If you have ever thought, “Why are there so many religions out there?” Or, what is the difference between the God of Christianity and the gods of Hinduism, or why it is that the various “holy books” portray such a vast difference in their understanding of God than that of the Bible, I believe the answer lies simply in the way people understand God in relation to two theological terms: transcendence and immanence. If you have ever wondered if theological jargon has any use, I hope that after reading this, you may come to see that theological language has an important role to play in our definitions when speaking of God. In my opinion, many errors both within the church as well as within religion in general comes as a result of a misunderstanding, and therefore a misapplication, of the doctrine of God’s transcendence, as well as His immanence. But what exactly do we mean by these terms?
Before we go into each term as it relates to God, let us first define what we mean by transcendence and immanence. Michael Horton defines transcendence as “being entirely above and outside of creation”, and he defines immanence as “being entirely within creation.” In other words, if we say that God is transcendent, we mean that he is entirely “above and outside of creation,” and if we say that God is immanent, we mean that he is “entirely within creation.” And so it is easy to see just how these two seemingly contradictory terms can cause a problem for our understanding of God, unless they are held in perfect balance. The Biblical understanding of God holds these two seemingly opposed emphases in balance. But how? We will therefore have to define both in relation to God as he is revealed in the Bible, and also see how different philosophies and religions emphasize one or the other, and the implications thereof.
The God Who Is Transcendent
When Genesis 1:1 opens up with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” it seeks to emphasise the fact that God is completely distinct from the universe which he created. In other words, by implication, there was a time when the universe was not, but there was never a time when God was not, because time only exists within a material universe. God is entirely outside of the material universe, and therefore outside of time. In this sense the question, “Who created God?” falls entirely flat, because God by definition in order to be God is entirely uncreated, eternal, and transcendent.
Now, many religions and philosophical ideas emphasize God’s transcendence and teach that because God (if such a being even exists) is transcendent, he is both unknowable as well as completely uninvolved within the world, or in other words, entirely impersonal. One such understanding is deism, particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries: “deism involves belief in a creator who has established the universe and its processes but does not respond to human prayer or need.” Another philosophical position, which can in a way be attributed to a radical transcendence of God, is agnosticism, which is the belief that in the absence of evidence, one cannot know if there is a god or not. If one exists, he is unknowable.
Another system which was very influential in religion was that derived by the Greek philosopher Plato, who also held to a radical transcendence of what he called the ultimate Good. The metaphysical dualism of Plato drove a wedge between the material world and, what Plato considered to be the “real” world from which we fell, which is beyond the material. Though Plato rejected atheism, there is no certainty as to whether or not he “believed in one god, or two, or more.” The reason for this is though Plato “believed that a divine intelligence and purpose is at work in the universe”, he did not believe that this “intelligence” was personal or knowable in any way.
In religion, Plato’s concept gave rise early Gnosticism, which attempted to merge Biblical teaching with Plato’s dualism. It drove a great distinction between the material world and the spiritual world, the former being evil and the latter being good, and taught that a spiritual saviour had descended to give us spiritual knowledge of how to escape the evil material world and ascend to the spiritual world above. It even drove a radical distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New, saying the former was evil and at war with the latter. The good God was transcendent and could only be known in a pure spiritual state outside of this creation. Gnostic gospels were popular during the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., when texts such as the Gospel of Judas were circulated opposing the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Another religion that emphasises the radical transcendence of God is Islam, with Allah being entirely other and even unknowable personally. He interacts with the world through angels and spirits, who communicates his message to prophets, the final of these according to Muslims being Muhammad. One can only be obedient to Allah, not know him personally, and even the prayers that are prayed to him are done out of obedience, not necessarily relationship. Submission is the key concept for a Muslim, for Allah demands unquestioned obedience.
Another example is in certain sectors of primitive African religion, where there exists the concept of a higher being which is mediated through the ancestors of particular tribes. While the higher being cannot be known in a personal capacity, and in some respects cannot know the people either, the mediation that happens through the ancestors is of incredible importance. Ancestors who have departed are thought to be in a spiritual state and can mediate between this god and the people, and bring good fortune or ill as a result. Therefore appeasing the ancestors in order to earn favour for crop growth and fertility is an important aspect of Traditional African Religion.
While we can see that transcendence is a very Biblical concept, we have also noticed how the emphasis on transcendence alone can lead to a variety of incorrect concepts of God. For example, if God is only transcendent, then he cannot be known in a personal capacity, he remains uninvolved personally in the world, and there is no way of knowing who he is, or what he is, or if speaking of he or she or it is correct or not. But what happens when we emphasize immanence?
