The Face Of God

blindfolded-man

What is God like?  Description requires observation, and observation of something that can not be seen is impossible.  In and of ourselves we are incapable of apprehending any semblance of a correct conceptualization of God.  Thus we are left to ourselves to develop our own conceptualizations of what God is like.  The inherent problem in this subjective approach to knowing God is that we do not base our ideas on any kind of standard outside ourselves but rather on our own biased perceptions of life.  It is what the Apostle Paul aptly described as the work of empty reasoning, vain imaginations.

So we are left in a kind of quagmire, for if God is unknowable, then He is also untrustworthy; for it is impossible to trust what can not be known.  It is precisely with this in mind, that Historical Christianity believes God began; thus the Bible is understood to be God’s self-disclosure.  Every revelation from Genesis forward is meant to point to one thing, God Himself.  At the center of it all is the incarnation of God in the life and teaching of Yeshua of Nazareth.  The Apostle John put it in perspective when he said that no one has seen God at any time, but the Son has revealed-explained-exegeted Him (John 1:18).

Over the years much has been explored regarding the ways that Jesus’ teachings reveal God.  Yet that doesn’t seem to be Jesus primary method of revealing His Father.  Rather than an academic understanding of God, Jesus seems to have wanted to communicate a relational one.  Again and again Jesus used phrases like I and the Father are one (John 10:30), and if you have seen me then you have seen the Father (John 14:8-9).  Of course if we accept Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s position of God’s infinite qualitative distinction from His creation then this is all quite logical.  For if it is impossible for man to apprehend any understanding of God with their natural faculties through empirical observation, then all that is left is to know Him in relationship.  The Holy Spirit beckons us to come and meet the Father through His Son Yeshua of Nazareth, He who was fully Man and fully God; or as the Apostle John put it, God with a face (John 1:14).

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  It was His purpose and God’s plan.  In the course of His short time in skin, Jesus captured the hearts of many people.  Yet His pursuit of Man did not end when they were initially moved to belief in His claims.  Rather He continued with a relentless tenderness to pursue His beloved.  At the end of John’s Gospel we find two instances of this: one a doubter, the other a defector, both His beloved.

Following His Resurrection Jesus appeared to His friends on several different occasions.  The first time Jesus came to them as a group, the disciples were short by one.  The disciple Thomas was not among them, and when the others told him of Jesus appearance, he was hesitant at best.  Thomas told them plainly, unless I can touch His scars, I will not believe (John 20:25).

It was eight days latter when Jesus showed up again.  This time Thomas was there with the others.  Jesus offered to Thomas just what he had requested, to touch the scars on His hands and side.  So Thomas beheld the scars and he believed (John 20:26-29).

This short exchange has left some people with the impression that doubt is a sin, and doubters are to be avoided.  We tend to think of those who doubt as being double-minded and therefore unstable.  Jesus on the other hand met Thomas where he was, in that place of doubt.  God is not threatened by our honest questions.  He is strong enough to handle the weight of our fear and our doubt. He is more than willing to meet us where we are, if only we are willing to admit that we are there.

After witnessing the resurrected Jesus several times, Simon Peter was still wallowing in the pit of his morbid introspection.  His denial of Jesus weighed heavy on his mind, and he tried to distance himself from the whole situation by going back to what he knew first; fishing (John 21:23).  Jesus simply refused to let Peter go.

Jesus could have overwhelmed Peter with the glory of His presence, but He didn’t.  Instead He chose a more subtle approach.  Peter and his friends had not caught anything all night and as sun rose Jesus called out to them from the shore.  He told them to put their net back out, and when they did it filled with fish.  John immediately recognized that it was Jesus and told Peter so.  When Peter heard, he leapt from the boat and swam for the shore.  When all of them got the fish to the beach they sat down to eat breakfast together.

Then Jesus asked Peter the question, “Do you love me?”  Peter answered in the affirmative.  “Feed my sheep,” Jesus replied.  Two more times they repeated this exchange, to the point that Peter was quite grieved by the whole thing (John 21:15-17).

In that moment Peter experienced grace.  Jesus had died to redeem him from the power of sin.  Jesus had embraced him as a friend and in so doing given the gift of reconciliation.  Yet this was different, with this Peter now learned the exhilaration of restoration.  Everything would be okay because Jesus loved him more than his choices, more than his failure.

So it is with God as well.  He knows our frame, our weaknesses; He is neither surprised nor dejected by our failures.  Rather than cast us away for our mistakes, He pursues us with relentless affection.  His love for us is greater than any other thing and all He wants is us.

To be honest with you, I have always been deeply disturbed by what appears to be a purposed evasion of the study of Jesus’ deity as it reveals God’s nature and character in relation to us.  If Jesus is fully Man and fully God, then how can we overlook the wide range of passionate activity in His life?  Should we not be willing to wrestle with the implications of what this wild man, who was God in the flesh, did and said?

Perhaps it is due to our innate fear that if we really knew the Truth, we might actually be free?  Freedom can be scary if you don’t know what to do with it.  Perhaps though, that is just where Jesus wants us, fearfully aware of our own inadequacies.  For if we would face our need then we would be able to run to Him, fall into His arms and be upheld by His grace.  Then He could show us what our Heavenly Father is really like and we could know what real love is.

Big hand with little hand

NOTE: This Post was adapted from a longer essay I wrote on the subject of how Jesus reveals the Father as seen in the text of the Gospel of St. John, as well as a similar article by the same name which I wrote for the Okeechobee Times (Okeechobee FL) Op Ed section called From the Pulpit several years ago.