In the introduction to our walk through the Apostles’ Creed, we learned how this ancient document does not merely reproduce historical facts but tells them according to the shape of the Bible’s gospel story. And we also learned how the creed is not simply theology, but doxology—a confession of faith as an expression of worship. “We believe” the creed has us say, and this belief begins where the gospel story and our worship ought to begin, with the one who has no beginning (or end): God himself. Here is our focus text for this installment:
We believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the maker of heaven and earth
As a faith statement, this confession is not unlike that of the Israelites’ Shema—“Hear, O Israel: The Lordour God, the Lordis one” (Deuteronomy 6:4)—which was perhaps the believer’s very first creed. Recited by the faithful Jew at least twice a day, typically rehearsed with their children at night before bedtime, the Shema reminds the faithful children of God of who God is, what God is, and how God is (which is to say, what he’s like). In an echo of the Shema, the opening clause of the Apostles’ Creed does the same.
“We believe,” the Creed says, not in some gods (as if multiple deities exist) or in a god (as if God is some vague, unrelational higher power we don’t so much believe in as we hope he exists). “We believe,” it says, “in God.” Our God is the only God. He is the one true God. The way the confession is phrased asserts exclusivity and identity. This God is the God.
We are not “the maker of heaven and earth.” God is. Heaven and earth didn’t just appear in a magical moment of self-actualization; they didn’t just always exist; they didn’t just develop by a long, random chain of geological and inter-planetary happenstances. They were made by God. That’s who God is: the maker of everything. That’s (part of) what makes him God.
But, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “We don’t believe just because a God exists; we believe because this God exists.”
Who is this God? First, God is a Person, by which we don’t mean that he’s a human being. He’s not a mortal person or a created person. He is not “people.” God is spirit, so he is a perfect, eternal, spiritual Person. He is personal; he has a personality. God is not a “life force” or some impersonal mystical vibe floating around outer space or the aether. He thinks things and says things. He relates to his creation. He takes joy, he is jealous, he is love, he is just, he has anger and wrath, he has grace and mercy.
The creed gives us a tremendous insight into the personal way our God relates to us. We believe in God, the Father. The personal God relates to us as a dad to his children. When Jesus began teaching his disciples how to relate to God, he referred to God with the word “abba,” or “father.” More literally, “abba” is similar to our words “dad” or “daddy.” Now, the concept of God as Father wasn’t new to the people of Jesus’ day, but it certainly was not so commonplace, and it wasn’t the dominant way people referred to God. But Jesus came to show us what the one true God is like, and the Apostles’ Creed reflects the special relationship that God has with his worshipers: a loving father to dependent children.
God as Father shows us that his God-ness consists of paternal love, mercy, and patience. But the Creed reminds us that this God, while being Father, is still God. He is “the Father Almighty.” Traditionally, Christian orthodoxy has expounded God’s might with these classical attributes found in the Bible:
1. Omnipotence. God is all-powerful. Jeremiah 32:17 is a good example. God is eternal, and there is nothing impossible for him. The “maker of heaven and earth” made them from nothing, simply speaking them into existence.
2. Omnipresence. God is all-present. Because God is sovereign and spirit, he literally sees everything at once and is everywhere at once. He is not subservient to his creations, not even space and time. See Jeremiah 23:23, 1 Kings 1:27, and Psalms 139:1 for some good proclamations of omnipresence.
4. Sovereignty. God is truly all-mighty, and therefore he is in control. Proverbs 16:9 tells us that “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lordestablishes his steps.” In Exodus 4:11, God claims responsibility for muteness and speech, sight and blindness. In Psalms 115:3 we learn that he does whatever he wills. And because God is sovereign, he can even work our sin for his good purposes (see Joseph’s story, or Job’s). God cannot be thwarted precisely because he is God.
5. Holiness. God is utterly perfect, utterly “other,” and utterly just. In Revelation 4:8 we encounter the great exultation, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
“Holy, holy, holy” we cry. Why? Because God is three-times holy, which means he is perfectly holy. But embedded in this three-fold cry is something else important about the one true God. He is one God, but this one God exists in three Persons. The opening clause of the creed confesses the Father. It also confesses the Bible’s revelation of the fullness of the Godhead, consisting of the Son and the Spirit, both equally and eternally God, yet distinct from the Father. In our next installment, we will turn to the Christian’s confession of “Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.”
Jared C. Wilson is the author of Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Abide, Gospel Wakefulness, and Seven Daily Sins as well as articles and essays appearing in numerous publications. He is the pastor of Middletown Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. Visit him online at www.gospeldrivenchurch.com.