The God Who Is Immanent
Not only does Genesis speak of God’s transcendence, but Genesis 1:2 reads, “The earth was without form and void, and the darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” This text clearly speaks of God’s immanence, that though he is completely distinct from his creation, he is nonetheless involved personally within it. The entire Bible shows God speaking directly to his people, first to Adam in the garden, then to Cain, to Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc. etc. The Bible portrays a God who is personal and intimate. He makes himself known to us especially by revealing himself in a way we can understand. Of course, in Christianity, Christians insist that God is most intimate in the person of Jesus, who we say is God in flesh, becoming one like us in order to communicate himself to us in a way we can understand. This doctrine of God’s immanence makes a radical distinction between the Bible and the Qu'ran, African Tradition Religions, and other religions which emphasize transcendence only.
But immanence, if emphasised on its own, can also lead to gross distortions and error. For example, theologians such as Friedrich Schleirmacher emphasized God’s immanence to the point where God was no different from his creation. He was so involved in his creation that he became one with it. In this sense, God cannot be known in a personal way, only felt. An overemphasis of immanence moves away from doctrinal conviction about God more to the experience of God. God becomes mysteriously shrouded in darkness and we can only behold him as one feels the sensation of mist upon the skin, though one cannot see the cloud itself.
New Age religions and philosophies emphasizes this aspect of the divine as being part of the world, and mystical experience being a key to connect both with the divine in the world as well as the divinity within oneself. Pantheism, which literally means God is all things, and panentheism, which states that creation is contained within God and is included in the divine, is the logical conclusion of those who emphasize only God’s immanence. Many religious philosophies fall prey to this error, notably Buddhism and Hinduism, whose “god” and “gods” are merely symbols that teach us to follow a certain path in this life in order to attain eventual “enlightenment” or “liberation” which is, in an analogy, being swallowed up by the universe as a drop dissolves in the ocean. In other words, it is becoming one with the One, which is the universe. New Age philosophies with its understanding of the interconnectedness of creature and divine, connecting all living creatures, follows a similar philosophy, and reincarnation becomes a prominent theme for those still striving to be released into the universe. A great amount of emphasis is placed on esoteric experience of the individual, doctrine is to be treated with great scepticism, and truth becomes entirely subjective.
Once again, as with transcendence, we first showed that immanence is a Biblical concept. The God of the Bible, though he is completely distinct from his creation, is nonetheless personally involved within it, or in other words, he is immanent. However, when immanence is emphasized to the exclusion of transcendence, we find that errors such as pantheism or panentheism creep in, and this is even true for Christian theology. The Creator/creature distinction then becomes blurred, and experience becomes the dogma, though God himself remains unknowable apart from our personal experience. The question is, however, how can Christianity hold these two seemingly opposed doctrines about God in balance?
Conclusion: God as Transcendent and Immanent
As we have seen above, the emphasis on either transcendence or immanence leads to distortions in our understanding of God. According to the Bible, God is both transcendent and immanent. Because we understand God to be transcendent, we avoid speculation as to his divine nature. There are many things we cannot know about God precisely because he is transcendent. Theologians have always emphasized that we cannot know God as he is in himself, or in other words, we cannot know all of him. Theologians have called this doctrine the incomprehensibility of God, meaning that “Neither in creation nor in re-creation does God reveal himself exhaustively.” This does not mean that we cannot know anything about God, but just that we ought not to speculate beyond what he has made known about himself. Deuteronomy 29:29 is an important verse in light of this, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but that which has been revealed belong to us and our children forever.” Those who emphasize the transcendence of God are right in saying that unless God makes himself known, we can know nothing of him. However, as Christians we are convinced that God has made himself known, and we can know what he has revealed about himself because we have his revelation recorded for us in Scripture.
And because we understand God to be immanent, we also know that he is personally involved in this world. Though he is not part of creation, his presence does permeate it. We say that God is omnipresent, meaning that he is present everywhere, and that is because he is Spirit (John 4:24; Psalm 139:7-12). But this in no way makes him either part of creation or within creation in the sense that he is limited to material existence, or depended upon it. However, what God’s immanence does teach us is that we can in fact have an authentic experience of God! But because it is held in balance with his transcendence, it is always on the basis of his revelation, and not on the basis of our experience alone.
Holding the balance between transcendence and immanence therefore teaches us that there are certain things we can know about God we would otherwise not know if he didn’t reveal it to us, and on the basis of how he has revealed himself to us, we can have an authentic experience of God because he is also immanent, or in other words, personally involved in the world and interacts with his creatures. Christian dogma, therefore, allows us to experience God through worship in a manner that does not risk idolatry, which is one of the primary reasons that the creeds were written down, taught, and recited. We can therefore say, “I believe (personal experience) in God, the Father Almighty (immanent) creator of heaven and earth (transcendent).”
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.
 Horton, M. 2011. The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, pg. 996, 1002.
