Jesus - God (part 2)
Fr. Thomas Hopko · April 23, 2009
Fr. Tom continues his examination of Jesus as God.
In reflecting on the names of Jesus, we reflected on the fact that, in the New Testament Scriptures, and of course this becomes Orthodox Christian doctrine, the man Jesus, in the humanity of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, who He is, is God’s very Son, and that He is divine. He is a divine person, divine, with the very same divinity as the one, true and living God, who is His father. We saw that in being called Son of God, that is an expression that led to the conclusion and the confession, that Jesus really is God. He is man, and He is God. God, the one true God, is his father, divinely. Mary, the Theotokos, the virgin Mary, is his mother, humanly. He is theos and anthropos, or is called theanthropos, or theandros in Greek, meaning the God-Man.
We also saw that in the New Testament, actually, the term theos—not just Son of God, but God—is used for Jesus: that the Logos, which we will discuss later on in more detail, Jesus being called the Word, or the Logos of God, but it says that this Logos is God, is Theos. We spoke about that. And then we saw that this Logos who is Theos, is God’s only begotten Son, and in St. John’s Gospel, there is a variant reading that says he is the only begotten God, that he is a begotten God. And the Nicene creed, which Christians have proclaimed through the centuries, since the 4th century, when it was written at the First Ecumenical Council, Jesus is called, “Light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not created, begotten of the Father before all things were created, before all ages.” And then being that God for God, he is the agent of creation. He is the one by whom, through whom, and in whom all things are made. And then we saw in St. John’s Gospel that, very simply, the Apostle Thomas, addressing the risen Christ, in the famous chapter there in St. John’s Gospel, the 20th chapter, where he simply addresses Jesus as, “My Lord, and my God,” with a definite article, the Lord and the God of me. And we also reflected how the term, the Lord, is the Hebrew word Yahweh, which means, I Am, was always pronounced “the Lord” [adonai]. And it was written “the Lord” in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.
So we saw that the term, the Lord, and the expression, “I Am,” refers to the Lord, that is God, in the Bible. Those terms are all applied to the one God of the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets.
Let us reflect a little bit further on this. What does that actually mean? How is this God? What is this God like? What does this God do? When we know this God, the God that Jesus reveals, and the God that Jesus is, as being God’s Son? We see that there are two ways that we can speak about Jesus of Nazareth, the man, being also the presence and the revelation of God. First of all, He is the presence and revelation of God, the Father, His Father. So we see that Jesus reveals to us the one, true and living God, who in the Bible is the father of Jesus. So that Jesus is the one who says, “He who sees Me sees the Father.” He says, “When I speak, I speak not My own words, but the words of the Father. I reveal the will of the Father, I do the work of the Father.” So Jesus is revealing God, the Father, in His person as Son, and as Word, and as image —we will talk about Word and image later —but what we want to see now is that He is revealing God, the one, true God who is His Father, and therefore, He is revealing divinity —divinity in the sense that He shows what it means to be divine, as opposed to being a creature —what it means to be uncreated, divine, God —and not to be a creature, or simply a human being, or an animal, or a plant. What does it mean to be God? What is God like? How does God show Himself?
What we want to see here, and repeat again —it is repetitious, but as the old Latin saying goes, repetitio mater studiorum, repetition is the mother of learning, and you have to say a lot of things a lot of different ways in order to catch the vision —we already mentioned that Jesus is also called God, and believed to be divine because of how He acts. He acts the way God acts. He does what God does. And here we would say very simply, that absolutely everything, literally everything, that is applied to God, the one, true, and living God, Yahweh God, in the law, the psalms and the prophets of the Holy Scripture —everything that is said about God in Israel, in Moses’ Law, and so on, all these things are said about the man Jesus in the four Gospels, and in the New Testament writings generally. Anything that was stated, any conviction about God, and how God is, and how God acts, and what God says, when God speaks, this is now all coming to us through the human mouth of Jesus. It is coming to us through the human activity of Jesus, through the human life of Jesus, that all of His activities in human form are revelations of divine activity. They are revelations of divinity, and they are revelations of God, the Father.
What does that mean? Let us think about that just a little bit more today. That is the purpose of our meditation today. What does that mean? If we begin with the Old Testament, we begin with Moses, and Moses, here, is a key figure, because in the books attributed to Moses in the Bible, the so-called five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, which is Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, you have these narrations about Moses’ interaction with God. You have Moses and the burning bush —that is where God gives the name, I Am, I Am who I Am —the name Yahweh —God says to Moses, “Until now you have called Me the Most High, the El Shaddai, but from now on I will be Yahweh. And we mention, again, that when this word was written, the people said, “The Lord.” So I am going to be for you, now, the Lord. The Lord is going to be God. So you have this burning bush phenomenon with Moses.
