The temper of the truth

The Learning Church process on the Creeds has now come to a conclusion, and I feel that it has been one of the most beneficial that we have had so far, not in the sense of immediate pleasure, but in terms of long term impact.

I began this last session with two questions: hands up if you

a) think we should say the creed on a Sunday morning (about 2/3 yes)
b) fully understand and accept the creed (about 1/2 yes).

That gave me a real ‘temperature check’ on the overall sense of the group, about 35 strong. I explained my own answers (yes and no – the word ‘virgin’ being my sticking point, as you’re all aware šŸ˜‰

Lots of challenging discussion eventually ensued, with one question in particular staying in my mind: “What difference does it make if you confess Jesus as divine” – but I’ll pursue that more in the next sequence, which is on other faiths.

I tried to argue strongly, in this final session, for the claim that a) truth was independent of our own choices (“heresies” comes from the word meaning ‘choice’ in Greek; the Creed is about insisting on a truth which is independent of our own views on the subject). This seems to me essential to Christianity – and something distinctive about Christianity as compared to other religions, and linked to the how and why of science being born out of Christian womb, to do with a fundamental trust in the reliability of the natural world (reflecting the reliability of a Creator behind it).

This assertion of truth, combined with the assertion that Jesus IS the truth (ie the reality of the world expressed in human flesh) lies at the centre of my own faith: a very Anglican insistence on the reality of the Incarnation, along the lines of John 1. I also realise that when, in the classes, I used the language of ‘submission’ to the truth – which I do see as a hallmark of Christian faith – I had my own experience in the background, of being called to a vocation which I absolutely did not want to enter into, and yet, once submitted to, that vocation becomes precisely the source of the peace which the world cannot give, in that I am now much more truly myself than I was when I was the person who did not want to be ordained. The call to be ordained lies more deeply in me than my own power or sense of choice.

This applies more broadly, I believe, in the sense that for all of us, full human fulfilment, ie the becoming of who we are, depends upon a right understanding, acceptance and integration into ‘the way the world really is’. A different way of saying this – but one which I think ends up saying the same thing – is that the pursuit of truth is non-negotiable. We have to pursue the truth wherever it leads, for to shy away from the truth, to shy away from something which may seem unpleasant or unattractive, is to shy away from precisely that fullness of life which we are called into. The truth is what sets us free, and we cannot turn away from it.

Which is the context for my losing my temper recently, when I was accused of intellectual cowardice and running away from open discussion (on the MoQ discussion pages – if I can get a specific link to what I said I’ll put it here). It’s an extremely rare event (although it’s not as rare as it used to be, and that makes me wonder what is going on) and it has caused me a fair deal of soul searching and reflection.

The question of anger is an odd one for Christians, simply because Jesus is shown as being angry on a number of occasions (most obviously when he drives out the traders from the temple). I preached on a text from the letter of James a couple of weeks ago: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

Anger is something which indicates a wrong, an injustice – but it doesn’t, of itself, say whether the wrong is in us or in another – hence we must be slow to anger. Yet we are not called to allow injustice to continue – we have to act, but we do have to act in a considered fashion, because anger doesn’t bring about righteousness.

It’s a difficult thing. Most of the time my own emotions are kept tied up, but perhaps I’m realising that this is not always for the best – that I do need to let my own specific thoughts and feelings come out. I certainly felt much better – ‘cleaner’ – having vented my spleen. And I am certain that it qualifies as ‘slow to anger’ – it had been building for over five years!!!

At Morning Prayer today we had Psalm 123, from which I drew comfort:

“Have mercy on us Lord, have mercy on us,
for we have endured much contempt.
We have endured much ridicule from the proud,
much contempt from the arrogant.”