There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. (ESV)
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Friday of Pentecost 17
25 September 2015
Who has seen God at any time? No one. Though some might be disappointed by that answer, I am not the least bit disappointed by it. It is entirely liberating to become aware that my search for God will never end in my finding Him. I have no doubt that such a quest is long and arduous; indeed such a search, if taken seriously, might cost life or sanity: "O, that way madness lies." Never to embark upon this quest means that we will not risk such a loss. Instead of mounting up to God to know Him, God has condescended to know us in the incarnation of His Son. John the Apostle puts it simply, "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known" (Jn 1:18
). The Bible is quite clear that if we are to comprehend God, we need first to be comprehended by Him. We must be known to know.
The patriarchs and blessed apostles were closest to God, yet they did not mount up into the divine presence. In fact, the Apostle Paul declined to reveal the content of his surpassingly great revelation (2Co 12:2-4
). Instead he thanked God for his thorn in the flesh, which kept him grounded in the things of the world in which God had revealed Himself in weakness and suffering. The patriarchs had the company of God in human guise. Abraham entertained the three men for a fellowship meal at which the conception and birth of Isaac was announced to the half-dead patriarch and his snickering wife (Gn 18:12-13
). These men were a theophany; a divine revelation in human form. It made this intimate meal and announcement possible, that Abraham might the more firmly believe it. This visitation was a type of the yet to be fulfilled promise of the One who would bless the world. God comes to Abraham. God understands him. God comprehends his need and becomes inextricably involved in it, by becoming present with Abraham, speaking to him and binding himself to the patriarchal family by a promise: "you will have a son."
A friend of mine used to say that if you are going to become a professional historian, the latest period of time in which you ought to specialize is the medieval period. His reason was that the medieval period was the period about which it was possible to know everything about the era, because there was a limited amount of evidence; such as manuscripts and archaeological evidence. Although I seriously doubt this idea, he thought that a comprehensive understanding of medieval history was possible. But to know everything? This is ridiculous. We can know only a smidgen of the world's data; which gives rise to the narrow specialization of academic disciplines today. Much less could we fully comprehend God. Comprehensive knowledge of God is a kind of blasphemy. What He has not revealed to us; and that is a lot, we will never know and never could know. What is comprehensive is not our knowledge of Him, but His knowledge of us. He has comprehended us by taking our flesh of Mary. He knows us unto our salvation.
Gregory of Nazianzus
"What God is in nature and essence, no man ever yet has discovered or can discover. Whether it will ever be discovered is a question which he who will may examine and decide. In my opinion, it will be discovered when that within us which is godlike and divine, I mean our mind and reason, shall have mingled with its like (in God), and the image (of God in man) shall have ascended to the archetype, toward which it has now the desire. I think this is what Paul means when he says, 'Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known' (1Co 13:12
). But in our present life all that comes to us is but a little trickle, and as it were a small reflection from a great light. So that if anyone has known God, or has had the testimony of Scripture to his knowledge of God, we are to understand such an one to have possessed a degree of knowledge which gave him the appearance of being more fully enlightened than another who did not enjoy the same degree of illumination. But this relative superiority is spoken of as if it were absolute knowledge, not because it is really such, but by comparison with the power of the knowledge of the other.
"Abraham, great patriarch though he was, was justified by faith, and offered a strange victim, the type of the great sacrifice. Yet he saw not God as God, but gave Him food as a man (Gn 18:2-16). He was approved because he worshipped as far as he comprehended. Jacob dreamed of a lofty ladder and stair of Angels, and in a mystery anointed a pillar (Gn 28:18) -perhaps to signify the Rock who was anointed for our sake (1Co 10:4)-and gave to the place the name of the House of God (Gn 28:17) in honor of Him whom he saw and wrestled with God in human form; whatever this wrestling of God with man might mean. Possibly it refers to the comparison of man's power with God's. Jacob bore on his body the marks of the wrestling, setting forth the defeat of the created nature; and for a reward of his reverence he received a change of his name; being named, instead of Jacob, Israel, that great and honorable name (Gn 32:28). Yet neither Jacob nor anyone on his behalf, until now, of all the Twelve Tribes who where his children, could boast that he comprehended the whole nature or the pure sight of God."
Gregory Nazianzus, Second Theological Oration, 17-18
Lord Jesus Christ, You have comprehended us in Your incarnation. We look forward to knowing as we have been known. Help us to focus on Your Word, that we might know You as You want to be known. Amen.
For those who are traveling, that they might have safe travels and joyous homecomings
For Donald Saenger, that the Lord Jesus might bring him the care he needs
For the meetings of the International Lutheran Council in Buenos Aries, that the Lord Jesus would be glorified and His grace extolled by its work
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015