But then later on in Exodus, in that same book, you have Moses going onto the mountaintop to get the Ten Commandments, and he has a face-to-face encounter with God. And then, according to the Scriptures, Moses speaks with God, face-to-face, as a man would speak with his friend. This is why the Old Testament, all of Israel is Mosaic, God is the God of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel, the God who leads the people out of bondage in Egypt, is the One who does so through Moses, and He reveals Himself through Moses. And then, He is the constant teacher of Moses. When Moses is on the mountaintop, the Lord reveals Himself to him, Moses wants to see Him up close, and He said, “Oh, you can only see the backside, you can only see the Glory of God passing by.”
And then, of course, you have in the old covenant, Moses enters into the tabernacle that was built, and the pillar of the cloud descends and stands at the door of the tabernacle, and then Moses speaks to God, and God speaks to Moses, giving His teaching to the people, and He does so through the place called the heliasterion, the mercy seat, where God speaks.
For example, we have in the 33rd chapter of Exodus, the Lord spoke to Moses face-to-face, as if one should speak to his friend. This is what is written. This is how Moses used to speak with him. And only Moses could go, and later on Joshua, the Jesus figure, would go. And then when Moses is asking God to see His glory, to see His face, God says, “You can only see My glory, My splendor, My majesty. You can call upon my name, the Lord, and I will show mercy to you. He says, “But you shall not be able to see My face. No man shall see My face and live.” But the glory passes by, and Moses has to hide in the rock, and it is all very, very scary. And then when Moses is revealed to God, and Moses is there in fear, and trembling, and wonder and attraction before the very presence of God, you have this very famous line in the Scripture, that the Lord passed by before the face of Moses and Moses proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God,” and then it says, “Compassionate, merciful, long-suffering, very compassionate and merciful, abounding in steadfast love, and totally faithful and true.” This is a phrase that is repeated in the Old Testament again, and again, and again. It is in the prophetic writings, it is in the Chronicles and historical books, it is in Jonah, it is in Job, it is in —certainly in the Psalter. You have this line in the Psalter that the Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering, abounding in steadfast love and mercy, totally true, giving mercy and righteousness forever and ever unto His People. This is how God is revealed in the old covenant.
Now, in Jesus, you have something radically different, way beyond this. Jesus is not a man who spoke with God, being a man on earth, in any cloud, or on any mountain, or in any tabernacle. According to the theological Gospel of St. John, and in other ways in Matthew, Mark and Luke, particularly Mark, you have this teaching, this confession, that Jesus has the most intimate relationship with God from before the foundation of the world, that he was in the presence of God and is face-to-face with God and is pros ton theon toward God, as the Logos from all eternity, before there is even any creation. And Jesus said that no one has seen God, but Jesus reveals Him because Jesus has seen Him, in divinity, before His incarnation on earth, so to speak. That Jesus speaks with God as God to God, as the Lord to the Lord, not as a man to God, but as God to God. As the Son of God to His Father. You do not have a more intimate relationship than that. And Jesus is the divine Son. That is why Jesus can say, “He who sees Me, sees the Father. He who hears Me, hears the Father. He who touches Me, touches the Father. He who knows Me, knows the Father.” And the only way you can know the Father, is through the Son.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are, in some sense, not theological Gospels in the same sense as St. John’s Gospel is, you still have that incredible passage in the synoptic Gospels, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, where Jesus says, “No one knows the Father, but the Son. No one knows the Son, but the Father. No one knows the Father, but the Son, and those to whom the Son reveals Him.” So there is this intimate knowledge of the Father of the Son, and the Son of the Father. And of course in other books in the New Testament, like John 1, it says, if you really claim to have God, then you have the Son of God. And if you have the Son of God, then you have God, then you have the Father. And you cannot have the Father without the Son, and you cannot have the Son without the Father, in the deepest, most perfect, possible way. This is the ultimate revelation.
So Jesus is revealing God to the world, and He is revealing God to the world in his own person, as being God, Himself. And that is why in the New Testament, absolutely everything that is said about God is now said about the man, Jesus. And everything that God says and does in the law, the psalms and the prophets, is now being said and done through the man, Jesus of Nazareth, Mary’s child, who is God incarnate.
