I’ve never had trouble had sleeping. Sometimes there are nights when I’m awake for a few hours but that isn’t a trouble, it’s a gift. What a gift, to lie there, enjoying the peace of night-time, with nothing to do but gaze at the velvet sky beyond the sky-light, in my cosy bed, listening to the softly snoring dogs, time to ponder and pray and just be happy. What a treat! Unless it’s a medical condition giving us real insomnia, which is serious and exhausting, what’s the problem with a few sleepless nights? I’ve had some of my best hours lying awake, with no sense of time passing, no urgency, no demands. It’s as if I’m the only person awake in the whole world, and time is … well, timeless. A mini eternity. How’s that for an oxymoron? A mini eternity. In the middle of the night we can draw close to God. Or we can fret and fume and worry. Get up and make tea and look at the clock…. feel miffed that others are sleeping while we are not. The choice is ours.
In one mini eternity recently, my thoughts found their way to the Nicene Creed. Have you thought about it lately? It’s priceless. Amazing. Uplifting. Challenging. I just love this set of truths, this perfect affirmation of everything that makes sense of our belief… one God, Incarnate, Resurrected, Redeeming, Forgiving, Reconciling, Loving. In my old church (pre the virus) we would sing ‘This I Believe’ and boy! was it stirring!
But why ‘challenging’? ‘Uplifting’, yes. And true, yes. But ‘challenging’?
Because it challenges me every time. Do I really believe? And, even if I believe intellectually, do I live as if I believe? How deep is that belief? Can it be shaken? What will it take to shake it? I love to dig deep into the truths in that simple creed and shake them to see if they rattle.
That night, as I listened to the wind and watched clouds scudding across the moon, I silently spoke the words of the Nicene Creed, and I wondered again how deep my belief was. So, I turned to my God and said “Excuse me for a moment while I have a look at all this … I’ll be back soon” and I tried, I really tried, to disbelieve. Try it. It’s so hard! You can afford to explore doubt, when you know the truth. Don’t be afraid of doubting – God is up to any questions you may have.
I started off by trying to unbelieve the idea of a creator God… but if there is no initiator of life and matter, how do they exist? You know, I don’t care one jot whether the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis is historical or figurative. I just know it’s true. I know that God created mankind, that he created the sky and the sea and land and everything – as we say – that crawls upon it or swims in it. And I know that we are not, of ourselves, pure (sinless)and so I understand and totally accept the concept of Original Sin. I know original sin. I’ve experienced it, tasted it, seen its consequence. How can I deny it?
“OK”, ses I, let’s accept the next challenge – what about the rest of the Old Testament and all that outlandish stuff; an ark with all the animal species on board, a sea parting, angels appearing, a boy killing a giant, surely I can disbelieve them? But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because each one was an integral and relevant and vital part of a greater story. They all made sense. They all pointed to one great fulfilment.
And that word brought me up short. ‘Fulfilment? This took me into the narrative of Jesus, a baby, in the Middle East, two thousand years ago, in a peasant family, to an unmarried mother, in poverty and religious bigotry, superstition and slavery… this was God? Come onnnnn…. This was the creator of countless galaxies, of space and time and life? This grimy child in the dust? What kinda fairy tale is this, Luce? Come on, surely you can deny this? But however hard I tried, I couldn’t do it. Man, it’s so hard to unbelieve. I did try but everything in the creation story (see above) and the Old Testament (see above) declared that Jesus was and is God. It kept making perfect sense. Feeling right.
So then I went a bit deeper – if you want to scoff at something in the Bible, surely you just have to look at the miracles? There’s lots of thorny ones ; the demons in pigs (pigs?) and the whole herd careering over a cliff top (bit unlikely surely) , the dead girl raised to life (ditto), and Lazarus, and … well, you know, the miracles. Unlikely and impossible happenings. Come on, Luce, unbelieve them. Miracles? This is 2022. Get real. But the miracles were there. Strong and clear. I couldn’t deny any of it. I couldn’t unknow Jesus in order to unknow his power. Having accepted Genesis and creation, and the prophets and the story of the Jews, I couldn’t dismiss any of it. It made perfect rational, wonderful sense.
Then I turned to the Resurrection narrative. Surely that’s easy enough to unbelieve? Trouble is, I’ve heard some amazing teaching about the Resurrection and I know a whole lot about it. I know about crucifixions and proof of death and I know about the Roman guards and the penalty they paid, the nature of the tomb, the political urgency for both the Jews and the Romans to prove that Christ had not risen… I knew every fact pointing to the truth of the resurrection and I couldn’t unknow a single one of them.
So then I turned my beady eye on the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. Could I deny this doctrine at least?
Give over. Of course I couldn’t. All around me is proof positive of the presence of Jesus Christ, the love of Jesus Christ, his Spirit living in those who love him, his grace in those who believe, his gifts, his empowering, his joy. I have seen his Spirit at work in my life and in the lives of others.
Wow. And then I was lost in wonder and in praise. Looking back over my own story, over all that God has brought into my life and how he’s transformed it, bringing peace and love. God’s story is perfect, from Genesis 1:1 to Luce lying in bed in West Wales with three snoring mutts.
Truth tested and found true. Of course sometimes life challenges our beliefs. I’m no cheerful Pollyanna. Life isn’t easy and pain, loss, bereavement, decline, need, loneliness… all these can challenge our faith but we’re not alone in those times. Hold on, look to Jesus, remember you are not alone. Someone has you. The great someone.
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are — high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean — nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us” (Romans 8:38-39 TLB).
There I was, growing sleepy at last, but filled to the brim with quiet elation, a sort of wonderment that no denial of Christ was possible. None. I thought of poor old Peter and his three denials and realised that this was before Pentecost. Without the Holy Spirit I would be there too, just like Peter, full of denial and fear, but with the Spirit, by his grace, our belief is as unshakeable as God is powerful. And it’s all him, and not us. Brilliant!
I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,
one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come.