The Baptism of Christ 10th Century mosaic St. Mark’s, Venice
This blog has been a struggle getting past the mind fog of Chronic Fatigue. But I hope it is worth it and that any inadvertent heresies can be put down to the brain fog.
Most of the arguments about God throughout the history of the church were about the nature of God and the mechanics of the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, ranging from the really very important; is Jesus truly God or was he created being as taught by the Arians; down to quibbles like whether the Holy Spirit was sent from the Father, or from the Father and the Son, which managed to divide the Catholic church from Eastern Orthodoxy.
But there is another way to look at the relationship between Father and Son.
We were looking at Jesus’ baptism in the synoptic Gospels in church Saturday morning. One thing that struck me is the deep insight Matt 3:17 “This is my beloved son” gives us into the nature of God. Not the impassive emotionless deity of Greek Philosophy or deism, but God at whose very heart is a relationship of love between Father and Son.
We read in John’s epistle that God is love 1John 4:8, which not only tells us that God loves us, but that we need to love each other. If we have been born of God, that love should be evident in the way we treat one another. Loving yourself is all very nice, but it is a bit smug and self satisfied if it doesn’t reach out and love someone else. It isn’t ‘the greatest love of all’ as Whitney sang. Jesus tells us the greatest love is one that loves others so much you are willing to lay down your life for them if need be John 15:13.
We see Jesus love for us in his giving up his life for us on the cross. The cross also shows us the depths of God’s love for us John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. At the same time Jesus was also showing his love for the Father on the cross. We see that in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus surrenders in obedience to his Father’s will, Matt_26:39 My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.
But it is at Jesus baptism, and in the Transfiguration Matt 17:5, we see the other side of the love relationship that is the nature of God, the Father’s love for Jesus “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”.
Those verses speak of Father God’s love for Jesus during his time on earth. To see this love in the heart of God before the incarnation, we need to take a detour through John’s description of Jesus as the Logos, the word of God.
When John called Jesus the Word or Logos, it didn’t simply mean a word or even a message. It was a concept that would have been familiar to both Greeks and the Greek speaking Jewish readers. To the Greeks the Logos was the Logos of Stoic philosophy, the reason and thought of God through which created the universe and the vital power of God that sustains the universe creating new life and order out of chaos.
Paul didn’t use the term Logos, but he spoke in these terms about God creating the world by, though and for Christ. 1Cor 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. Col 1:16 For by him all things were created… all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. The writer of Hebrews speak of God creating the world though Christ and Christ upholding the universe Heb 1:2&3.
But when John wrote his gospel, Logos had deep significance for Greek speaking Jews too. When Hellenistic Jewish writers wanted to explain Judaism and the Hebrew bible to the Greeks, they chose similar concepts they found in Greek thought. Writers like Philo adopted Logos as the Greek equivalent no only of God’s word Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made. The Logos was God’s mind, his power, the theophanies where God, whom no one has seen, appears in the OT and God’s wisdom whom we read about in the book of Proverbs working with God to created the universe. Philo himself could never decide if the Logos was God, an attribute of God, or was a lesser created being. John however insists the Logos though distinct from the Father, really was God. John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
For most Christians, the woman Wisdom in Proverbs working alongside God creating the earth is obviously a picture of Christ through whom God created the universe. But the NT doesn’t explicitly tell us Wisdom is Jesus, or use Wisdom in Proverbs as a picture of Christ. So was is worth seeing how deeply rooted this metaphorical picture of God’s partner in creation is in the in the idea of Christ as Logos in John.
But the woman Wisdom in Proverbs isn’t just about how God and wisdom created the earth together. We also catch a glimpse into their relationship in God before the incarnation, before the Word became flesh and walked among us. Prov 8:30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always… We are back to the love between Father and Son, God’s Wisdom/Logos/Son is God’s constant delight and the Son always rejoicing in the Father. This love and joy extends out from the heart of God to the human race too. 31 …rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
While I pondered* over this I was reminded in a timely tweet that alongside early church’s attempts to define makeup of the Trinity, Church Fathers like Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, (as well as modern theologians like Barth and Moltmann) described the relationship within God as ‘perichoresis’, a dance of love.
* Weak and weary #CFS/ME