One of the ways that this is put in the end of the prologue of St. John, which I like to always mention, is read at the paschal liturgy in the Orthodox church, on Pascha night: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and nothing that came to be, did come to be except through him. In him was life. In him was the light of the world.” And then it says, “The Word became flesh, He dwelt among us, we beheld his doxa, his glory…” —just like Moses beheld the doxa, the chabod in Hebrew, that is doxa theou 41:25 in Greek. Moses sees it on the mountaintop and he cannot look at it. Now this very same glory is shining from the face of Christ.
Then the end of the prologue says, “No one has seen God at any time.” Even Moses did not see God. His face could not be seen. He saw God’s activities, he saw the hind parts of God. He saw the energies of God, as the holy Fathers would say, the operations, the actions, the functions, the splendors, the revelations, the glories of God. But you cannot see God, Himself. No one can see His face and live.
The New Testament says, “No one has seen God at any time.” Then it says, “The only begotten Son, or the only begotten God, who is the Logos, who is Jesus of Nazareth, who dwells in the bosom of the Father, who is within the very presence of God, the Father, He has made him known, He has revealed Him.” In Greek the word is exegeseto—He has made Him known. He has shown what God is really like, in the most perfect revelation of God that can be made on the planet earth. It is the man, Jesus, God’s own divine Son, revealing the divinity of God, the Father, in His own person, and then giving communion with God, the Father —we should add even here, through the Holy Spirit —in His own person.
So, in Christ, in Jesus, you have the most perfect revelation of God, and of divinity, of God the Father, and divinity, what it means to be divine. You have this given to us in the person of Jesus. And now all this is communicated through his humanity, through his human life, through what he says and does. And what he says and does is everything that God says and does. We spoke about this, but it is worth repeating again, that Jesus forgives sins. Only God can forgive sins. Jesus has control over life and death and can raise the dead. Only God can do that. Jesus has control over nature, the winds and the waters are subject to him. Only God has that. No creature has that. Jesus brings the love of God and communicates the truth and the wisdom and the power of God in the most perfect way to people, and He does that because He is the divine Son, Himself. He is God. And we worship Him as God, showing all of this reality of God.
Let us think a bit, now, what that reality is. What is the content of that? What is the substance of divinity? What does Jesus reveal to us about divinity, and what does He reveal to us about God, His Father? Because He is making God known. And in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus will even say that this is eternal life, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent. That is what makes life, life. To know God. To know what God is like. To know how God is. To know how God acts. To know what God does. The real God, the true God. And here, of course, the point is, that Jesus’ father —being the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets —Christians believe, with Jews, that, in this sense, the only true God that really is God is the God of Isreal. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses and the prophets. That is the real God. All the other gods are not gods at all. They are no gods. They are spirits, powers, forces, demons, whatever, but they are not God. They are not God.
So, you could even say that Christianity is really about God as God really is. I like to say lately that Christianity is basically about two things: It is about God as God really and truly is. It is about being freed from all false conceptions of God. It is about being freed from all idols. It is to know God as God really is.
And then, it is about death. Christianity is about God and death. Because we have to come to terms with death. What do we do with death? And if God is God, and God really exists, and God is the God of life and death, then it is only God who can destroy death and raise us from the dead and give us everlasting life, because God is the living God, the God who lives, the God who cannot die He is the Holy Immortal, as we sing in church, the deathless One. And Jesus Himself, is the deathless One, being divine, and He voluntarily takes on the sins of the world, and He voluntarily dies. As we say in the Orthodox church during Holy Week, the Lord, who is going to his voluntary death. He identified with us in order to destroy death by death, but He is the immortal one. His death destroys death.
So, we see in Jesus everything that we need to know about God. St. Paul put it this way, that we do not have to climb up to heaven to try to find him, or try to bring him down, and so on. God is near us, He is in us. The kingdom of God is in our midst, the power of God is here —in the person of Jesus, in human form.
So what we want to do now, though, is to say, what is the content of that? What is the substance of it? First of all, we would say that God the Father is invisible. He cannot be seen. God cannot be seen. Divinity is invisible. It is ineffable, too. These are words from St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy. You cannot see God, God is ineffable, there are no words that can contain what God really is. You have the actions of God, but in these actions of God you realize that how those actions are, and what they do are beyond the possibility of capturing in human words.
And then it is incomprehensible. You cannot really totally comprehend it with a creaturely mind. You cannot put it all together. It is invisible, incomprehensible, inconceivable, you cannot make conceptions, it is beyond understanding. The biblical word would be Holy —Agios. Agios is the name of God, the Holy One, the Holy, Holy, Holy God, as Isaiah said, as we sing still to this day in the church, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy.” Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. Heaven and earth are full of Your Glory, your chabod, your splendor. That very splendor, by the way, that the Apostles Peter, James and John saw shining from the face of Christ and His body on the mount of transfiguration, showing that He was Divine Son and he was God Himself.
