Saturday, December 20, 2014

Recognizing God

We're approaching Christmas, so it was only natural for me to spend some time reading the famous prologue to John's gospel. Among other things, John emphasizes that the people of Israel did not recognize God in Jesus of Nazareth, despite the fact that it was the Logos of God standing in their midst. He writes:

He [the Logos] was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him (John 1.10-11).

This is a condemnation of the thinking of humanity: they did not recognize in Christ the Logos of the entire world, the rationality which stood behind creation and gave it its origin, its existence, its structure and its purpose. Humanity is in a position of utter ignorance and wrong thinking, so the Logos of God must come to bear witness to the truth, as he says: For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth (John 18.37a).

Within John's gospel, Jesus receives the greatest opposition from the Pharisees and other important religious groups of Palestine. They are the ones who pretend to know God, to be able to discern his will, and yet they don't recognize God right in front of them in the person of Christ! Thus they are told by the prophet John the Baptizer:

I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal (John 1.26-27),

They don't know him, but because they do not know him, they do not know God. Because they do not recognize the image of the invisible God (Col 1.15) in Christ, they don't recognize the true identity of the God whom they pretend to serve.

They don't know Christ because they don't know God; they don't know the truth, and therefore they don't believe. But Christ also says: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice (18.37b). This is another regular theme of John's gospel. Those who sincerely try to live by the truth, and try to listen to God's truth wherever they may find it, will find this truth in Christ. Thus he says to the Pharisees:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. . . . Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God (8.42-44, 47).

The lesson to learn from all this is that we must listen to Christ's words, and learn from him how we ought to think about God and about ourselves and about Jesus himself. A person whose heart is open towards God, a person who is "from God," a person who is of the truth will recognize the truth in what Christ tells him. He will see the truth in the Logos become man, the source of all truth speaking truth among men.