Mythos and Logos – the language of Truth

Luke 18:1-8         Sunday School Skit – You just had to be there.

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.         Nicene Creed, Article 2

 

And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.

If even an unscrupulous judge – who acts solely out of his own self-interest – accidentally enacts justice for a widow, how much more then will God – who is, well, God – pay attention to, and honor our creaturely needs and rights?

Matthew and Luke share this theme. Jesus teaches about God’s love for us by holding a mirror to our own behavior. “Who among you, if your son asks for a fish would give him a snake, or if your daughter asks for Æbleskiver would instead give her a flat pancake? If you, who are wily, imperfect, arrogant, self-centered, at times mean spirited, hateful and proud, nevertheless, act out of compassion, empathy, goodness, kindness, courage, love – then why would you expect anything less from God? This is your trust, your sure and certain hope, that God who is love, loves; that God who creates, will creatively provide.

As the kid’s parable demonstrates, the gospels show Jesus to be the Explainer of God, the face of God, the living skin of God, the breath of the Holy Spirit, the word, wisdom, lover of God, the fire, passion, pathway and eternal being of God. In short, God.

And, although it might be hard to see it, that is what the creed is trying to express, as well.

The purpose of the creeds is to provide a statement of correct belief or orthodoxy, to describe the work of the three persons of the Trinity. The Christian creeds had been drawn up at times of conflict about doctrine: acceptance or rejection of a creed served to distinguish believers and deniers of a particular point or set of doctrines – the divinity of Jesus, for example, was a big one.

And it still is, I think, at least in ways.

The rubbing points for many people in reciting the creeds are in the particulars, perhaps, more than the concepts. The one I hear more than anything else is: Do we need to accept a virgin birth in order to believe that Jesus is of, from, in God as a Son to a Father? As waffle and Æbleskiver are of the same substance? I think it is a very good question.

The gospel of Mark doesn’t mention Jesus’ origins, and John’s gospel places them before all things in the Christ who became incarnate in Jesus without any explanation of the how or when. His mother is never given a name in the John’s gospel. Has the Christmas story of Matthew and Luke – as much as we love them at Christmas – become a stumbling point when made into doctrine?

Language has two characters: mythos and logos. Both of them tell the truth, but understand truth in different realms. Mythos is myth, poetry, transformational story language that helps us see ourselves and big concepts like faithfulness, honesty, heroism, bravery. Jesus used it in telling parables. We might describe the bonding, the joy of hard communal work, the way in which the scent of Æbleskiver and medisterpølse trailed out of the Hall after each of us last night and followed us, bringing that communal memory into our individual homes. That is mythos language.

Logos is a rational truth-telling language. The statistics of how many meal tickets were sold, how much the raffle items earned, how the bake sale contributed, how the hot water held up, how much fruit soup is left over compared to other years – this is the language of logos.

I suspect that those who have a hard time reciting the creeds because they can’t, with integrity, proclaim belief in the virgin birth, or the third day resurrection might do better with it if we had a better grasp of mythos, if we accorded mythos equal stature to the facts and reproducible, objective language of post-enlightenment logos.

Because the creeds, like scripture itself, are intended to promote faith, not block it. The gospel writers used the language, social structures, world view of their intended audiences to convince people in the Greco-Roman world that there is one God, not a pantheon of gods mostly interested in messing with humanity and fighting among themselves, and that Jesus is that God in person; that Jesus returns to God, as will all believers after death. Mythology was part of that world view, the language of mythos, poetry, imagination fills ancient literature as well as Hebrew and Christian scripture.

Having recently read John’s gospel, the language used there regarding Jesus is familiar  – eternally begotten – God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the father; through him all things were made…the creed mirrors John’s mythos language in these images of Jesus’ identity and mission. It is telling the truth, but not in facts and figures. So there is no reason to shift into logos language when we get to the particulars. And there is no reason not to. Meaning, that we are allowed to use whichever realm of truth leads to and supports our individual faith in the communal truth of God in Jesus.

The creed is the gospel in shorthand. It was especially intended for teaching the faith to converts and those who wished to be baptized. This is the faith they are entering.  Recited in Sunday worship, the creeds are a reminder of the promise of the “abiding” presence God, not a confining abstract speculation or roadblock. They are an invitation to experience the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as mythos and logos – a saving and comforting presence in the midst of our day-to-day world seeking truth even in mystery.