Now, when that splendor, and that Holiness is revealed and is shown, for example, to Moses on the mountain, or for example, when anyone is really in contact with Jesus, knowing who He is, as the Son of God, the reaction is always one of fear and trembling. You fall on your face, you cannot stand it, you know that it is overwhelming, it is overpowering. The technical term would be apophatic. There are no words that you can use to speak about it. Even if you use negative words, you have to negate the negations, and you just are reduced to total wonder and amazement, in something that is way beyond anything —it is something that is way beyond this world —it is something really divine.
And so, you have this being revealed through the humanity of Jesus. For example, I just mentioned the transfiguration mountain, but almost any time when people are in touch with Jesus, and they realize and confess that He is really the divine Son, they always fall on their face. Did you ever see the three apostles on the icon of the transfiguration? They are backwards and upside down and do not even dare to look. It is fear and trembling, but at the same time, it is attraction, it is beautiful, it is glorious, you do not want to leave it, you do not want to leave Him.
And that is what you see in people relating to Jesus in the New Testament, just exactly as to God in the Old Testament. That Jesus is scary, He is frightening. Sometimes the sinful people would say to him, “Go away, do not stay here,” as when he cast out the Gergesene swine. The people said, “Go away, get out of here.” In fact, the Scribes and the Pharisees were so frightened and scared of Him that they just simply decided to kill Him, and they did. They did, except that He destroyed death and rose of the dead, and is exalted in glory. He cannot be killed. But the evil do not want that presence. They cannot stand it, it is torture. But people who want it, who desire it, who know it is mercy.
For example, when Jesus does miracles of healing, the people fall down in from of him. For example, Peter, in the fishing story. Peter just jumps and falls down and says, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man.” On the other hand, he has to follow Him, he cannot let Him go. And here, this is a classic, classic way of describing —and you can only describe it, you cannot explain it —what happens when you are in contact with God —with the Holy. On the one hand it is so totally attractive, and it mesmerizes you, and you want it, and you feel peace, and you feel joy, and you never want to leave, and you want to be there forever —and at the same time you feel your creaturehood. You feel that you are dust. You feel that you are a sinner. All your sins come up. You feel unclean. You feel scared. And this is what you have in the New Testament.
Now, the same thing happens with Jesus as happens with Moses, and it is the same thing that happens in any mystical experience as described by any saint that ever lived. The divinity that comes through the humanity of the man, Jesus, is not any less apophatic than any kind of vision of Isaiah in the temple, or Moses on the mountaintop, or any kind of mystical experience that anyone has ever had, of God. It is the same. God is still mind-blowing. God is still incomprehensible. God is still Holy. Holy means, like nothing else that exists. For example, Isaiah will say that the Holy God, the I Am, is incomparable. There is nothing in heaven and on earth that can compare with him. He is completely different. The Latin expression —totalitare alitare —completely other. That is what is revealed in the flesh of Jesus, too.
So it is wrong to say that the knowledge of God becomes totally comprehensible in the man, Jesus. That is simply not true. The divinity that is revealed in the man, Jesus, is as incomprehensible, as ineffable, as invisible, as inconceivable, as mind-blowing, as scary, as frightening, as Holy, as overwhelming, as any divinity that you are ever going to contact anywhere, in any way. It is terrifying, it is awesome, and that is what you see revealed in Jesus, too.
But then you can go further, and you can say, that like every mystical person has known, every saint has known, for example, Isaiah has known, as Moses has known, those who have had that experience of the glory and splendor of God, the actions of God, the presence of God, have known, is that this God is, as it was said on the mountaintop to Moses, this God is compassionate, merciful, long-suffering. Even sometimes it is said, slow to anger —He gets angry, but does not keep it —and abounding in mercy and steadfast love, and that He is true, He is alethinos, He is dependable, He is the rock, He is faithful.
It is these very qualities that are revealed in the most final, perfect way on the planet earth, through the man, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who is God Himself When we are in touch with the man, Jesus, we know that God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, longsuffering, compassionate, abounding in steadfast love and mercy, full of gracious kindness, lovingkindness. In fact, the Old Testament formula would be: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy and truth. The New Testament formula, the shortest possible, in 1st John’s letter in the Bible is, “God is love —love.” Just love —grace, love, mercy, eleos.
Let us take a look at that word merciful, or the word compassionate. This comes from the Hebrew words, chesed—the covenanted love that can never be broken that God has promised, and no matter how much we sin, the [27:39] of God never leaves us.
