How Can We Know God?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
There is a story I have told multiple times here at Stone House Presbyterian, but is worth sharing again. It comes from Tom Torrance, the famous 20th Century Scottish theologian and pastor. He would later go on to write some of the best theological works of the past century, as well as become moderator of the Church of Scotland and Chaplain to the Queen. But before all that, he was an Army Chaplain in World War II. And on the battlefield one day, he saw a young man shot and wounded. As bullets and shrapnel were flying he made his way over. The young man was bleeding profusely and knew he was about to die. And so he asked Tom, “Is God really like Jesus?”
In these last minutes this young man wanted to know who he was about to face. Was it going to be a mean God, a wrath filled deity, an uncaring spirit, a no-nonsense bureaucrat? Or was it going to be the God who came to show us love, who touched and healed, who hugged and kissed, who washed feet and wiped away tears, who fed those who were hungry, who healed those who were lame, who taught us to love all our neighbors, even those different than us, and who carried his own cross to the hill of Golgotha so that we would be forgiven all of our sins and made whole once again?
Without missing a beat, Tom answered this young man back:
“He is the only God that there is, the God who has come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Savior.”
And as the young man died, he knew that God is exactly like Jesus.
If you are like me, growing up, I had this idea of two very different Gods. One was a stern God with a big flowing beard, sitting on a judgment seat up in the clouds. And I had this image of this God with a big notepad, just writing down everything I was ever doing wrong.
This God scared me. I wasn’t sure I liked this God, and I wasn’t sure that this God liked me. I had this idea that this God at most “put up” with people like me. I didn’t think this God liked my messiness, my questions, my creativity, my imperfectness, my silliness, and my odd behavior. I thought this God only liked people who were silent, who sat perfectly still, who dressed nicely and followed every rule to perfection.
That was one image of God.
And then I had this second image of God. This God got angry too, but only when people hurt each other or themselves. And he was angry not out of impatience, but out of love, and wanting us to be better. This God took on human flesh, and ate with people just like me, talked with people just like me, walked in our shoes, healed those who were sick, forgave us when we did wrong. This God didn’t stay seated in a throne or chair, but came to where we were and took our hands, guiding us into better lives.
This was the God I felt I could talk to, could pray to. This was the God I wanted to learn from and follow with my whole life.
This idea of two very different Gods is prevalent in our world. I don’t think I was alone with it. If you ask me what the most common heresy inside the church today is, my response is that too many people believe that Jesus is not God. Too many people grow up believing in that first God, a God who at most puts up with us, a God who doesn’t love us and just wants to punish us or harm us or make us pay. And we believe that Jesus is like the good cop that comes in and saves us from the bad cop, the bad God. That God wants to punish us, but Jesus intercedes.
We think that Jesus is the nice part of God that helps us with the mean part of God.
But all of that is simply bad theology.
We believe a Trinitarian God, but it is still a God who is united in love and mission. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three separate essences, but share the same care and grace and mercy for us, God’s beloved creation. They don’t fight and have to convince each other. They all want the same thing for us. That is for us to love God and each other and to know life to the fullest. There is no good cop God and bad cop God. There is only the Lord of heaven and earth whose very essence is love of the three-in-1, and who invites us into that loving relationship. That is who God is.
God has been trying to show that to us from the very beginning of our walk here on earth. God created this world of beauty and wonder and said look at my handiwork and know that it is good. It is meant for good and not harm. It is meant for mercy and not vengeance or judgment. It was us who broke the first promise and stopped noticing God’s beauty, not the other way around.
And so God gave us instructions and teachings through Moses and prophets and angels. God showed miracles through pillars of fire and ladders coming from heaven. God kept speaking words of forgiveness, words of compassion and mercy, words inviting us to return to God and join in love. But we turned God into another status symbol, into another way of judging each other, and made God a God who only liked a certain type of people, made God into a God who hated outsiders, cast out sinners, and wanted external trappings more than internal hearts.
And so God did the only thing that could show us exactly who God is, as we kept forgetting and overlooking, and making God in our own image. God came to a young woman named Mary and her husband Joseph. And there God was raised and join with us in every part of life. This wasn’t a second God, a separate God. This is the God. The fullness of God’s glory dwelt within him. He was the light of the world. He was with God and was God.
And he lived to show us who God is fully and how much God loves us. How can we know God?
We look at the stars at night. We can cast our eyes on sunsets and listen to the most beautiful pieces of music. We can talk with friends, we can read the Torah, we can give room for the Holy Spirit and prophets to speak within us today. But most of all, we can look to Jesus.
He is the image of the invisible God. And the way he lived, the way he taught, the way he walked with people, cared for people, died for people is the way God loves us.
When we have the biggest questions about God, the place to start is by looking at the life of Christ, and knowing this isn’t a small sliver of God, it is isn’t one of a pantheon of Gods. This is exactly who God is. As Tom Torrance said, “He is the only God that there is, the God who has come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Savior.”
How can we know God? He walked on this earth. He lived by our sides. And he showed his very face to us, as one of us, full of grace and love and light. Amen.