The Apostles’ Creed
In times of struggle, I always remember something a pastor once told me, “God never leaves you. If you look next to you and God’s not there, it’s because you’ve moved, not Him.” Basically, if you don’t experience God, or you feel that you’ve lost your connection to God, it’s most likely because you’ve sinned somehow, so all you have to do is repent and God will come back. The message of “God will not leave me” was comforting to me and honestly, to think of a God who does not leave even today still has an impact on me. I love that I had a pastor who didn’t preach things like “you can lose God,” or that “once you are far from Him, there’s no turning back.” That kind of fear would have ruined my sensitive heart.
At the same time, I think there was something missing in what my pastor had to say. I think the message that “I’ve changed, God hasn’t” has a way of making me an all bad, dirty object. I’m so bad that I’ve scared off God. I recently noticed something in the Apostles’ Creed that makes me second guess this notion. I’m sure like me, you’ve said the Apostles’ Creed so many times that it’s one of the only things you can recite at church without needing the words in front of you. I’ve said it so many times that I fear I’ve missed some of the depth of meaning that’s within it.
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
I’m deeply moved by the question of when we feel far from God, who leaves – God or us? I think the idea of, or fear of being far from God is what motivates and directs many Christians in the kinds of decisions we make. We so badly want to please and feel close to God by doing what’s right. We fear and have been taught that when we sin, it separates us from God; although I find that I’m not fully convinced of this. What if nothing could separate us from God? What if a feeling of being far from God was an illusion our minds created? These questions take me back to the Apostles Creed. In the middle of this beautiful statement, I’ve begun to connect with a sentence like never before, “he descended into hell.”
Jesus went to hell.
I know there are debates and very smart biblical scholars on both sides trying to answer whether Jesus really did go to hell. This isn’t meant to be a debate, or an exegetical essay proving that Jesus did indeed go to hell, but rather a thoughtful engagement of possibilities. I’m grateful to begin to consider the possibility that Jesus did, as the Creed has stated for centuries and as many have believed, go to hell and to think about what this could mean.
There’s a belief that when we sin, we are choosing ourselves and not God, thus leaving God because Jesus can’t be around sin. It’s almost like God’s allergic to my sin. It’s as if God is saying, “Well Candice sprayed that perfume of sin and I must leave until she takes a shower and asks for forgiveness!” If Jesus went to hell for me, why is God unwilling (or unable?) to be around my humanness, my sinful nature? What happens if I’m not aware that I sinned? Do I have to wait for a feeling of far-from-Godness to realize I must have sinned, then ask for forgiveness, hoping that I can be close to God again?
It feels far too complicated.
I think it’s much more simple.
God loves us, forgives us and is with us – when we sin and when we don’t.
I want to propose that when we feel far from God, it has nothing to do with God’s actual distance, but everything to do with a dynamic that we’ve constructed. A threat that the church has propagated to keep people from choosing sin. Don’t sin, or else…
Some church leaders are afraid that when humans are left to their own devices, they will become crazed animals full of sin. However, I think God intended us to live with much more freedom. There’s nothing that God is scared of or can’t be around. He knows that we are sinful by nature, but is pleased by our desire to be close to Him and is honored by that.
Is the realization that we’ve done something wrong and the confession of that to ourselves, God and anyone we’ve harmed healing and important? Yes. Of course it is. But I believe God’s closeness to us is not contingent on it.
God is with you and around you; you have not been left, nor did you leave to a place where He cannot go.
Peace be to you.