You find this word in all of the Old Testament books, certainly, for example, in Hosea, when it says, God is faithful in love to us, like a man with an adulterous wife, who is going whoring around all the neighborhood, and the man is a cuckold—you know that word cuckold, that means a man whose wife is not faithful to him? Well, God, in the Scripture, is a cuckold. He is faithful to His people in total love all the time, but the people are not faithful to him.
And then there is another word, rachmin, in Hebrew, which means compassion, and it is from the word, rachmin, which means a uterus. It means a woman’s womb. It is like womb-like love, feministic, so to speak, the bleeding womb. And that is why this ultimate mercy is ultimately revealed on the planet earth in the womb of Mary, because God shows this rachmin to her in the Magnificat. It says that God looked upon his female slave and her lowliness and he did mercy to her —eleos to her. Now that word, eleos, if you took the Greek etymology, it is from the word which means oil —smooth, compassion, soothing, healing. So you have these images of the bloody womb where life is born, and the compassion of a mother. Isaiah says, a mother can forget her suckling child, but God never forgets us —never forgets us —never.
So, what you see in Jesus, are all these adjectives that describe God in the Bible. God the Father, Yahweh, the one, true and living God —merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding steadfast love and mercy, totally compassionate, totally faithful. For example —fidelity. The one thing about God, a quality of God in Scripture —he is totally faithful. Completely and totally faithful. He never betrays. It is like in that wonderful early Christian hymn, in 2 Timothy 2, where it says, if we have died with Him, we will live together with Him. If we have patiently suffered with Him, we will reign together with Him. If we deny Him, He will deny us. But if we are faithless, He remains faithful, because He cannot deny Himself.
So, in the person of Jesus, as God incarnate, the total mercy, compassion, kindness, lovingkindness, unconditional love, unqualified fidelity, fidelity in love to the very end. This is the quality of God. This is how God is. And this is what is revealed to us in Jesus about how God is, in the most perfect way, and in a human way, even unto his death, death on the cross, where He sheds His very last drop of blood, in total compassion, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, to all the people of all the world, all the Jews, all the gentiles, all the nations. All of this is shown in Jesus, and this is what is foreshown in all that is said and shown about God in the old covenant.
And it is really wrong to say that the God of the old covenant is a different God from the God of Jesus. There are people who taught that. I even read once in the Living Bible, an English translation, that said, “The law with its merciless justice and unmitigated commandments came through Moses, and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” That is simply not true to say —with its rigorous demands and merciless justice. In the old covenant God gives His words, His commandments, in order that we would rejoice —that we would know His mercy and kindness. And if we keep His commandments we know His mercy and kindness. And it is the same thing in the New Testament. But now it is connected to the person of Jesus, and that divinity of the one, true God, the Father of Jesus, the divinity that Jesus, Himself has —this is what is shown to us most perfectly in the New Testament, in the person of Christ, who is God incarnate.
So, we see this boundless love, this totally apophatic God, that no one can see, that no one can contain, that no one can comprehend —His brilliance, His splendor, His glory. He dwells in darkness, which is filled with light. He is way beyond anything —this is now coming to us in the flesh of Jesus, and this is what it means that Jesus is God.
Now, when we go a little bit further with that, we can see that even the so-called wrath of God is an expression of His merciful love. We only get really angry at people if we love them. If we do not love them, we do not care what they do, let them perish. But if you care about a person, you get angry.
And we know in the Old Testament that there is the wrath of God. He is just angry at the people when He does so much for them, and He shows that He is merciful and gracious and longsuffering, and provides and feeds and protects, and delivers them from the idols, and defeats the enemies, and gives them the land, and still they sin. And God gets angry! And by the way, in Holy Scripture, God is never angry at the nations. The nations are the nations, they do not know God. They have to be brought in through the Messiah. It is only when the Christ comes that the nations become the believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus Christ, himself. But in the old covenant, all the wrath of God is directed against His own people —His own people who do not receive his love —His chesed, His mercy, His compassion, His bowels of outpouring love and tender care. He gets angry at them. But the anger does not last. The anger is pedagogic. The anger is a chastisement, that they would repent. But it is never a punishment just for punishment. And God never punishes anybody. That is what we learn from Jesus, too. But Jesus, Himself gets angry.
