On God

Article 1, Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective.

In my Father’s house, said Jesus, are many rooms. Writing anything about God, writing a lifetime about God, is like going into one of those rooms and describing an obscure tile in the room, and describing it poorly. We can never do justice to the theme; our God is an awesome God, but no amount of awe we can experience begins to pay the right kind of attention due God.

We live in a world where many of the intelligentsia do not even believe in God, and there’s oddly constant pressure to pretend as if God did not exist. It is believed by some that the God-fearers are actually the ones in charge, and that fundamentalists are a significant threat to free society. But at least in the circles I have inhabited—sadly, sometimes even within the church—a belief in God is seen as at best quaint, and at worst a sign of stupidity or bigotry. It is almost always not cool.

And in this world, Mennonites say, with other Christians, “We believe that God exists and is pleased with those who draw near by faith. We worship the one holy God.” For the early anabaptists, this was, perhaps, not so hard to say—in the matrix of Switzerland and Holland, despite all the foment of the Protestant Reformation, a belief in God was for the most part assumed by all. Indeed, not believing in God could be dangerous; Calvin acquiesced in the killing of an atheist in Calvinist Geneva. But for at least some of us later Mennonites and Christian believers, it’s not so obvious. Why do Mennonites believe in God?

It’s interesting to contrast the statements about God in the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite perspective to some other creeds. For example, the Apostles’ Creed, that great, concise statement of basic Christianity starts, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” God’s power, especially God’s creative power—to make a heaven and earth—is highlighted. This is also highlighted in Article 5 of the Confession of Faith on “Creation and Divine Providence,” but notice a slight difference: “We believe that God has created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and that God preserves and renews what has been made.” The Mennonite Confession notes that God stays in relationship with creation, preserving and renewing the natural order. Mennonites experience God relationally.

This is even clearer in Article 1, which embeds what is almost a little poem about God’s relationship of love with humankind and creation:

God’s awesome glory and enduring compassion
   are perfect in holy love.
God’s sovereign power and unending mercy
   are perfect in almighty love.
God’s knowledge of all things and care for creation
   are perfect in preserving love.
God’s abounding grace and wrath against sinfulness
   are perfect in righteous love.
God’s readiness to forgive and power to transform
   are perfect in redemptive love.
God’s unlimited justice and continuing patience with humankind
   are perfect in suffering love.
God’s infinite freedom and constant self-giving
   are perfect in faithful love.

Mennonites (and not exclusively Mennonites, of course) have come to experience this God who loves us and loves what has been created so much.

Sometimes we talk about having or needing to have “faith” in God. Sometimes what people mean by this is “faith is believing despite the facts.” This is a damnable lie, of course. When we have faith in something, we usually mean that we have come to a relationship of trust. If I have faith in a co-worker, I know she’ll do what’s asked of her. If I have faith in my son or daughter, I know they’ll live up to their potential. So with God: when Mennonites say they believe in God, they say they’ve come to trust and rely on God.

Which isn’t to say that Mennonites don’t go through their own dark nights of the soul. “We humbly recognize that God far surpasses human comprehension and understanding,” says the Confession; there are times when individually and corporately we suffer, doubt and fear. But we try to remember and “gratefully acknowledge that God has spoken to humanity and related to us in many and various ways. We believe that God has spoken above all in the only Son, the Word who became flesh.” We can get through the dark nights by remembering how God has acted before.

Mennonites, along with other Christians, believe and trust in a triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who created the world and is active in its redemption, especially through Jesus, who “brought salvation and new life to humanity.” And mentioning Jesus, who, after all, is the founder and namesake of the Christian belief and practice, brings to us another reason Mennonites believe in God. Jesus, the Confession reminds us, “taught his disciples to pray ‘Abba, Father.’” Jesus, the “image of the invisible God,” spoke intimately with and about God the Father. As Jesus’s followers, we seek that same intimacy with all the Godhead.

St. Teresa de Ávila was no Mennonite, but she loved the same God that Mennonites and the rest of Christendom do. She wrote the following short poem in her breviary:

Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

It’s a sweet meditation of the all-sufficiency of God, the intimate trust it engenders, and the courage it gives:

Nothing disturb thee,
Nothing frighten.
All things pass away,
God never changes.
It is with patience that
All things are completed.
For those who have God,
Nothing is lacking.
God alone is sufficient.

—Will Fitzgerald, January, 2007