 See Augustine, Confessions: XI:XIII:15, “But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it demanded what Thou then dists? For there was no ‘then,’ when there was no time.” See also Davies, P. 1992. The Mind of God. London: Penguin Books, pg. 50: “What happened before the big bang? The answer is, there was no ‘before.’ Time itself began at the big bang. As we have seen, Saint Augustine long ago proclaimed that the world was made with time and not in time, and that is precisely the modern scientific position.”
 Gaskin, J. C. A. 1995. Deism (in Honderich, T. ed. 1995. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 182).
 Nash, R. H. 1999. Life’s Ultimate Questions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, pg. 62.
 See Bavinck, H. 2004. Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation (transl. John Vriend). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, pg. 43: “ God is the ‘whence’ of our existence; and as such an absolute causality, he cannot be the object of our knowing but only the content of the feeling of absolute dependence.”
 Young, R. F. 2014. Hinduism: History, Beliefs, Practices (in Muck, T. C. et. al. eds. 2014. Handbook of Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, pg. 53).
 See Sire, J. 1988. The Universe Next Door. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, pg. 140.
 A very prominent movie which follows this philosophy is Cloud Atlas.
 See Frame, J. F. 1987. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, pg. 13ff.
 Bavinck, Dogmatics, pg. 36.
There is possibly no greater philosophical question that has plagued the history of philosophy than the question of origins. From where does life come? Did the universe have a beginning, or is it eternal? From where do we come? Why is there something rather than nothing? Cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, writes, “The eventual goal of science is to provide a single theory that describes the whole universe.”
The Bible, to many people, is not scientifically satisfying enough. It simply opens up with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It assumes that the universe had a beginning and that all things within it was created by God. But, if we think about it, there is no more challenging statement to modernistic presuppositions than this simple statement. As it challenged the polytheistic presuppositions of the ancient world, so it challenges the materialistic presuppositions of the modern world. It is this very first verse of the Bible that the creed affirms when it states, “I believe in God… Creator of heaven and earth.”
The Beginning of Everything
The very first thing that the opening line of the Bible challenges, both ancient and modern, is that everything that exists, the universe and all that is contained within it, had a beginning. This was a challenge to ancient cosmological theories, which held to an eternal recurrence theory arguing “that everything that happens is part of an endlessly repeating cycle or sequence of events”; or modern theories which insist that the universe itself has sprung from "nothing" because of the boundless and unstable particles bouncing to and fro in and out of existence, and then recreating themselves from seemingly nothing, and this process, like ancient cosmological theories, repeating itself ad infinitum. No, Genesis stubbornly opposes both ancient and modern theories that the universe has recreated itself through endless cycles when it states simply, “In the beginning God created…” Therefore, standing against the entire sweep of human innovation when it comes to the theory of origins, Genesis 1:1 is one of the most profound statements to be made about our origins, and has simply not gone away, even in light of modern science. Why is this so?
The reason this is so, I believe, is because of the insistence of Psalm 19:2 that the universe itself “pours forth speech” and “reveals knowledge” daily, and this speech and knowledge concerns the glory of God. Calvin described the universe as a “most beautiful theatre” wherein we are placed in order that we may “ponder with pious meditation to what end God created” it. In this sense, Calvin continues, “God himself has shown by the order of Creation that he created all things for man’s sake,” and what he means by this, is that in contemplating the works of God in creation it might help us understand God’s benevolence toward us. And so, the scientific quest ought not to speculate about a theory that can explain everything, but rather ought to come to terms with the God who created everything. If we allow the beauty and grandeur of what we perceive in the universe to drive our minds to reach beyond what we perceive in order to contemplate the One who is behind all of the majesty, we may come to see that truly, the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). This type of wonder, though his conclusion different, was even true for the philosopher Immanuel Kant, when he wrote in his famous The Critique of Practical Reason, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.” These two things drove Kant to observe firstly "worlds upon worlds and systems of systems... into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance"; and secondly his distinction from it as a thinking creature with morality. Why are these two observations significant?
God as Creator: The Cosmic Lawgiver
Psalm 19:1 declares that God is the “creator of heaven and earth.” This is what the creed affirms, or in the Psalmists words, “proclaims his handiwork.” Calvin comments, “When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated, by the contemplation of them, to Him who is their great Creator; and the beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguishes the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendour which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of his providence.” In other words, when we see the laws embedded within the universe which governs it, we are able to clearly perceive that these laws bring order to an otherwise chaotic universe, and if there is order in what would be otherwise chaotic, there must be a mind behind the universe that is bringing about the order through the law. To state it differently, the laws of the universe, which all scientists agree to, must posit a lawgiver who sustains the universe through the laws. This is what the psalmist reflects on when he sees the sun moving across the sky in an ordered fashion, or, as he poetically states, “which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Psalm 19:5). It is God who governs the laws by which the sun maintains its course, and through whom we have our seasons in a perpetual cycle.
