Transcript of Discussion with David Harper
I believe that on the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into Heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge
the quick and the dead
General Opening Comments
The Creed discussions have arisen because we are wanting to broaden the base of the discussion about the creed beyond the session asking in what way it helps us with belief today? The words are familiar but does that familiarity get in the way of our understanding.
Question: When I’ve been saying the creed over the last 80 years I say it stating: I try to believe because my faith does not allow me to say every word as literal. Saying ‘We’ believe is helpful and also your idea that resurrection is perhaps an experience is also helpful. I’m very grateful because of that.
David: I have discovered your website and got a sense of what you’ve been saying asking if we need to believe every word of it as literal. Willie Barclay’s “Plain Man Looks at the Apostles’ Creed” tells us that originally ’we’ was used which was helpful to me.
Questions: What about the resurrection being a symbolic event rather than an historic event?
David: I think it is more than symbolic: it is an experience. I think you have got to use the evidence and the only real evidence is the bible and Jesus himself. All evidence is experiential and witnesses to Jesus. There is no definitive description however: the two Emmaus disciples had one kind of experience: the stranger who joined them seemed physical but then disappeared from sight when they realised it was Jesus. Another experience is Jesus seemed to have passed through locked doors where the disciples were gathered. This is why I use the word coherence and use it as a way of understanding the Bible: look at the coherence or flow of the bible for the deeper truth.
When you sing ‘Lord of the Dance’ you don’t work out your movements first but just get caught up in it. That is what faith is all about: you get caught up in it but it is also vital not to think our brains aren’t to be used as part of our faith.
When you study the bible in academic way you open up the experience: what were the biblical writers meaning when they wrote in that particular way. They were using witnesses. And each witness had a reason to be use: why did they use that particular witness, what did they mean by what they wrote. The words we have to use are limiting and are often a wee bit different for the actual action itself. We only have so many words we can use.
If there is a road accident out there the police gather evidence from different folk and the accounts are always different so they have to listen to all the people and it is a difficult process to find out what actually happened. But you have to gather all the evidence and all the different views. The Bible is a collection of witnesses and therefore there is a degree of inconsistency.
When you read the Matthew passage about the sheep and the goats where people being told they have to depart into damnation then that is inconsistent to Gods love. It is a parable essentially all about love and then the story does this ending: it doesn’t cohere to the rest of the parable
Jeremias wrote a book on the parables and says you mustn’t dissect every bit of parables. The parables are used to illustrate one particular point.
Question: If you go back to the reference about experience: what they experienced must have been related to their relationship with Jesus which enabled them to be open to the manifestations of Jesus in that way and that ties up to the experience of grace.
David: Yes and No!. Paul before his conversion has no relationship with Jesus but had an experience and those witnessing to the resurrection were spread out in different areas of the world and not just the disciples. Paul has a contact with Jesus through his persecution of Jesus so what it true it is a relationship thing and all evidence of bible is in terms of some kind of contact.
I’m a great believer in things joining up: take the birth, life and death of Jesus: what was the most important and why? All three join up. One speaks into the other. Resurrection is a con trick unless it comes from all the events of what has happened before. Gods love live on. Trying to get rid of that love didn’t work as the authorities found out. On the cross Christ effectively made a fool of those trying to make a fool of him. It is part of a story that is consistent and coherent.
Question: Sometime you meet people who really ask the questions: how can you believe this. We need to be armed with some way of answering from our point of view. Non-believing friends can be helped in how we speak of these things.
David: One of the keys is to be totally honest. Christianity is not about giving answers but living the questions. We offer no service to the Gospel if we are dishonest. What you say is: there is a lot of point in what you are saying but I don’t totally agree because… and talk from your own experience. No one can tell you your experience is totally wrong.
It may help you see what doesn’t make sense but at the end of the day it is what the church believes and you hand over to those who know better.
Often people hear different things and unexpected things from what you said.
Question: Paul could go everywhere with his pain. He was free in terms that he could travel but there was something holding him back which you never find out about. When the Creed speaks of the ‘quick and the dead’ it has more punch to it than the contemporary version of ‘living and dead’ as he was able to travel but something holding him back.
David: Translations are quite important. The quick meant the alive. This is a modern day translation of then creed. We talk about creed as ancient document but there is it in modern form. We keep on retranslating things to make sense of understanding today.
Question: Judging. I always go back to my mother who did not want a homily at her funeral but a sermon about our relationship between ourselves and God because she was concerned but the separation the sheep from goats, but God has given us freewill and wants us all to be sheep and when we deny that relationship then it is our choice.
David: the problem lies when we do the judging. We have to remember it isn’t all about judgement. As a student I wrote an essay on God’s judgement: judgement as part of God’s love. There is no judgement apart from love when we talk of God. Where does judgement fit in? We are invited not to make judgements. At funerals we can say there was still something in that person that was good rather than say that person wasn’t a christian. I hold on to the love thing and everything else has to fit in to that.
The questions come when people die as it seems so final. I’m a bit agnostic with the final things.
Questioner: God accepts the things people doing in loves name?
David: It’s the question of what happens to non-jews ie the goats? Grace almost gets left out in this parable: it can’t be only about how we live or we will all go the wrong way. Again there is an overall pattern and picture through the whole Bible rather than one picture or story.
Question: It is difficult to make judgement without knowing all the facts and only God know that whole picture.
David: I agree entirely. The other questions is why make judgements in the first place. Prejudice: pre-judging is so widespread in our society. One friend of mine says: no one really believes the bible now a days so I replied: you don’t know what talking about. That is what goes on in society: pick up popular ideas of culture and quote them as if they believe it which they do but they don’t know the basis of their belief.
Question; In context of the golf club conversation does creed help or hinder the Christian’s position.
David: I don’t use the Creed as a statement as a whole. It is a statement and those who are christian confess it as an encouragement and commitment. But only you can answer whether it is helpful to explore. You’re not saying you have to believe everything but what does it means to me and to us.
At every Enquirers group I used to dispel myths about religion. Does modern science destroy the truth of the bible? Some say, I don’t know what to say when they mention modern science. What they are saying is: I have a commitment but I don’t know the full picture.
Bible and science totally compatible: Science asks questions about what is going on in world and explains it. It is evidence based. Faith is about experience and meaning. You can’t put two in opposition to each other: they are different pursuits. If saying the world was created in 6 days then that is a scientific statement but what 6 day creation is talking about is the meaning and purpose of that pattern of creation and that is a religions or faith statement.