I wanted to share some thoughts today that have occupied my mind for a long time now. They now undergird so much of my thinking about God and therefore my approach to so much.
As our knowledge of God and the bible grow it can sometimes feel like our faith gets more complicated, in an unhelpful way. We are introduced to Jesus, the saviour, the very expression of God’s love who died on a cross for us. His life given that we might be free, free from the judgement sin brings and free to know God in a real way. We make him Lord and He does the rest. It is breathtaking in its simplicity and astounding in the way it reveals God’s heart towards humanity.
It doesn’t take long for complexity and nuance to come in though. The questions start to come. Perhaps initially as life throws us another storm or perhaps we start to believe what our culture at large thinks of faith and God. Is God really good? Is he really for me?
In the midst of the wrestling, which is a vital part of making any belief mature, we can be tempted to cloud our view of God with all sorts of detritus. Our understanding of who God is the foundation of our faith. I believe it is not merely an intellectual pursuit and has a real impact on our day-to-day life. To the degree it is correct we will live in truth and freedom. To the degree it is warped or misaligned we will live in falsehood, confusion and bondage.
In all my thoughts and study and prayer I am drawn to one simple conclusion. Jesus.
We must return to the simplicity of what brought us into that real and active relationship with God. Whenever we want to know what God looks like we must look at Jesus. Everything else, and I mean everything, is at best a shadow of the magnificence of God. Whenever we become confused or uncertain about whether something has the hallmarks of God we must return to the perfect representation. The gold standard revelation.
Thankfully this conclusion is not just my own musing but that of the New Testament writers too. In Hebrews we learn that Jesus is the exact representation of God. In Colossians we find that Jesus makes visible an otherwise invisible God. Jesus himself, the Son of God, even took this view. He announced to those standing next to him, if you have seen me you have seen Father God. Not that they would also need something more but that he was enough to reveal what God was like.
Now perhaps so far this feels pretty obvious to you. For me though the real shift comes when we look at applying this.
Most recently with the rise of the New Atheist movement many of the controversies about who God really is have come up. A God who demands genocide? A God who destroys the entire world apart from one family? I have noticed the smart apologetics guys try to bring the conversation back to Jesus. Now to an outsider this can at first look like clever deflection but the reality is, this is the way to go. If we genuinely want to know what God looks like we turn to the exact image.
One area in which a Jesus centred approach has potentially huge impact is in our reading of God’s bible itself. If we are not careful to hold Jesus as the exact representation of God we can fall into the trap of trying to play other representations of God against the revelation of Jesus. The challenge of any serious bible reader is that the bible is not flat in its emphasis.
If we are not careful we might look to stories or comments about God in the Old Testament which seem to clash with the revelation of Jesus in the gospels and somehow try to hold the two representations as equal.
Jesus himself had a habit of overturning commands that were previously directly from God. Whenever he says “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” you can be sure he is about to turn an existing command on its head. The religious leaders of the time were angered by the way he claimed to have authority to trump their existing view of God.
What I am definitely not saying is that the parts of the bible that don’t talk explicitly about Jesus are not important. Jesus himself wholeheartedly affirmed the part of the bible we call the Old Testament. He even went as far as saying that all of those scriptures actually point to him! That in itself is a huge challenge – how do we take portions of these scriptures which seem to be completely opposite in their nature to Jesus and show them to reveal or point to Jesus?
That is where I am turning to bigger brains than my own. I have got hold of the latest Greg Boyd book “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God” which in part attempts to deal with this topic head on. I will let you know how I get on. Don’t expect anything too soon though as it is nearly 1500 pages!
I was reflecting on where this journey started in earnest and I was reminded of a little quote I heard many years ago from Bill Johnson “Jesus Christ is perfect theology”. It is simple and yet it is profound.
I’m still unpacking it and I am finding that many others have and still are wrestling with the amazing simplicity of putting Jesus first. Any time my view of God is off course I need to get back to Jesus. Back to the simplicity and incredible depth of Jesus dying on a cross for humanity. What this one event alone reveals about God is astounding. His love, his goodness, his mercy and his grace. We have been unpacking it for over 2000 years and I know we still will be in the years to come.
While I have lots to learn yet I feel the apostle Paul’s words reveal the direction of my heart and mind.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor 2:2