Now, not everyone will agree to the necessity of a lawgiver though the presence of laws are certain. In fact, the question as to the origin of the laws rarely comes up in the study of the natural sciences. However, Paul Davies admits it was because of the theological convictions of Renaissance Europe that the laws in the universe point to a divine lawgiver that gave rise to modern science as we know it. Ironically, the laws themselves have now been given divine attributes and have come to explain the universe apart from a Creator. But the question still remains, even if not asked in science, where do the laws come from? This question confronts those who insist that the laws are there, and there is nothing more one can know about them. This this is why Genesis 1:1 remains a stubborn objection to modern theory. Genesis simply states that everything, including the laws, have their origin in God who is the Creator of heaven and earth. But what does this God require of us?
The Creator and the Creature: The Moral Lawgiver
After beholding the glory of God in the heavens, the Psalmist reflects on the activity of God among people, his special creation. Not only does God govern the universe through law, but he also governs humanity through law. This is why Psalm 19:7 reads, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul…” As we had said in a previous post, if we were left only to discern God in nature, then we would run into all sorts of errors, such as Paul Davies who attributes divine characteristics to natural laws that govern the universe. However, Christians are insistent upon the fact that God has revealed himself to us through the Bible. The cosmic lawgiver also gives laws to his rational creatures, by which we are to both know God and also know how to function in this world.
Now, some scientists would postulate that we merely operate according to instinct, like all other creatures. However there is most certainly a deeper sense in our own consciousness that we are quite different to other creatures. For one, we contemplate our own existence, and this leads humans to worship something; and for another, we distinguish between right action and wrong, or in other words, we consider ourselves moral beings. Explanations as to why humans are unique in these two senses vary. But the answer the Bible gives, in my mind, remains the most satisfying of all other answers. Quite simply, the Bible speaks of humans created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This means that humans are part of the natural world, and very much animal in this sense, but it also sets us apart from all other animals by placing us in a special privileged position in creation as the image bearers of God. We are, therefore, created with the capacity to know God, which we looked at in a previous post, and we are also created with a moral desire to distinguish between right and wrong. The problem is, the distortion of the first (worship) leads to a distortion of the second (morality). To state it differently, it is when we depart from the correct worship of the Creator God, that we lose our moral compass to function as created beings. Humans need a path, we need a guidance, and there is no better guidance than that given by the One who created us in the first place, and created us to display his glory! (Psalm 119:105). In this sense, Scripture is the sure guide both to the correct worship of God, and also to the correct knowledge of right and wrong. Without Scripture, we are left to determine our own worship, and this ends in the relativizing of truth which ends in the distortion of morality.
When the creed therefore affirms, “I believe in God… Creator of heaven and earth,” it also calls the believer to respond to God the Creator as his creature. In other words, it affirms that he governs the universe through laws, but it also affirms that he requires humanity to respond to him in a special way as his special creatures. In order for us to know how we ought to respond to him, he had to reveal his will to us through law, and this we have contained within the pages of Scripture as a sure guide to our path of life.
The answer the Bible gives when it comes to the great questions of life, is quite simple, yet profound. Where does life come from? Did the universe have a beginning? Where do we come from? The Bible challenges all the presuppositions both ancient and modern as to the origins of life, and stubbornly remains a constant stumbling block for the world of science. It answers very simply, “Yes, the universe had a beginning, and all life comes from God.” But it also goes beyond this and describes a God who governs the universe according to laws, and also governs humanity according to law. The former is observed in the order of creation, while the latter is found in the revealed pages of Scripture. So when the creed affirms, “I believe in God… creator of heaven and earth,” it affirms that God is Lord, and I am his subject. He is the lawgiver, and I am the law-keeper. He is in control, and I am dependent. These affirmations reminds us of the correct Creator/creature distinction, and makes us ponder our own existence in light of this truth. It heeds the counsel of the author to Ecclesiastes, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”
 Hawking, S. 1988. A Brief History of Time. London: Bantam Books, pg. 11.
 A presupposition, as I use it in this context, is a foundational belief held to through which all reality is interpreted.
 Strambaugh, J. 1995. Eternal Recurrence (in Honderich, T. ed. 1995. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pg. 251).
 See Krauss, L. 2012. A Universe From Nothing. New York: Free Press.
 Calvin, J. 1559. Institutes, I:XIV:20. (transl. Battles, F. ed. McNeill, J.T. 2006. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 179).
 Calvin, I:XIV:22.
 Calvin, commentary Psalm 19:1 (transl. Rev. James Anderson).
 Davies, P. 1992. The Mind of God. London: Penguin Books, pg. 77.
Ibid, pg. 82ff. Davies lists four characteristics of the laws which are divine properties: universal, absolute, eternal, and omnipotent.
