On the night before his arrest, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, and a shocked Peter refused. This kind of humility and servitude was not worthy of his Lord! Throughout the centuries people have reacted similarly to the God that Jesus reveals, the God who suffers with those who suffer, who bends down to serve, whose strength is revealed in weakness. That kind of openness and closeness is something that is at the same time wonderfully liberating, and terribly threatening. It is threatening because it unmasks our own weakness and vulnerability. We feel a need to present ourselves as if there was no lack, no need in our lives, no broken or dark places. We hide because we are threatened by the judge image of God. But the crucified God shows us a God who is not a threat to us. God became small, God in Christ was stripped naked, revealed, so we could finally see who God really is and come to him as we really are.
Bottom line: Jesus reveals to us who God has always been. God has always suffered with those who suffer, God has always intimately known our condition. God has always been close to
the broken-hearted. The cross does not change God at all, but it demonstrates very vividly who God is and always was. It shows us his shocking nearness, his scandalous love for us. It is a window to heaven that gives us a glimpse of God’s radical love sacrificing for us and conquering death. It is a vision of grace in action. If you want to know what God is like, then look at the human Jesus. Watch him as he kneels beside the empty faces and touches the broken, watch as he himself is broken. See the man dragging a half ton cross through spit and mud, and stick your fingers in the scars on his hands. That is what God is like.
The character of God, seen in Jesus, is not violent and tribal. The living God is not the kind of deity who decrees ethnic cleansing, genocide, racism, slavery, sexism, homophobia, war, religious supremacy, or eternal conscious torment. Instead, the character of the living God is like the character of Jesus. Don’t simply look at the Bible, I am suggesting; look through the Bible to look at Jesus, and you will see the character of God shining radian and full. Don’t simply look at the many versions of Christian faith (or other religions), for they are full of distortions; look through even the best of our religious communities, and beyond them see Jesus. When you see him, you are getting the best view afforded to humans of the character of God.
Our enduring icon of beauty and the standard by which we gauge the beauty of our actions is the cruciform. The cross is a beautiful mystery-a mystery where an unexpected beauty is in the process of rescuing the world from its ugliness. Beauty WILL save the world. This is the surprising beauty of the cross when seen through the prism of the resurrection. The cross made beautiful is the ultimate triumph of God and his grace. If the crucifixion of Christ can be made beautiful, then there is hope that all the ugliness of the human condition can be redeemed by its beauty.
When John declares that “in the beginning was the word,” he does not reach a climax with “and the word was written down” but “and the word became flesh.” The letter to the Hebrews speaks glowingly of God speaking through scripture in time past, but insists that now, at last, God has spoken through his own son (1: 1– 2). Since these are themselves “scriptural” statements, that means that scripture itself points— authoritatively, if it does indeed possess authority!— away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus, according to John 8: 39– 40, who speaks the truth which he has heard from God. The familiar phrase “the authority of scripture” thus turns out to be more complicated than it might at first sight appear. This hidden complication may perhaps be the reason why some current debates remain so sterile.
The biggest difference between the early church and the modern church today was that those who become the followers of Jesus (in the early church) were convinced that Jesus was right about God. They weren’t debating whether or not he was God, but simply said that if you’ve seen Jesus, you have seen God. As Jesus said to Philip, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” -John 14v6-11
The Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood approached the Bible in this way. One of Trueblood’s students told me that he often heard his mentor say something like: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a predetermined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those predetermined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever, and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus—the experience of God in Jesus requires a brand-new definition or understanding of God.
….This is why we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible (especially the Bible read as a constitution or cut and pasted to fit in the Greco-Roman six-line narrative.) Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible’s highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God.
The Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood approached the Bible this way. One of Trueblood’s students told me that he often heard his mentor say something like: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a predetermined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those predetermined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever, and bring us to a new evolutionary understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus—the experience of God in Jesus requires a brand-new definition or understanding of God.
So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.“ -John 5:19
Was Jesus wrong about the Father? Was He lying? Or do our approach to Old Testament passages of Yahweh need to be reformed?
I love the church. I love the gospel. And the gospel surely may bring offense. But if offense is to be given, let it be because of the scandal of our cruciform love. Lay down the culture wars, lay down all wars, and let the church be the sort of a people who can give witness to the peaceable kingdom of its liberating King Jesus.
You have permission to try to exaggerate His goodness.
It is theologically immoral to allow anything, any revelation about God that contradicts what you see in the person of Jesus to allow that to trump your concept of what God is like. The clearest manifestation of the nature of the Father is seen in the person of Jesus.
But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to Him.
It amazes me, how much the waters get stirred when I say suffering and evil are not a part of God’s divine plan, but a deviation from it. I must admit that it is startling and rather tragic that the idea that evil is in conflict with God’s plans should be a revolutionary, and highly criticized view. Dare to believe Jesus really did faithfully and fully reveal the heart of God.