In Ordinary times we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is. If, now and again, this remote and academic problem is so unmannerly as to thrust its way into our minds, there are plenty of things we can do to drive the intruder away. We can get the car out, or go to a party or the cinema, or read a detective story, or have a row with the district council, or write a letter to the papers about the habits of the night-jar or Shakespeare’s use of nautical metaphor. Thus we build up a defence mechanism against self-questioning, because, to tell the truth, we are very much afraid of ourselves.
When a strong man armed keepeth his palace his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he shall come upon him … he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted. So to us in wartime, cut off from mental distractions by restrictions and blackouts, and cowering in a cellar with a gas-mask under threat of imminent death, comes in the stronger fear and sits down beside us.
“What,” he demands, rather disagreeably, “do you make of all this? Is there indeed anything you value more than life, or are you making a virtue of necessity? What do you believe? Is your faith a comfort to you under the present circumstances?”
At this point, before he has time to side-track the argument and entangle us in irrelevancies, we shall do well to reply boldly that a faith is not primarily a “comfort,” but a truth about ourselves. What we in fact believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing which, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on. Thus, it is useless to say that we ‘‘believe in” the friendly treatment of minorities if, in practice, we habitually bully the office-boy; our actions clearly show that we believe in nothing of the sort. Only when we know what we truly believe can we decide whether it is “comforting.” If we are comforted by something we do not really believe, then we had better think again.
Now, there does exist an official statement of Christian belief, and if we examine it with a genuine determination to discover what the words mean, we shall find that it is a very strange one. And whether, as Christians declare, man was made in the image of God or, as the cynic said, man has made God in the image of man, the conclusion is the same — namely, that this strange creed purports to tell us the essential facts, not only about God, but about the true nature of man. And the first important thing it proclaims about that nature is one which we may not always admit in words, though I think we do act upon it more often than we suppose.
I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of all things. That is the thundering assertion with which we start: that the great fundamental quality that makes God, and us with Him, what we are is creative activity. After this, we can scarcely pretend that there is anything negative, static, or sedative about the Christian religion. “In the beginning God created”; from everlasting to everlasting, He is God the Father and Maker. And, by implication, man is most godlike and most himself when he is occupied in creation. And by this statement we assert further that the will and power to make is an absolute value, the ultimate good-in-itself, self-justified, and self-explanatory.
How far can we check this assertion as it concerns ourselves? The men who create with their minds and those who create (not merely labour) with their hands will, I think, agree that their periods of creative activity are those in which they feel right with themselves and the world. And those who bring life into the world will tell you the same thing. There is a psychological theory that artistic creation is merely a “compensation” for the frustration of sexual creativeness; but it is more probable that the making of life is only one manifestation of the universal urge to create. Our worst trouble to-day is our feeble hold on creation. To sit down and let ourselves be spoon-fed with the ready-made is to lose grip on our only true life and our only real selves.
And in the only-begotten Son of God by whom all things were made. He was incarnate; crucified dead and buried; and rose again. The second statement warns us what to expect when the creative energy is manifested in a world subject to the forces of destruction. It makes things and manifests Itself in time and matter, and can no other, because It is begotten of the creative will. So doing, It suffers through the opposition of other wills, as well as through the dead resistance of inertia. (There is no room here to discuss whether will is ‘‘really” free; if we did not, in fact, believe it to be free, we could neither act nor live.)
The creative will presses on to Its end, regardless of what It may suffer by the way. It does not choose suffering, but It will not avoid it, and must expect it. We say that It is Love, and “sacrifices” Itself for what It loves; and this is true, provided we understand what we mean by sacrifice. Sacrifice is what it looks like to other people, but to That-which-Loves I think it does not appear so. When one really cares, the self is forgotten, and the sacrifice becomes only a part of the activity. Ask yourself: If there is something you supremely want to do, do you count as “self-sacrifice” the difficulties encountered or the other possible activities cast aside? You do not. The time when you deliberately say, “I must sacrifice this, that, or the other” is when you do not supremely desire the end in view. At such times you are doing your duty, and that is admirable, but it is not love. But as soon as your duty becomes your love the “self-sacrifice” is taken for granted, and, whatever the world calls it, you call it so no longer.
Moreover, defeat cannot hold the creative will; it can pass through the grave and rise again. If It cannot go by the path of co-operation. It will go by the path of death and victory. But it does us no credit if we force It to go that way. It is our business to recognise It when It appears and lead It into the city with hosannas. If we betray It or do nothing to assist It, we may earn the unenviable distinction of going down to history with Judas and Pontius Pilate.
I believe in the Holy Ghosts the lord and life-giver. In this odd and difficult phrase the Christian affirms that the life in him proceeds from the eternal creativeness; and that therefore so far as he is moved by that creativeness, and so far only, he is truly alive. The word “ghost” is difficult to us; the alternative word “spirit” is in some ways more difficult still, for it carries with it still more complicated mental associations. The Greek word is pneuma, breath: “I believe in the breath of life.” And indeed, when we are asked, “What do you value more than life?” the answer can only be, “Life — the right kind of life, the creative and godlike life.” And life, of any kind, can only be had if we are ready to lose life altogether — a plain observation of fact which we acknowledge every time a child is born, or, indeed, whenever we plunge into a stream of traffic in the hope of attaining a more desirable life on the other side.
And I believe in one Church and baptism in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. The final clauses define what Christians believe about man and matter. First, that all those who believe in the creative life are members of one another and make up the present body in which that life is manifest. They accept for themselves everything that was affirmed of creative life incarnate, including the love and, if necessary, the crucifixion, death and victory. Looking at what happened to that Life, they will expect to be saved, not from danger and suffering, but in danger and suffering. And the resurrection of the body means more, I think, than we are accustomed to suppose. It means that, whatever happens, there can be no end to the manifestation of creative life. Whether the life makes its old body again, or an improved body, or a totally new body, it will and must create, since that is its true nature.
“This is the Christian faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.” The harsh and much-disputed statement begins to look like a blunt statement of fact; for how can anyone make anything of his life if he does not believe in life? If we truly desire a creative life for ourselves and other people, it is our task to rebuild the world along creative lines; but we must be sure that we desire it enough.