Jesus is God but what’s he like?

Jesus is God.

 

So what’s God like? We can answer that in at least three ways.

 

We can start from thinking about what God would have to be, to be God. We can begin from our ideas of what God has to be, what it means to be “God”. God is what is the most perfect, perhaps, the most powerful, the best. God is the creator. God is the eternal and everlasting. God is the never-changing. These are all ideas about what God is that have a long history and a powerful hold on the imagination. If that’s our idea of God then it’s going to be difficult to make sense of the idea that Jesus is God. Jesus the man lived and died in a particular time and place. During his life he was only ever in single spot at any given moment. He walked when he wanted to get around and he ate and drank. He suffered physical and mental pain and then he died. OK he was raised from the dead and then he seemed to be able to appear and disappear at will. All right during his life he was able to do things nobody else could do, like walk on water or still storms, but he wasn’t omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent, to use those terms. His power was limited, he didn’t know everything and he wasn’t everywhere. He didn’t match up to those preconceived ideas of what God was like.

 

Jesus doesn’t seem to fit our first answer to the question: “What’s God like?” and that causes us problems in believing that Jesus is God. Many people will say that they admire Jesus, that they like his teaching, that they think he’s worth following but they can’t accept that a man, any man, can be God. Well maybe that’s because they’re starting with an idea of what God is and trying to fit Jesus to it.

 

So an alternative might be to say that what it means to say that Jesus is God is that we should take our image of what God is from Jesus, rather than from our ideas about God, that the God we’re called to worship is one that looks like Jesus. That’s our second way of answering the question. “What’s God like?” God’s like Jesus. Later in John’s gospel Jesus speaks the famous words: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

 

If we accept that it might seem that the only way to know God is to know Jesus and so our image of God should be exactly the same as our image of Jesus. Some people are attracted to this way of answering the question “what’s God like?” because it makes God someone we can know and not someTHING distant and hard to believe in. At its extreme this turns into a humanistic post-Christianity like that of John Spong, Richard Holloway or Don Cupitt. God is the ideal of a perfected humanity. It is the best and most complete realisation of the human race, represented by our ideas about Jesus.

 

There are lots of problems about this, but not the least is that it conflicts sharply with what we know about who Jesus was and what he taught. He prayed to a God he called “Father”, he acknowledged and used the Hebrew scriptures as the way to know God, he accepted and revered the Law/Torah of Israel. Furthermore our knowledge of Jesus is confined to what is written in the gospels. While a faithful Christian will see the Bible as authoritative and will have to see it as sufficient as scripture to its (God defined) purpose, they will not be able, I think, to say that on its own it will allow them really to know the man Jesus.

 

In addition the books that are our only source of knowledge about Jesus represent him and represent him as representing himself as something rather more than a perfected human being. They represent him, I believe, as having a unique status that nobody else can aspire to. He is, in the words of the Nicene Creed (in its traditional translation into English), the “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father”.

Some will argue that this “high” Christology, this claiming of full divinity for Jesus is extra-Biblical but I have to say that I think this position is quite simply indefensible. Any reading of the prologue to John’s gospel, or indeed of a text like the Christ-hymn in Philippians chapter 2 makes clear, in my view, that the New Testament does claim divine status for Jesus. However this claim is made in the context of the Old Testament story about God’s covenant with Israel and revelation of himself to Israel. Jesus is God with (and in) the God of Israel, of Yahweh.

 

So what’s the third (and by implication best) way of answering the question “what’s God like?”

 

It is the same as the best way of answering the question “what is your friend like?” It is to say: “come and meet him”. Our, Christian, account of God is triune, not one, not two, but three persons. We say that the Spirit is sent from the Father and the Son and is present with and in us, joining us to the Son and through him with the Father. We say that through the Spirit the Church is the body of Christ. We say that our God, our Saviour, is not absent but present, in Word and Sacrament, in the life of the Church.

 

God has always been present in history, we say, reading the Bible. We say that God reveals himself continuously and consistently. The highest and fullest revelation is in Christ and Christ may be encountered in the Church.

 

Jesus is God, Jesus is here, to meet him is THE way to know God.

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