The opening words of the Creeds need to be seen in this context. The human quest for wisdom, goodness and meaning takes us beyond the cold certainties of logic into a world in which we believe or trust certain things to be true, life-changing and live-giving – but cannot prove them to be true. The Latin word credo – traditionally translated into English as “I believe” – is better rendered as “I trust,” invoking the world of relationships rather than mere beliefs.
The Creeds set out a vision of reality – a vision that cannot be proved to be true, but which was found to be true by a community of people, who have passed down in the Creeds their collective witness to what they discovered. As C. S. Lewis remarked, “the one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the Christian community.” This vision is affirmed to be trustworthy – not merely something that is transformative and liberating, but something that can be lived, not merely thought.
Getting the bigger picture
Faith is thus not a half-hearted hope that there might be a God. For Christians, it is a broad recognition that we live in a world in which certainty is not possible, save in closed mental domains that have little relevance to the serious business of living well and authentically. It is about “getting” what things are all about in an epiphanic moment of putting everything together and seeing a bigger picture within which we realize we belong and can flourish. There are other big pictures, of course – but all of them lie beyond proof. In choosing any of these, we are making an informed judgement that goes beyond the available evidence. We may believe (and have good reasons to believe) that it is the best big picture; yet we cannot show that it is true. What we do know, however, is that others have grasped this vision in the past, and transmitted this way of thinking and living to us.
The Creeds are thus not a demand to believe, but a description of what has been found, an affirmation of its capacity to satisfy and sustain, and an invitation to explore, discover and inhabit this new world. The Creeds provoke us into looking beyond the world of familiar banalities, and being prepared to be receptive to strange truths, which others have found to be life-changing. The vision of reality that we find articulated in the Creeds might be described as “decentring” – a term used by Iris Murdoch to describe the process of breaking free from our worrying obsession to make everything focus on us. As Plato suggested in his famous analogy of the Cave, there is a greater world that lies beyond us which, once grasped, makes us see things in a very different way. For Christians, faith is about the discernment of this vision of reality, and deciding to act as if it were true, in the firm belief that it can be trusted – and living meaningfully and authentically as a result.