Credam, Credo, Ineptum
Credam, Credo, Ineptum are Latin words. It sounds like a Latin saying along the lines of Veni, vidi, vici, but it's not. The words mean, "I may believe;" "I believe;" and ineptum is popularly translated "absurd." These words are going to take us on a journey from Abelard, to Anselm, to Tertullian, to Jesus. We're travelling from the 12th century, to the 2nd century, to the 21st century as we look at something we all struggle with: believing.
We'll start with Peter Abelard who died in 1142. He said, "I know in order that I may believe." Knowledge comes before believing something according to him. This fits with human reason. This is the saying: believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see. This is Doubting Thomas. "Unless I put my fingers in the nail holes and my hand in Jesus' side I will never believe He is raised." This makes sense, doesn't it? Before you believe a medicine will help you, you want to know about the studies proving it. Before you believe a politician, you want to know about his record. Before you trust a branch, a rope, a bridge will hold you, you want to know how sturdy it is.
I know that I may believe is science too. A true scientist doesn't like to use the word believe when it comes to his work. He knows no more or less than what the data tells him, so he is always testing, measuring, observing to expand his knowledge. But since scientist are more respected than politicians and more believed than clergymen, we transfer their way of gaining knowledge to the things of the faith. How many news articles begin with "Scientists say" and whatever comes next is believed? This is Abelard's way. Knowing comes before believing. I increase my faith by knowing more.
This can be a danger in Christian apologetics. Apologetics is "the defense of the Christian faith on intellectual grounds" (ODCC, 73). Young people tend to be drawn to this, and there is a place in Christianity for it. For example, apologetics uses the tests secular scholars use on ancient documents on the Bible to show it is no more unreasonable to regard the Bible as accurate than it is to regard the works of Homer. However, it is an error to think that by knowing more facts, faith will be increased. Furthermore, articles of faith such as Baptism forgiving sins, the resurrection of the dead, the Body and Blood of Jesus in Communion, and a virgin conceiving can't be scientifically proven.
So this brings us to Anselm who died in 1102, 40 years before Abelard. He said, "I believe in order to know." This is what Jesus says in our text. He says the Pharisees could not see Him until they say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." They could not know He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, until they believed that He's the Messiah, the Blessed One who comes in the name of Jehovah.
Think about this. After Easter no one sees Jesus except believers. Acts 10 partly explains this saying, "God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He wasn't seen by all the people but by witnesses whom God had already chosen." But this does not explain how no one in Jerusalem made a stir, a fuss, or even noticed when as Luke 24 says Jesus "led them out to the vicinity of Bethany." The people didn't recognize Him; the people didn't know Him; only those who believed did.
You'll recognize "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" as part of the Sanctus we chant in the Communion liturgy. We are saying that in Communion we see our Lord Jesus coming to our altar no less really, no less visibility than the faithful who cried these same words when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But only faith has this knowledge, only faith sees what angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven see: The Body and Blood of Jesus once more on earth.
I believe that I might know Jesus in the Bread and Wine of Communion; I believe that I might know Jesus clothing me in Baptism. I believe that I might know Jesus sends my sins away from me as far as East is from West in Absolution. Apply this to our text. Believe so you might know that Jesus' goal in earthly life was not driving out demons and healing people but to die on a bloody cross for your sins. Believe so you might know that Jesus longs to gather you under the outstretched arms of His cross as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Believe that you might know that if Jesus longed to gather the Jerusalemites who killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her, He longs to gather you no matter what your sins, no matter how hard your heart has been.
I believe in order to know is the proper attitude. I know in order that I may believe is not, but there is an error lurking in a murky application of believing in order to know. The error is thinking that believing causes the knowing in the sense you're talking yourself into something. No, belief only receives the knowledge; it doesn't cause the knowledge; my believing something doesn't make it true. I receive the truth of God by believing. So the real question is what causes the believing? The answer comes from Tertullian and it is absurd. No really that's what it is.