[disclaimer: I corrected the quote from Kant, which I initially incorrectly ascribed to his Critique of Pure Reason. Also, I reworked my use of his quote as I felt initially it seemed as though I used him to justify my argument, when this wasn't my intention. I wanted to show that even Kant's amazement at what he observed above him (universe) and within him (morality) has great significance as to the reason why we wonder these things (and hence my argument to follow). Kant's quote served to lead into my argument, not justify my argument at this stage.]
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.
In the world today, most people that you encounter on the street will claim to have some sort of belief in God. It is very rare that one encounters a common person who would outright deny belief in God altogether. As we saw last week, the reason for this is because people are naturally inclined to believe in God. But if you quiz people what they believe about God, then all of a sudden you may find that most people have not really thought through carefully what exactly it is that they believe about God, and then venture into opinion rather than firm conviction. To many people, the word “God” is an abstract term, a philosophical conundrum, an entity which is mysteriously shrouded in darkness. If you press people, you will find that their “god” is quite unknown and involved in the world only in a very meaningless manner, if at all. Much like the Athenians who had set up an altar to “the unknown god” (Acts 17:23), people cling to a superficial belief in God in case there is perhaps one out there, and hope that merely believing is enough to gain his/her/it's approval, if such a being should exist. However, this superficial belief is void of any moral responsibility, and therefore people's belief, even though given lip service, is actually not belief in anything at all.
The Apostle’s Creed is written to explain exactly who it is that Christians worship. It is important for us to know who we worship in order to avoid vain speculations and turn trivial observations in nature into objects of worship. The importance of knowing who or what we worship is highlighted in Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman when he said to her, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and then Jesus launches into an explanation of correct worship, “But a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him…” But who exactly is this Father?
God as Father
One of the first ways in which the creed defines God is as Father. Now this is a remarkable feature of Christianity’s understanding of God. Michael Bird points out the uniqueness of this point in Christian theism compared to other religions when he writes, “In other religions, calling God one’s own father would be problematic if not impossible. Crying out to God as Father would be irreverent for Jews, blasphemy to Muslims, weird for Buddhists, and mean something entirely different for Hindus.” Now this does not mean that the concept of a father god did not exist in pagan religions, or any other religion. What Bird is pointing out is that in other belief systems, god could never be father to me. Zeus is merely 'father' because he begets gods and goddesses, for example, and occasionally these cohabitate with humans and produce demigod offspring. But an ordinary person would not call Zeus his 'father', and Zeus would neither care.
However, for Christianity, the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God is absolutely central to our understanding of God, both within the divine being, as well as He relates to us as people. Pannenberg writes, “On the lips of Jesus the name ‘Father’ indicates the particular way in which the almighty God of Israel, whose mighty coming was expected in the imminent future, has been revealed through his sending of Jesus: he is the one who wants to save men from the judgment towards which they are moving.” In this way, God is both Father in His relationship to Jesus, through whom He has appeared to us and by whom we come to know God as our Father (see John 14:6-11).
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Firstly, in relation to Jesus, God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). Bird writes, “The notion of God as father was peripheral in Judaism and yet was central in Jesus’s life and teaching.” Though the Old Testament does have places where God is portrayed as the father of Israel by his calling them into a covenantal relationship (Ex 4:33; Deut. 32:6, 18; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1) and by his paternal care for them (Isa. 1:2-4; 31:1,9; Mal. 1:6), the relationship that Jesus exhibits is vastly different. At Jesus’ baptism a voice thundered from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) and again at his transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). As a young boy of 12, Jesus considered remaining behind in the Temple without his parents’ consent as being in “my Father’s house” (Luke 3:49). Jesus believed that his mission was commission by his Father (John 5:37), carried out in His power (5:26), authenticated by Him (John 8:54), and done in fulfilment of His will (John 6:38), and that this Father is the only true God (John 17:1-3). In other words, the Father of Jesus is the God of Israel now drawing near in the sending of His Son in the person of Jesus. This is how Jesus understood his own relationship to the Father, as well as how those who witnessed Jesus’ life understood his relationship toward his heavenly Father. The Father of Jesus is the God of Israel, and Jesus is his own unique Son sent to make Him known to the world (John 1:1, 14, 18).
God the Father of those who come to Christ
But one of the fascinating things about the Christian faith is that God does not only remain the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but in a very real sense, the goal of the ministry of Jesus was to invite us to share in this unique relationship that he has with his Father. In this sense, The Apostle’s Creed could read, “I believe in God my Father…” Ordinary men and woman could come and share in this special relationship that Jesus had with His Father through faith in him.
But some would retort that God is the father of all people, and in a certain sense this is true. Paul writes in Ephesians 3:14-15, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” With this I mean to understand that God is in a real sense father to all He has created. All creatures come under the paternal care of the Father as he sustains them, gives them rains in due season, and cares for them even when they don’t thank him. This is what we call common grace.
