The Nicene Creed begins with a confession of monotheism: “We believe in one God.” This confession grounds the creed in biblical revelation and the confession of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This confession is a revelation from God himself. He speaks and calls Israel to listen.
This revelation is a redemptive rebuke to the polytheism of the ancient world. Throughout biblical history, the surrounding nations of the Ancient Near East and the later Greco-Roman world were subject to polytheism. People lived their day-to-day lives caught in the fray of warring deities and religion amounted to a tenuous set of negotiations and transactions with these capricious and petty gods. The prophets of Baal give us a sense of what pagan worship looked like (see 1 Kings 18:20-40).
In the midst of such religious chaos, the one true God called Abraham and made a covenant with him. The LORD is one and the LORD is our God. Canaanites could never say our Baal. God condescends and identifies with his people. The one God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The LORD is one and alone is one. As he declares through the prophet,
“I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45:5)
The apostle Paul repeats this prophetic declaration to the nations,
we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6a)
The revelation and proclamation that God is one was an announcement of salvation to the peoples living under the darkness and tyranny of polytheism. Day-to-day life is not caught up in conflict of capricious deities, it’s in the hands of the Creator of heaven and earth, who is also the Redeemer, who calls to the nations,
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
While the pagan temples of the ancient world have not been rebuilt, the tyranny of polytheism has been revived. People are once again navigating life in submission to various competing powers. This dilemma was seen last spring: do I submit to public health orders and stay home, or do I declare my commitment to anti-racism and march with the crowds in the streets?
In the midst of such fragmented loyalties, the church continues to confess, “we believe in one God” and flowing from this confession, we declare with the Apostle,
“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)
Yes, we believe in One God – who is over all and through all and in all – and whenever we confess that God is one, we also confess that there is one Spirit, one Lord, and one Father. The One God is Triune. I will consider the tri-unity of God in my next note.