What to believe

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

These words of John in his gospel [chapter 20, verse 30] point out the aim of believing or having faith – life in the name of the Son of God. They echo other words from chapter 19, verse 35, “he who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth – that you may also believe.” he does not say “that you may also know”, which would logically follow after knows, but “that you may also believe.”

John’s gospel contains almost four times as many mentions of words for believing or having faith than the other evangelists. What does he mean? John leaned on the breast of Christ after the last supper. In doing so he must have felt the breath and the heartbeat of the Redeemer – an intimate perception! That is the realm of faith – finding, through the heart, a connection to Christ. This is quite different from an ordinary kind of knowing.

The whole gospel, that is all the signs, for example the feeding of the five thousand, all the healings and teachings are to this end. At each point along the way, John describes events both in a pictorial way that allows us to enter into the description as though we were present, and in a time sequence that works upon us as do sun, cloud and rain for a growing plant. Their culmination is then the description of the fateful moment on the cross when Christ is pierced with the lance (even though he is already dead). (That surely is one of the hardest things to believe, that a human being is appointed on behalf of other human beings to perform such an act upon the creator!) But then after describing this, John makes that most extraordinarily emphatic commentary of the whole gospel that is referred to above: “he who saw it has borne witness…” He is not only thus testifying to the fact that Jesus Christ really did die on the cross at human hands but also that it is necessary for us to relate to this fact if we are to experience “life in his name”. How is that to be understood? The pictorial sequence mentioned above has taken us from Christ’s first strength after the baptism to the very moments of his death and John’s witness of it: by following this sequence we are prepared by that inner concentration for the description of the silence of the tomb and then the resurrection, which then opens our heart like a blossom . That blossoming is the content of our belief: because of its quality we know that it points to real events. We believe and know that Christ overcame death and rose and that his rising gives us life of a kind that goes beyond death.

These facts are described in the middle of that text known as the creed. The Apostles’ Creed says “he…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day he rose again…” What comes before and afterwards is the setting for this central fact of Earth History. This creed [credo = I believe] is what can be, and perhaps should be, “believed”, that is to make a connection with our heart, with our love, to what is described in this special pictorial language. Gospel and Creed together (along with the Sacraments themselves) provide the content that can inspire knowledge in the mind and belief in the heart. Individuals are given the spiritual independence, confidence and the time to find this inspiration themselves. The Christian Community believes that this is more appropriate for modern human beings than being given articles of faith that must in some way be accepted.

If we believe in somebody, we give them life-substance. If they believe in us, we grow. It is not of no consequence to God that we believe… The creed has become known as the confession of faith and is a gift to God as well as an enhancement of our own life and self. As such it is included in the Eucharist after the Gospel reading and referred to later in the service in this sense of a confession being offered to God with a prayer for blessing.

In The Christian Community the Creed is given a new wording: in the light of the foregoing. The words I believe are omitted and the text moves straight into the content. For more details see Floris Books and the page on the Creed on this site.

Roger Druitt