Last time I wrote very plainly about the struggle of consciousness, the obligation we have to tame it, and the way God has planned for us to do that in an article entitled “Putting the Mental Monkey to Bed: A Case for Creeds.” My thesis was this: the mind is a power for great good and great evil, and it is our obligation to master it, to teach it the way it should go, otherwise it will lead us astray; and the main way to train and lead the mind is through developing and memorizing creeds. That was part one, a persuasive essay seeking to convince you of your obligation to engage in the discipleship of your mind. This is the second part to that post, and it will be an explanatory essay simply explaining how that mental discipleship occurs.
Teaching the mind the way to go, and making sure that path is absolutely correct—overemphasizing nothing, leaving nothing out—is a task only accomplished by Christian creeds. Everyone has a creed, a reason for living that can be boiled down into a simple statement, but not everyone’s creed is right. Only the Christian worldview can account for all of reality, and its only within that holistic view that we can find a truth statement that somehow gets at all of reality at once.
So a good creed must meet these qualifications:
- Holistic: It’s got to get at the whole picture, leaving nothing out.
- Balanced: Everything should be in its proper spot and tension in context with the whole picture.
- Succinct: It needs to be short enough to repeat over and over under your breath.
- Memorable: It should make sense and roll off your tongue.
- “Have courage and be kind” (Cinderella).
- “I believe in the great principles of positivism and evolution, the relativism of knowledge and the historical formation of concepts” (Paul Otlet).1
- The Apostle’s Creed.
- Baptist Confession of Faith from 1689.
- Here is a list of 17 personal creeds (most of which I don’t like).
Developing a Personal Creed
The first two in that list are what I’d call personal creeds while the last two are communal creeds. The communal ones are longer and more conclusive, serving as a reference, a touchstone to go back to in judging truth from error.
But the personal creed is perfectly exemplified in the story of Cinderella, especially Disney’s new remake. Ella’s mother dies while she is very young, and on her deathbed she tells her “always remember to have courage and be kind,” and all throughout her life, as the story unfolds, Ella repeats that creed to herself to keep her centered, to help her know how to live.
In the same way, we tell ourselves little stories in order to live, to know how to act and react to people and circumstances. And left to ourselves our creeds revolve around us and lose sight of the bigger picture. They become single phrases like “my life is hard” and we hear this voice in our heads that keeps saying “my life is hard” until finally that’s all we believe. Yes, we may say we believe God is sovereign and has blessed us with eternal life, but that belief isn’t on the forefront of our minds every day. “My life is hard” is.
To combat this, I developed for myself a creed that resisted that self-focus and myopathy. I developed it because I found myself looking at life simply as a fight. I was telling myself “life is a battle” and the only way to live was to grit my teeth and get on with it. But that left out the central element of joy and thanksgiving that must center me around what’s REALLY happening in my life: namely, that God is giving me breath and the opportunity for love and meaningful work and fulfillment every day.
“The fighting is the meaning and the success is the glory.”
Life is a fight, not a playground. But that is a good thing because meaning comes from the battles fought in war. But life isn’t a battle that eventually spirals out of my control, ending in death and defeat. I am meant to succeed! As Paul wrote, life is a race, but it’s not futile. We are meant to win! (1 Cor 9:24). (Or, at least to run as if to win!). So it’s a fight, and that fight gives us meaning, and we are meant to pursue success—as God defines it. And the motivator for all of this is not only meaning but glory…that one day God himself will glory in us (Rom 2:6-10).
When I was sick my creed would realign me to see that I’m meant to fight, to fight to succeed, and to fight to succeed to get glory. Often, now that I’m healthier, I’m tempted to think of life as easy and all about me and my entertainment—about my best life now. But my creed realigns me and reminds me that it’s about fighting, not relaxing. And so you can see that it helps to center me to the real reason for my life. And that is the great value of creeds. They help you think, help you interpret your life properly, and they help you to live a better life.
- Written in 1889 by this information scientist. Found in Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age (Wright, Alex), page 60. ↩︎