Jesus gets angry, oh yes. For example, in Mark’s Gospel, in the third chapter, when He heals on the Sabbath, and all the leaders say, you should not do this, you have other days, and so on —it says Jesus looked up at them —metourges —with wrath —with anger, and He said to them, leipoumenos, grieving —Jesus grieves, He weeps. He weeps over the dead Lazarus, He weeps over Jeruslem, He weeps in Gethsemane garden —and God weeps. God, the Father, weeps through Jesus, and shows us His tears. The wrath of God, against all injustice, and evil, and stupidity, and foolishness —that is true, that is real, and that is shown to us in Jesus. But it is never destructive, it is never punitive. And, as a matter of fact, what Jesus shows, as all the prophets say —it is never God’s final word. God’s final word is mercy, forgiveness, kindness. God takes upon Himself, in Christ, the very sin of the world that makes Him angry. And that is why it says, in the suffering servant of Isaiah, that all the anger of God against sinners will now be put on Jesus, because He is going to identify with them and take it all upon himself, in order to forgive them.
So, here we see also, that God is a God of forgiveness. He is a God who forgives. As it says in the psalm: The Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy. He will not always chide. He does not keep His anger forever. It says it. He does not keep His anger forever. But as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him, those who hold him in awe, who love Him. And as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. Then it says, He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. Jesus really shows that in the Gospels. He knows that we are pathetic. He knows that we are miserable. He knows that we are like sheep without a shepherd. He knows that we are an adulterous generation —well, perverse —actually what it really says is, a generation that has been perverted. He knows how miserable and sick and diseased and crazy we are. God knows that. Christ shows that. And He comes for us in compassion, and he chases after us. He leaves the 99, He goes after the one lost sheep.
So, what we see in Jesus about God, is that God is really loving us to the end. He is chasing after us. St. John Chrysostom said, God chases after us like a young man madly in love with a whore, but he wants to get her, he wants to love her, he wants to purify her, he wants to cleanse her. And this is how God is revealed in Jesus.
And so, even the anger, the wrath, it is a power that comes from God, of the love against where there is darkness and sin. But it is an anger that He, Himself, has to show if He loves us. But then, of course, He takes that all upon himself.
Now, we can speak about power. In the old covenant, it says God is powerful. He does whatever He wills. He creates heaven and earth. He is the creator. He brought everything into being. By the Word of His mouth, the heavens were made, and all the earth by the breath of His lips, it says. It says in the prophets, I am the creator. I am the One who brought everything into being. Where-ever you go, there God is. He is omnipresent. You cannot hide from His presence. And that power of God is there.
Now, what does Jesus show us? He shows us what the power of God really is. In fact, one of the titles of Jesus is, The Power of God. God is powerful, He is omnipotent. He does whatever He wills. And Jesus Christ can, too. Jesus Christ shows His power. He calms winds. He walks on water. When they come to arrest Him in the garden, He says, “Put those swords away.” He says, “If I wanted to wipe you out I could wipe you out in one second. I could call 12 legions of angels from My Father and you and the whole Roman Empire would be gone in a blink.” So Jesus has that power. Oh yes, He has power. And He has power over life and death. He has power over sin. He has power over demons. He has power over all creatures. And that power of God is shown through Jesus. But it is a power that is a healing power. It is a loving power. It is not brute force power. Oh, God has brute force power. If He wanted to show it, He could. But the real power of God is the power of truth, the power of love, and therefore, Jesus also shows the truth of God. God is not only the living God, He is the true God. He is the God who is not only abounding in steadfast love, but He is faithful, He is true, He is alethinos.
And so, this fidelity, and truth, of God —the reality of things that come from God. That is revealed to us in the man, Jesus, who is God incarnate. We see God’s truth. We see God’s wisdom. And we see it clearly in the face of Jesus, who says, I am the truth. No mere man could say I am the truth, and act by the Spirit of truth, who is the Holy Spirit.
So God, as true God, as the truth, and what the truth is about God, is revealed in Jesus. And the truth that God is, is the truth of love, the power of love, the power of grace, the power of healing, the power of compassion, the power of kindness, the power of mercy and humility. Jesus reveals the humility of God. God is humble. God is really humble. Jesus is humble. He said, “Learn from Me, for I am meek, humble, and lowly of heart, humble of heart.” So it is the humility of God that is revealed. And what is that humility? That humility is not like, “I am a sinner,” or something like that —sure if we are sinners we had better be humble and say, “I am a sinner.” But Jesus is totally humble in the sense that He does it all for us. It is all given to us. He is not in it for Himself, so to speak. And when God creates the world, He is not in it for Himself. He wants to share what He is, He wants to give what He has, like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. He says, all that I have is yours, all that I am is yours. I have created you to be my son, just like Jesus. And that is so humble. It is so humble. Jesus is not proud of His divinity, so to speak. He could boast of anything, but what is it that He really shows? He shows His incredible humility and His incredible respect for His creature.
