Jesus must be the one I think of when I think of God. Thoughts of God that are inconsistent with what I know to be true of Jesus are therefore not true thoughts about God. Jesus has perfectly revealed God to us (John 1:18; 14:9; Hebrews 1:3).
I find that it is helpful for me to think about God’s character in the context of spending time with Jesus. Let me explain.
Most people, I believe, think about God’s character from above. They think of God in the clouds–speaking and acting in complete transcendence. This way of thinking about God tends to remove him from the earth and render him incomprehensible. I’m going to call this the Psalm 115 way of thinking about God.
Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. (Psalm 115:3 NRSV)
In other words, when I don’t understand God’s actions I simply say, “Well, I guess he’s God and can do whatever he wants. He’s in heaven and things aren’t the same there as they are here.”
I don’t believe that is a good answer, nor an acceptable answer.
I’m very familiar with that answer–that was my main answer for years. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ll simply say that I had different presuppositions in those days.
These days I have one presupposition about God–He is just like Jesus.
Rather than thinking about God’s character from above, we need to think about it from below. Rather than thinking of God in the clouds, we need to think of God on wood–the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross. This way of thinking about God situates him among us (which was his choice) and renders him comprehensible (this too was his choice). I’m going to call this the John 1 way of thinking about God.
…and the John 14 way of thinking about God
…and the Hebrews 1 way of thinking about God
…let’s just call this the Jesus way of thinking about God
…as a matter of fact, let’s just call this the right way of thinking about God.
Let me show you how this works. I stated above that I find it is helpful for me to think about God’s character in the context of spending time with Jesus. In other words, what would I notice about Jesus if I spent time with him? What would make a lasting impression?
Last week I spent some time thinking about this in light of 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NRSV)
Try to imagine spending a week with Jesus during the time of his incarnation. How would you characterize Jesus at the end of that week?
It was difficult being with Jesus. He was envious, boastful, arrogant, and rude. He insisted on his own way, and he was irritable and resentful. He also rejoiced in wrongdoing.
It was amazing being with Jesus. He was the most patient and kind person I have ever been around. He always rejoiced in the truth and was willing to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.
You see, we all know that if we spent time with Jesus we would be overwhelmed by love incarnate. We would see the true nature of love in the person of Jesus–his way of being and his way of acting. There would be no question as to the character of Jesus.
Now think about this…
God is love. Love is patient and kind. Therefore, God is patient and kind.
It’s simple logic and yet for some it is impossible to grasp.
God is patient? God is kind? Are you sure about that?
Why is it hard to grasp? Because they only know how to think of God’s character from above. They think of God in the clouds–speaking and acting in complete transcendence. Removed from the earth and rendered incomprehensible, this Psalm 115 way of thinking about God means that he is in heaven and can do whatever he pleases–even when it means that he is inpatient and unkind.
God has been perfectly revealed in Jesus. To see Jesus is to see God.
So, what if we say…
Jesus is love. Love is patient and kind. Therefore, Jesus is patient and kind.
It’s the same simple logic, but now it becomes easy to grasp.
Jesus is patient? Jesus is kind? Absolutely!
Why is it suddenly so easy to grasp? Because rather than thinking about God’s character from above, we thought about it from below. Rather than thinking of God in the clouds, we thought of God on wood–the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross. This way of thinking about God situates him among us and renders him comprehensible.
This is putting a face on God and it is how God wants us to do it.
For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 NRSV)