The Radical, Risking God
(This column appeared last week in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.)
As I write this over 30 inches of rain have fallen in the last several days in my hometown of Pearland. So many in the Houston area and in south Texas have lost so much, but others have risked so much to save them that my heart is truly moved! (I shall return to this thought at the end of what I am writing today.)
In recent weeks, I have been talking about some of the words of Jesus recorded in the fourteenth chapter of St. John’s gospel in the Bible. Today I want us to consider a claim which Jesus makes there which is so astounding that even many Christians may not totally grasp it. At John 14:8, one of Jesus’s disciples, Phillip, has said to Jesus, “Show us the Father.” Jesus’s response is radical and unexpected. He says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14-9-11.)
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” As many Bible interpreters (including “Brits” CS Lewis and Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha course) have pointed out, when Jesus makes a claim like this there are only three possibilities. Either Jesus is telling the truth; or he is a liar and a false teacher; or he is insane. Those are really the only options.
What is not possible is that Jesus is a good teacher but that he is still wrong about being one with the Father. (If he is wrong about that important fact, he is not a good teacher but a false one!) So Jesus makes a totally radical and seemingly outrageous claim (but it is only outrageous if it is not true.) Have you considered that it might be true? What is some of the evidence that it might be true?
First of all Jesus is a sublime and wonderful teacher as evidenced in so many of his words including the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, and so many of his parables. Could such a good teacher teach a lie--that whoever has seen him has seen God?
Secondly, Jesus is asserting that a holy, sovereign, righteous and loving God can do anything he wishes (so long as it is consistent with these attributes), including (because of his love for us) humbling himself and becoming a sinless human being for our sakes. Who are we to tell God he cannot do this! It is one thing to say that the incarnation of God (his becoming flesh and blood) is surprising, radical, and unexpected. It is another thing to tell God that he cannot do this!
Thirdly, to deny Jesus’s claim is to choose to believe in a God who is more distant, remote, and hidden than the God who reveals himself in Jesus. The God who reveals himself to us in Jesus reveals himself to us in self-sacrificing love. To me, in the face of human suffering, (after having heard and believed the good news of Jesus) it actually takes more credulity to believe in a hidden, remote God than it does to believe in the God of radical self-sacrificing love whom we see revealed in Jesus.
As I said the beginning of this column, the Houston metropolitan area has experienced what some call “epic” flooding, or a “thousand year flood.” So many people have lost so much. It is hard even to grasp. But what is equally hard to grasp and what most moves me are the brave rescuers who do not remain safe and aloof from the danger afflicting our city, but who leave safety and security to venture into flood, chaos, and danger to save a human life. In doing this they show they are made in the image of God, because this is who God is and what God does. God has not remained aloof in the face of human distress, but he has entered into the fray, into the chaos and danger of human life, even subjecting himself to death---to save us.
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org