Now, here we come to a very important point: Jesus shows us that God really made us free and respects our freedom. That God is not a magician, He is not a mechanic, He is not a fairy godmother. We are not robots. We are not machines. We are not slaves. We are created to be, by grace, what He is by nature, the holy Fathers say when they read the Bible. By His grace, by His goodwill, we are to be like He is. And so, He is free, God is absolutely free, there is nothing that constrains Him. And we have to be free, too. And what we see about our God is that he totally respects our integrity, as persons, and as a whole human race. Sometimes people say, God does not force Himself on us. God cannot compel us. God will not violate our free will. But we see in Jesus, and our holy Fathers would say —not only God will not, He cannot. He literally cannot. He is so humble, that He restricted His own power by creating human beings in freedom, and even demons He created in freedom, angels in freedom. He shared His freedom and He humbled Himself to share what He is, to such a point that if people hate His bowels of mercy, and His total love and truth and light and beauty and splendor —they can. They can, and they can do it forever. God cannot, once He makes us this way, He somehow curtails His own power, in that sense. But it is not a curtailment. It is an expression of His power as love and humility —as total respect for others, so to speak. And He never compels, He does not control, He does not trick, it is not a gimmick, and it is we who have to confess Him as God.
And this leads to a very important point. When we see how God is, in the Bible, generally in the old covenant, and certainly through Jesus Christ in the incarnation, in the final revelation of God in the most perfect form, we see that God simply cannot just come out and reveal Himself and force us to believe in Him. He cannot. He will not. Oh yes, at the end of the ages, when everyone has had their chance, to see how they live and what they are going to do, then there will be a spectacular revelation of God in all splendor and power and glory with the second coming of Christ, with all the angels seated on the clouds, and this One who was crucified will be the God over heaven and earth, and His presence will be judgment of everybody, by His love, and His humility, and His truth, and His mercy. All this will judge us, and we will have to face it. But even then we are not constrained to accept it. We are not constrained to believe it. We can say no to God at any point. And God has to respect our freedom, our life, our actual realities of our life.
Sometimes people say, “Gee, God could have done a much better job in revealing Himself.” I have heard people say this —young people, old people, they will say, “Man, God made it so hard for us to understand Him.” It is almost as if people would want Him to say, “Okay sit down in your chair, take out your notebook, and I am going to give you all the truths about God, and now you will know everything.” That is not the way it works, and that is not the way it can work.
Or sometimes people say, “Well, why doesn’t God just tell us openly about everything? Why doesn’t He go to a Bhuddist and say, “Hello, Mr. Bhuddist, or Ms. Bhuddist, I just want to tell you, there really is a personal God, and this God is merciful, gracious and longsuffering, and He is an I Am, and He is perfectly revealed in Jesus, so you ought to be a Christian. Or why doesn’t God just go around infusing all this knowledge or telling this to all these people? Why does He have to bother with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all those stories and all those myths and sagas about kings and Davids and Solmons and tabernacles and clouds and animals and fighting, and then finally an incarnation of a virgin, and Jesus as a meek, humble man being killed? Why does He have to do it that way? Couldn’t He do it a better way?” And our answer is, no He could not. Because He would violate Himself and He would no longer be the true God, because that is how the true God is. And the true God has to elicit from us a free recognition and a free response. And that is, by the way, why Jesus never calls Himself the Son of God. He says, “You have said so.” He calls Himself the son of man. And it is also why whenever people ask him a question, he asks a question back. Even John the Baptist —that difficult sentence where John sends his disciples to ask Jesus —“Are you the One who is to come?” Some people think John only did it pedagogically, he knew it, not knew it, I do not know about that. I actually think that he really was being tempted, because he was a real human being and he was free, and we cannot ever be to the point where we just are locked in as prisoners with this divine knowledge —it is free, it is an interpersonal relationship, it is a friendship, it is a recognition, it is a confession, it is an avowal. But in any case, the point is that Jesus says, “What do you see? You have eyes, what do you see? The lame walk, the deaf hear, the dumb talk, the blind see, the demons are cast out.” He can even say to the apostles, what did you see? Did you see me walking on the water? Did you see the calming of the winds? Did you see the feeding of the 5000? What did you see? You have to answer! You have to decide what your God is like. And you do not make it up. And this is the very important point. We do not begin with an idea of what we think God ought to be like and then try to fit other things into it. We do not begin with our idea of how God should be, and then say, “Well, I rejected Christianity, because Christianity does not teach a God the way I think God ought to be, if there is a God.” Oh, no, we go the other way around. We say, “Look at the man, Jesus, see what He has said and done, and then you will know who God really is and how He acts.” It begins the other way. You do not being with your idea. You begin with an encounter with Jesus. And with an encounter of any divine action, anywhere, anyhow, but you have to bow down to it, you have to recognize it. And according to Jesus, Himself, you will not recognize it if your heart is impure. Because only the pure in heart see God. Jesus says, “How can you believe, how can you know, how can you understand, when you seek the glory that comes from men, and not the glory that is revealed and given to you by God?” How can you possibly know when your mind is made up to begin with? When you have decided how God ought to be? Or when you have decided that there is no God? Or you just sit in judgment on reality, yourself, and do not have the purity —and I would even say, the courage and the guts, to encounter this revelation that says, “Encounter it!” Encounter it —encounter Jesus. Read the Scriptures. Call out to God. See what you see. And then you will come to know.