Tertullian was born 160 A.D. The last writing we have of his is 220, but we don't know when he died. He wrote On the Flesh of Christ which was a refutation of heretics who denied the reality of Christ's flesh. In this he said, "It is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd" (ANF, III, 525). You will often find this written with the last word being the Latin absurdum. But in reality he wrote ineptum which is translated by my Latin dictionary as "foolish, silly, inept, awkward, absurd, unsuitable, out of place, tactless, tasteless" (New College, Latin & English Dictionary, 145).
There may be a nuance expressed in inept rather than absurd; however, I think either will do. The Christian faith that Almighty God took on flesh and blood in the womb of a virgin to take fallen mankind's place under God's Laws and after having kept them perfectly suffered the punishments of hell and death mankind deserved, is so over the top, so awkward, so out of place in the realm of human reasoning that no one could reason there way to it; no one could decide to believe this. Only a miracle could work such a faith.
Just look at our text. Is it not absurd that men should threaten God? We know already by this time in Luke that Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, yet here God in the Flesh is being threatened with death. That's laughable. Show me a Greek legend where Zeus is threatened with death by a mortal. It's absurd that God should be able to die. It is inept story telling to have the Man who is God be on His way to Jerusalem to die.
In the myths of the Greeks and Romans, Hercules is man and god, but when he dies the myths make a point of saying the part that was god did not die. Not so Christianity. "O sorrow dread our God is dead" we sing on Good Friday. "God was in Christ dying on the cross reconciling the world to Himself," Scripture reveals in 2 Corinthians 5. Go ahead; try to get your head around this. You can't. God is life itself. God can't die, yet in the Person of Jesus God dies.
You can't wrap your head around this, but believe this absurd, inept truth and watch as knowledge expands. If God died to pay for my sins than I can know all of my sins have been sufficiently paid for. If God died to pay for my sins than I can know He owns them not I. If God bought and paid for them, He is responsible for them. I can know that He must give an account for them not I.
It is absurd; it is an inept story that has God the Creator spreading out human hands to die for His creatures' sins. It would be like paddling your child because the puppy messed on the floor. Yet this is the Christian story; these are the facts of our faith. Rather than punish the world for it's sins, God chose to punish His only beloved Son. And He did this when the world was still ungodly, still His enemy. In the mythology of Greece and Rome the gods do help mankind but only the deserving, only the pious. How absurd that Christianity went out into the Roman world proclaiming that the true God had put all the sins of the world, all the sins of the undeserving, the impious, the hateful, the disgusting on His only Son and paid for them there.
Go back to our text. Hear what is really happening. His enemies threaten Him with death. Jesus says He cannot die before His work is completed and He won't die outside of the prophet-killing Jerusalem. Then Jesus proceeds to weep, to cry, to break down at the thought of the city that will kill Him being destroyed. This would be like us weeping for Saddam Hussein, like us weeping over the thought of Bin Laden being killed. God's love for us in Jesus defies reason, makes no sense, can only be believed because it sure can't be explained.
Jesus is going to an unimaginable painful death on a cross. He will literally go through hell and death bearing all the shame and guilt you can't remember from all your sins or can remember from just one or two. Yet His thought is not of His pain while outstretched on the cross bearing all the judgment and wrath of an angry God. His thought is of all those who refuse to seek shelter from the storm under His outstretched arms. How much He must love us; how badly He must want to spare us judgment and save us.
It is absurd that the Almighty God having redeemed us from sin, death, and the power of the Devil, should come to us in Bread and Wine so we may eat and drink that redemption, that forgiveness, that everlasting life. And it's absurd that we should cry out before consecrated Bread and Wine that we see the One who comes to us in the name of the Lord. Yet this has been the Church's cry for centuries because faith sees more than what reason can know to be there. Faith sees what God knows to be there even though such knowledge is absurd, or as Tertullian would say faith sees it because such knowledge is absurd. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Lent (20130224); Luke 13: 31-35