However, the way in which God is father to all his creatures and the way in which he is Father to those who come to him through Christ, is vastly different. The language that the New Testament uses of those who have come to know the Father through Jesus is the language of adoption. Paul writes that those who receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour, also receive the Holy Spirit, by whom we are brought into a unique relationship with God as our Father. He writes in Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul explains that the reason God sent his Son into the world was so that through him “we might receive adoption as sons.” And then he continues, reminiscent of Romans 8, and writes in verse 6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Calvin writes, “Indeed, [Christ] put on our flesh in order that having become Son of Man he might make us sons of God with him; having received our poverty in himself, he might transfer his wealth to us; having submitted to our weakness, he might strengthen us by his power; having accepted our mortality, he might give us his immortality; having descended to earth, he might raise us to heaven,” This kind of relationship to God is only available to those who receive God’s Son, as John writes in 1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” Faith in Jesus is the means by which we are adopted into the household of God, and through whom we share an intimate and personal relationship with God as our Father, which is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven…” It is a disciple’s prayer, and only a disciple of Jesus can pray this prayer in spirit and truth.
The Father is Almighty
But the creed also adds that the Father is Almighty. The Christian takes comfort in the fact that the God who has adopted him or her into a special relationship as Father, is also the God who is both all-powerful and in control of all things. We must remember that this creed found it’s beginning at a time when Christians were being persecuted under the Roman Empire during the late second or early third centuries, and is believed to be first confessed in Rome itself. Therefore the comfort to persecuted Christians that God their Father is also Almighty must have been a great comfort indeed. He is the creator of heaven and earth, and so regardless of what would happen to them under persecution, they had confidence that their Father was in control and would deliver them at the right time. But this is no mere theological jargon for the sake of comfort, it is the testimony of Scripture. Under the Old Testament YHWH is “the King of glory, enthroned in heaven, ‘The LORD Almighty’ is his name (1 Sam. 4:4; Ps. 24:10; Isa. 51:15). Also Revelation 1:8 portrays God as the coming one, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,’” and he is coming to bring justice upon those who persecuted his people, “‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Rev. 6:10). And for this reason, because we believe in God our Father who is Almighty, we entrust all judgment into his care while continuing to live lives of obedience in the present, even if we should suffer for doing what is right (1 Pet. 4:19). In other words, because God is our Father, and also Almighty, every situation we face we face as a result of his will and for his purpose, even if we don't understand it at the time. William Cowper wrote, "Behind a smiling providence, God hides a smiling face." This is the kind of comfort that a person can take when, even amid suffering, we know that we have a God who is also our Almighty Father.
When the Christian confesses, “I believe in God,” she does not merely confess in an abstract concept which is far removed from reality, like the god of many who profess to believe in God, rather she confesses in the God who is both her Father and is Almighty. This means, that for the Christian, God is both personal and all-powerful. And because God is our Father, he holds us accountable for our actions as his children, and because he is all-powerful, he is the one who sustains us, as well as defends us, in very trying circumstances. The Christian who confesses belief in God confesses in a God who can be known, and a God who is approachable, and a God who is interested in our daily affairs. We don’t worship a mythical god as father, or a phantom of our imagination, but a God who has brought us into adoption as sons (and daughters) through the redemptive work of His Son. Christians are therefore brought into God’s family, and share a unique relationship with God along with Jesus, by virtue of His Spirit through whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!” And in our crying out, we confess, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” In other words, we know whom we worship, and are known by God as His children for whom he cares with paternal affection and protection.
 Bird, M. F. 2016. What Christians Ought To Believe. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, pg. 62.
 Pannenber, W. 1972. The Apostle’s Creed in Light of Today’s Questions. London: SCM Press, Ltd., pg. 32.
 Bird, pg. 61.
 Calvin, J. 1538. 20:iii (in Hesselink, I. J. 1997: Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 23.)
 See Bird, pg. 25.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.
We live in a pluralistic world, religiously speaking. There are many “lords”, many “faiths”, and many “baptisms”. Wikipedia estimates around 4200 different world religions in existence today. Regardless of whether or not this estimate is accurate, in the West the growth of alternate religious beliefs has been exponential. In a context where atheism has sought to eliminate the concept of a divine being and the supernatural, it would seem that it has had the opposite effect. The attack by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on the Christian faith has not eliminated religious belief, but rather created a vacuum wherein superstition has thrived! Why, then, is religion so difficult to eradicate from the hearts of people?