So, we Christians would say, if we are going to write a dogmatic theology textbook about what God is like, then we see how God acts. And then the ultimate action is through Jesus of Nazareth, who is the incarnate Son of God, and God, Himself, in human form. And then we know what God is like. And what we know about His power, His presence, His fidelity, His humility, His mercy, His love, His kindness, His chastisement and anger and grief over us. We know all these things. But what we also know is, it is not magic. And it is just amazing, when you read the Gospels, how it says that God cares about every little thing —every little grass in the field, every flower, every tree, every bird in the air, He cares about. And He cares about every human being. And then you see how Jesus relates to each human being differently. Peter is one kind of a guy, James and John are others. The mother of James and John is still another person. Then you have Judas. Then you have the leaders of the people —and the leaders of the people are a very good example. Because people say, “Why doesn’t God really show His divine power in a spectacular way?” Well, according to St. John’s Gospel, He did. He raised up Lazarus, and they decided to kill Him. They did not see God in that. So if you do not want to see God, you are not going to see God anywhere. But the desire is to want to see and to want to see it in freedom.
The Russian writer, Dostoyevsky said that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, the Roman soldier said, “If you are the Son of God, come down. Come down.” And Jesus did not come down. Because he was revealing the love of God on the cross. He could not come down. But some authors, like Dostoyevsky, Gurdjieff, and others, said, “If he came down, He would have violated the very divinity that He was trying to reveal. And if He came down, only two things could have happened with that soldier. One of them would be that he would be constrained as a slave to follow Him for the rest of his life and would be scared to death, and would not really know the love and mercy of God. That he would just have seen a brute act of divine power and a miracle, and that would have hooked him. But it may not even have hooked him! The other thing that could have happened, he could have said, “Oh, He was not dead anyway, and He just came down.” Or he could have said, “I am hallucinating, and I do not know what is going on.” Or, whatever, whatever. You can always make up an answer why it is, and why it is not. And you can do that in every direction. You know, guys like me are always accused of just rationalizing everything, explaining everything away, putting a good spin on everything. Well, anybody can spin anything the way they want to spin it. And that is how we are created. That is what it is. But what we believe is this: That in Christ, God is revealed —God as God really is. And He reveals Himself from the inside of human life. And there has to be a synergia. God cannot force Himself on us. God cannot compel us to know and to believe. God cannot prove demonstrations that lock us into making us His slavish followers even against our will. No. He recognizes our freedom, our will, He treats us with dignity. He becomes one of us and shows us in the most spectacular form, what and how God really is, as merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. He shows the truth of God, which is this compassionate love. He shows light. We did not even mention here that He shows beauty, because there is nothing more beautiful than Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than how God is. It is the beauty of God that is shown in Christ, as we sing in our church —“the bridegroom, than which there is nothing more beautiful.” Goodness, truth, beauty, wisdom, power —all these are shown for what they really are, as qualities of the one, true and living God, and as qualities of Jesus of Nazareth, in His humanity that reveals God.
So, if we want to know God, if we want to see God, if we want to know how God really is, if we want to really know the actions and the words and the powers and the will of God —if that is what we are into, and we know that we have to do it freely, we cannot be constrained, it cannot be gimmicked, it has to be free in us—then we have to want it, we have to open ourselves to it, and we have to see it for what it is. And if we do, if we really hunger and thirst for what is right and true, then we will see who, and what, and now, and even why, the true God really is, and we will see it in the divine person who became human, Jesus of Nazareth, because He is God, He is divine. He is God from God. He is God’s own Son, and He reveals to us God, the Father, who is invisible, incomprehensible, inconceivable, beyond everything, divinity itself, mind-blowing divinity —this comes and is given to us in human form, in the humiliated, crucified and glorified Christ, who for us, is God.