about supreme beings, albeit in the negative. And yes, I consider atheism to be a religion in the purest sense of the word. So, it is important for a confession of faith to start with a defining statement about that ultimate question: Is there a God?
Note that the article in the confession answers that question in the positive. The Mennonite Church part of the body of Christ definitely believes that there IS a God. We must establish that first. There is a God and He has made Himself known. Now, note that I am using the male pronoun. Considering some words from one of my sisters in the church (Hi, KrisAnne!), I use this pronoun, not out of saying that men are superior or that God Himself has a gender. However, the traditional form of addressing one aspect of God is as “Father” or “Son”, both being male indicators. Rather than muddy the waters with some sort of strange way of addressing God, making up pronouns or words (like “godself”), I’ll bow to tradition simply because the English language is insufficient to truly describe God in those sort of terms. However, as I said, God has no specific gender and even is described in very feminine ways in various scriptural passages. Humans, male and female, were made in the image of God in that both human genders display the characteristics of God. So, we can not say God is male or female, but is God.
This article of the confession makes some great effort to describe who God is, what He does, and so on. He is the creator. He loves His creation. He reaches out to people. He has called specific peoples to be His witness to the purpose for creation. He calls people to love as He has loved. He is glorious, compassionate, sovereign, powerful, merciful, full of love. He knows all and abounds in wisdom. He is both full of perfect grace that gives to no end. But he is also righteous in His wrath and the ensuing campaign against sin and rebellion against His purposes. God is just but He is patient. He is a redeemer. He gives great freedom and gives selflessly of His love. There is so much about God that characterizes God that a few paragraphs seems hardly to begin to do justice.
And that is something that I think needs extra emphasis in today’s US culture and society. This confession makes a point of saying “We humbly recognize that God far surpasses human comprehension and understanding.” This is very important to remember. Many of those characteristics that the article uses to describe God, in our limited humanity, we perceive as being paradoxical. How can someone be both merciful and wrathful? How can justice be done but mercy also be done? How can there be a sense of grace but a demand for righteousness? This all seems to contradict itself.
The commentary seems to try to make sense of this but I think it still falls short. Using a phrase like “righteous love” helps, but it does not satisfy the questions that these contradictions raise. Again, the commentary says that there is a tension in knowing the unknowable. God has revealed Himself but our human understanding sometimes cannot make sense of it.
In our post-Christian world, we cannot depend upon people understanding God in the same way that we do who have been brought up in the church. In our post-modern age, we cannot rely on human reason to describe it either as, in the reaction to modern age of reason, the post-modernist is skeptical of the ability for human reason to answer all questions. What is truth? We can answer that God is the source of all truth. And that is a characteristic of God. What that implies, though, is that God, being beyond our understanding, “owns” a level of truth that we cannot grasp as humans. We can only see parts of that truth and comprehend it in our finitude. We will even make mistakes in this comprehension in our falleness. And that is where the revelation of God’s grace comes to play. Through his grace, mercy and compassion, he allows us to make those mistakes in the journey of coming to grips with the truth that He alone can contain. And, through His grace, he has reached out to us in a way that we can get a glimpse of that light. Calvinists use the term “condescend”. This is not a bad term. It is the same fashion in which parents and teachers take a complex idea (like the refraction of light waves) and explain it to a child who cannot comprehend of quantum particle theory. Things are explained in a context and in a fashion suitable to the person receiving the information. It is not false. There is nothing wrong in saying “The rain drops break up the light into all the colors”. That is true. And it is understandable for a younger mind. It is not a lie.
So, God has revealed himself in such a way that we can understand him. Jesus is the ultimate means of that revelation where God, Himself, came down to our level, experienced what we experienced, and taught us about Him in terms even we can understand. Does this answer all the questions? It doesn’t even start. But we can trust God (that is what faith is, anyways) to not lead us wrong. After all, he went through all that effort to reach us, he must care deeply for us.
But I get ahead of myself. Tomorrow, I look at Jesus Christ. God bless!