The Natural Inclination to Believe
Calvin writes that people are naturally inclined to believe in God, “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity… God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.” In other words, human beings cannot but help to worship something because we are naturally inclined to do so. Now this does not mean that all people will accept the notion of God, as we see in the case of Dawkins and Hitchens, and neither that all people will have the same understanding of God, which accounts for the many thousand different religions in the world. However, as Roy Clouser has demonstrated in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, all people believe in something which is both eternal and independent, and from which all else has derived its existence. People may call this by different titles: i.e. the universe, God, matter, the One, etc. However, everyone will hold to something which has divine characteristics, and defend their belief in this religiously. The great church father, Augustine of Hippo wrote concerning belief in God, “For when the one supreme God of gods is thought of, even by those who believe that there are other gods, and who call them by that name, and worship them as gods, their thought takes the form of an endeavour to reach the conception of a nature, than which nothing more excellent or more exalted exists. And since men moved by different kinds of pleasures exist, partly by those which pertain to the bodily senses, partly by those which pertain to the intellect and soul, those of them who are in bondage to the sense think that either the heavens, or what appears to be most brilliant in the heavens, or the universe itself, is God of gods.”
The apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-32 had already taught this very point, from whom Augustine, Calvin and Clouser derive their arguments. Paul argued that men suppress the plain truth of God visible to all in the created world, and refuse to honour him or even be thankful toward him for their lives. As a result, “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). However, because they are created for worship, their lives still worship and ended up worshipping “images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (1:23). In other words, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Arguing from Psalm 19:1, which states that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” Paul continues that this glory is exchanged by men for a lie to suit their own needs, desires, or thoughts, and the result of this is the exchange of the worship of the one true God for images and idols made by the figment of human imagination. People, when they have suppressed the truth about God, will attach worship to that which they can see and observe, as Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee… For he that knoweth Thee not may call on Thee as other than Thou art.” The reason for this is because in our very essence, we are created for the worship of God, “Thou awakes us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee”, but in our Fallen state, we end up worshipping what we can observe, rather than allowing what we observe to move us beyond the mere symbol in the created thing to the Creator himself.
Therefore when the person confessing The Apostle’s Creed says, “I believe in God,” he is affirming this basic understanding that there is a being who is both eternal and independent, and from whom all else has derived its existence. Of course, the creed is going to clarify who this God is, that he is the almighty creator of heaven and earth, and that he is also Father, but for now it is important for us to understand that the creed confesses what all people actually believe, though they either suppress this truth by denying the existence of God altogether, or suppress it by calling on things that are not God as god, due to the ignorance of the truth of God.
But can God be known?
The question of God’s knowability has been a great question in both philosophy and theology. However, some Christian theologians have answered, unless God makes himself known, no! For example, Karl Barth wrote, “we have to begin with the admission that of ourselves we do not know what we say when we say ‘God,’ i.e. that all that we think we know when we say ‘God’ does not reach and comprehend Him Who is called ‘God’ in the symbol, but always one of our self-conceived and self-made idols, whether it is ‘spirit’ or ‘nature,’ ‘fate’ or ‘idea’ that we really have in view… Only God’s revelation, not our reason despairing of itself, can carry us over from God’s incomprehensibility.” In other words, because of our fickle nature as a result of the Fall of humanity into sin, all of our self-conceptions of God outside of what he has revealed of himself will always tend toward idolatrous images made up by our own corrupt minds. Even the testimony of God in nature by itself is not sufficient, for it will be perverted by our own Fallen minds, as Calvin writes, “Yet hence it appears that if men were taught only by nature, they would hold to nothing certain or solid or clear-cut, but would be so tied to confused principles as to worship an unknown god.” This being said, Calvin concludes that “all who corrupt pure religion – and this is sure to happen when each is given to his own opinions – separate themselves from the one and only God.” In other words, the knowledge of God is lost in two ways: (1) mankind being left to interpret nature by himself; and (2) the corruption of true religion by the influence of human initiative.
Here we reach the point of necessity that Christians insist on, that God has made himself known in history and this is recorded for us in Holy Scripture. Calvin writes, “Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.” This is why The Apostle’s Creed rests all of its articles firmly upon what is found in Scripture, and imports no other understanding outside of Scripture into its confession. Calvin continues by explaining Scripture's purpose, “For, that they might pass from death to life, it was necessary to recognize God not only as Creator but also as Redeemer, for undoubtedly they arrive at both from the Word.” Calvin continues, “God, the Artificer of the universe, is made manifest to us in Scripture, and that what we ought to think of him is set forth there, lest we seek some uncertain deity by devious paths.” Scripture, therefore, is the pilgrims guide to the knowledge of God, and therefore it is in Scripture alone that the understanding of who God is must be sought.
Can the Bible be trusted?
How can we know, though, that Scripture is a trustworthy guide? There are two arguments given to answer this: (1) the inner-trustworthiness of Scripture as being “breathed-out” by God himself; and (2) the inner witness of God’s Spirit which testifies to the truth about God taught in sacred Scripture within each person.
