4 June – The human heart of God
In a sentence:
Trinitarian faith is the conviction that God is indelibly marked by, and so can heal, human experience
What catches our attention
When I checked the list of the ten “Most Viewed” news items on The Guardian’s website on Thursday, their themes were as follows:
- War crimes allegations
- Queensland vs NSW State of Origin
- The Ben Roberts-Smith defamation case
- Australia’s housing crisis
- Ben Roberts-Smith (again)
- Drone attacks in Moscow
- The rental crisis
- People pursued by debt collectors
- Different drone attacks in Russia
- State of Origin (again)
There is, of course, more than this in the daily papers, but this is the kind of thing that attracts our attention. On any given day, it’s pretty much the same: a predominance of bad things unfolding around us (drone attacks or straining economies), relieved by a few diversions or titillations (State of Origin or some celebrity’s latest peccadillo).
Most of it, of course, is a “long way” from us – someone else’s crisis. Yet, unless we simply stop engaging with the news, we feel around us the low, distant thrum of things falling down, the threat of things which might become our problem as well. It doesn’t go too far to say that we are ‘baptised’ – immersed, soaked – in this shared experience. Of course, there is love-light which shines through and is even to be found in the newspapers; it’s just that the love stories don’t feature in the “Most Viewed” item lists.
David Ford (the author of our current study group book) might characterise this troubled experience as one of the ‘overwhelmings’ which constitute the human being – one of our many immersions and baptisms. Christian faith denies none of these realities; it ‘simply’ locates these experiences within a broader horizon than tomorrow’s coming repetition of today’s news. And this brings us to the church’s trinitarian dogma. Perhaps this is unexpected, for what could such high falutin theology have to do with the deep anthropology of felt experience in the world, to which the daily news testifies?
The human heart of God
An answer can be found in the classic credal summation of this teaching, as we recite about every other week. Here we see the human being right in the heart of God. Indeed, we can see how human experience is the crisis which precipitated the Creed in the form we have it.
The Creed appears in three bits (‘articles’). All we have to notice about this today is given on the front page of the pew sheet this morning – the size of each of these bits. By far, the largest is the middle bit, and the second largest is the last. The middle bit is the largest because it’s the bad news about human existence. This is what appears in the ‘Most Viewed’ list, the thing which catches our attention, the thing which most threatens us. This is Jesus dead on the cross. It is Russia in Ukraine, the US in the Pacific and Israel in Palestine. It is war crimes and train crashes and murder-suicides. The third article of the Creed is more like the Most Viewed diversionary stories; it is the good news, the relief. Yet, it is not mere titillating distraction but a vision of the peaceful resolution of tangled and strangled life.
And notice how small the ‘main’ God bit is at the top – the creator-God article we might think makes the broadest religious sense. By contrast, and challenging a general notion or interest in ‘God’, the Creed places human experience and human longing at the very heart of God and gives these the most space. And this was seriously controversial. At the time of the laying out of the Creeds, the ‘Most Viewed’ items in ancient newsfeeds would have been ‘Church contaminates God with crucified prophet’ or ‘God died, proclaims Christian bishop’ and then, among the diversionary and titillating most-viewed items, ‘Bishop thrown to the lions’.
But the church persisted with its odd theology. The middle article of the Creed is the longest because it places our Most Viewed items at the heart of God, as if these mattered to God, even to the extent that they are part of God. And out of that dull background thrum, slowly, are heard strains of music: resurrection, community, unity, holiness and fullness of life. Discord resolves into harmony, the pavement-pounding of marching armies gives way to the delight of dancing feet, steel melts to flesh and hands which held at a distance now meet in reconciling embrace behind an enemy’s back.
Our story, in God
This is what the church’s trinitarian faith means. If we are baptised into a world of dark Most Viewed stories, Jesus’ command to his disciples that they go and baptise is a command to confer a new story: find yourself here, in the Creed. It is a dark place where we afflict each other, and also suffer with one another. But there is also a promise there. Be baptised into the promise, and start to read more of this story. And not only read the story but become it.
Christian faith is about finding ourselves unexpectedly hidden in the life of God, as the geometry of the Creed shows. To borrow again from David Ford, we might say that we are ‘secreted’ within God – hidden and enveloped within different story – Christ’s story as our own. Our lives are God’s secret, God’s, hidden precious thing.
The trinitarian confession of the church is a story of God-and-the-world. God’s own Most Viewed items are the lives of each one of us. Our lives are not given to be the next tragedy or diversion in the news. To confess God as three-and-one is to know the story of our lives read by God, whose reading of us is always towards wholeness, peace, and joy.
To confess God is in this way is to tell our stories to their glorious end: the life of the world to come, in God.