“for he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God” – John 5:18
In general, people have a hard time getting a clear picture of who God is. Religions of all sorts, have different ‘types’ of God, which go a long way to determining their culture. India, as an example, has nearly 300 million Dalits, or untouchables who believe that they are like they are, because of what they have done in a previous life. CS Lewis once noted that “that is why horrible nations have horrible Gods; they have been looking at him through a dirty lens.”
Even Christians have a hard time defining him – it’s almost as if we can’t quite believe the possibilities that he extends to us. While we marvel at the great escapades in the Old Testament, the book of Revelation leaves us bewildered.
The person of Jesus Christ only seems to amplify that difficulty for many. Almost all Christian sects – the Mormons, JWs, Christian Scientists and others reject Christ as God, not to mention Jews. The Gospel of John, above all Gospels emphasises Jesus’ deity and his claims amongst the Jews especially. But the debate about his deity is not really the point here.
Once and for all, Jesus painted a much clearer picture of the nature of God and who he actually was. This is the first passage in John where Jesus actually begins to outline who God really is, and Jesus’ relationship to him. For the Jews, and for many today, the notion that God is a loving Father is difficult to swallow. We prefer the God who causes mountains to tumble, and lightning to strike us. Here though, Jesus talks of a Father who dwells intimately with his Son, grooming him for the authority that he will one day receive as Lord of Lords. If you want to see the eventuality of that, read Revelation 1 – Christ as the King of the Universe, coming down to restore order and claim his bride.
His statement in this passage, comes at the end of a string of miracles amongst ordinary people; It is as though Jesus says to us, ‘look at what I have done before I tell you who I am.’ By stating his own deity and relationship with God, by emphasising again and again that ‘I and the Father are one’ Jesus gives us a clear picture of who God is. God is Love and he is concerned with his world.
There needs to be an emphasis on God’s holiness alongside this, his willingness to carve evil and all who represent it, away from his creation. But, somehow, we don’t seem to have too much difficulty in accepting that. I wonder if most of us could write a job description for God, whether ‘hurling fire and brimstone at people’ would come near the top.
The Bible paints a different picture, and it is shown through Christ. That is why we must keep him uppermost in our thoughts, as he says here, ‘so that everyone will honour the Son, just as they honour the Father.’ What is our role in all this?
It seems easiest for us to see things in terms of the wedding that is referred to throughout Scripture. Marriage is portrayed as the foundation of our relationship to God, through Jesus Christ. It would seem that, at the foundation of everything even prior to creation, the Father loved the Son and poured his love into him. Creation – us in other words, was the Father’s gift to the Son, and also an outlet for the Son to pour his love into. But it wasn’t easy. There was an enormous cost, a dowry payment for the bride that cost the Son his [earthly] life, which he willingly laid down for his bride. At the end, there will be a final consummation of the marriage, centred around a feast before the Son and his Bride live together, overseen by the Father.
Once we see God through this lens, we see a very different God; a God full of compassion who reaches out continually to heal, to love, to restore, forgive, shower with blessing and mercy. In the Son, we see a person with the power of the divine, yet one who reaches out with the most tender of touches, and gentlest of words.
Of course, we sense that always in the background there is evil; evil in ourselves, evil in others that seeks to damage the good that we see. It’s way the world is still awry. Some reject the Son, and in doing so reject God for all eternity. They prefer their own twisted fate to that of a permanent relationship with God. “So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him” it says earlier. We are reminded continually of the long term, eternal consequence of that, as well as the way such a decision affects us in the day to day. We are warned not to harden our hearts.
Who is God? When we stand before him, it says we will see him face to face – there are angels in his throne room who cannot see him face to face. I think the world will be astounded not at his power, but at his humility, his vulnerability and willingness to love all who would receive. Until then, let us cling onto the Son, the visible image of the Father and one who promises to bring us home safely.