On the first point, Paul has written that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16), and Peter explains this process by writing, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke of God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). In this sense, though the Biblical authors wrote in their own language, with their own literary style, and in various genres, they were being informed by God himself in order that the testimony of who he is would be an accurate representation of himself. On the second point, the inner witness of the Spirit to the reading or hearing of Scripture affirms to the one reading or hearing that these are truly the words of God, and an accurate representation of who he is. In other words, God himself affirms the words of Scripture to the one reading as he reveals himself through the pages of Scripture to the person in question. Someone, however, may read the Bible for years without any effect, and then one particular day, things seem to make sense. One such person was C.S. Lewis himself, who was a sceptic for a large part of his life, until one day he believed that the God of the Bible is the God who he claims to be. It was then that the Scriptures came alive to Lewis, and he could comment, “God has given to His works His own character of emeth; they are watertight, faithful, reliable, not at all vague or phantasmal.”
Some may call this the fallacy of circular reasoning, or begging the question. “To beg the question is to assume the truth of what one seeks to prove, in the effort to prove it.” On the outset it seems to be so when we state, “How do we know that God exists? Because the Bible testifies to his existence. How do we know that the Bible is an accurate record of his existence? Because God himself testifies to its truth.” But this is not the case when it comes to the question of God as related to Scripture. We can consider the similarity between a letter that a particular person has written. One may study the letter that has been written, and hope to find the fingerprints of the person embedded in the letter. If you knew the person, one could easily detect their own character coming through this letter. And if not, one could appeal to the author, if he were alive, and verify whether or not the letter was his. However, if the author were a popular writer, even not knowing him, one could easily detect his style and personality in his letters, if you were familiar with his writing. In this sense we say that a letter is self-authenticating. This is even true of letters which have been dictated by someone and written through a scribe, which is one of the primary ways of identifying authorship of ancient letters who dictated through scribes. So too with a book that claims to have divine origin. If it is so, then one would expect to find the fingerprints of God throughout the book (or in the case of the Bible, the collection of books).
Now the Bible is unique in that it is written through man, and therefore has dual authorship, if one were to state it as such. It contains different personality styles of particular authors, but it also contains something more. The church has always recognised the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to carry a weight of authority that set it apart from the other writings of its time, which was one of the tests of canonicity. In this sense we say that the Bible carries divine authority, it is self-authenticating. But in another sense, those who have read it from a sceptical point of view, and have finally come to see it as God’s Word to man, such as C.S. Lewis, have been convinced by the inner testimony of the Spirit working in their own hearts that, though the books of the Old and New Testaments were compiled by various authors, they contain in themselves the witness of God about himself. It is this God that the creed affirms when it calls us to confess, “I believe in God…”
In a pluralistic world of “many lords” and “many faiths”, one has to ask the question which lord and which faith is the truth. Atheism’s attempt to eradicate God from the public sphere, especially the Christian God, has only left a vacuum that is being filled by various different kinds of superstitions and beliefs. However, the Christian claim is that we can know God because God has revealed himself in history, and this revelation is recorded for us in Scripture. The God which the creed affirms is the God of the Bible, the God revealed, as we shall see, as Father, Son, and Spirit.
The creed seeks to explain or unpack what it is we believe about this God, and how he relates to us as Christians. In other words, the creed affirms belief in the God of the Bible, the God as understood by Christianity, and the God who is known as both Creator and Redeemer. He is the God who has made himself known, and continues to make himself known wherever the Bible is taught and expounded. This doctrine of God is summarised in The Apostle’s Creed, and seeks to build the faith of the Christian upon the foundation of God as revealed in Scripture, and especially as he is made known through Jesus Christ and illuminated by the Spirit in the hearts of every true believer.
 See Dawkins, R. 2006. The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press, pg. 37, “Unless otherwise stated, I shall have Christianity mostly in mind, but only because it is the version with which I happen to be mostly familiar”; and Hitchens, C. 2007. God Is Not Great. New York: Hatchet Book Group USA, pg. 11, “I now know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism.”
 Calvin, J. 1559. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. I:III:I (transl. Battles, F. ed. McNeill, J.T. 2006. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 43).
 Clouser, R. 2005. The Myth Of Religious Neutrality. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, pg. 23ff.
 Augustine. On Christian Doctrine: I:7.
 Augustine. Confessions. I:1.
 Barth, K. 1936. Credo (transl. J. Strathearn McNab). London: Hodder & Stoughton, pg. 12.
 Calvin, J. Institutes, I:IV:12.
 Ibid, I:IV:13.
 Ibid, I:VI:1.
 Ibid, I: VI:2
 Copi, I. M. & Cohen, C. 1994. Introduction to Logic: 9th Edition. New York: MacMillan Publishing, pg. 126.
I am the pastor/elder of a small suburban church located on the outskirts of Cape Town. I enjoy coffee, theology, and fresh air. We are grateful to have all three in abundance.