Friday, October 30, 2009

Notes on John's Prologue 1

Over the next few months I will be sharing some of my thoughts on John’s famous prologue (1:1-18). Much like Paul’s opening statement in Ephesians, which runs from vs. 3 to vs. 14, John’s prologue is packed. Each and every word and phrase are chosen deliberately. I suspect John wrote his prologue last, as a shorter version of his gospel at large. For the gospel is the prologue expanded.

John begins and ends with a revolution in human thought about the very being of God.

In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was (face to face) with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning (face to face) with God (1:1-2).

No human has ever seen God. The one and only Son of God, who dwells in the bosom of the Father, he has made Him known (1:18).

As a good Jewish man, John believes that God created the heavens and the earth, and all things. And while John affirms the opening verse in the Hebrew bible, (In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth) he wants to fill out our concept of God by adding relationship. So John starts before creation itself, and places the Word, or the Son, there before the beginning with God.

John has met Jesus, and in meeting him, in knowing him, he has concluded that Jesus belongs to the divine side of things. Jesus is everything that God is, the one and only Son, who dwells in the Father’s bosom from all eternity. And he became human.

John’s thought is a revolution in human thought about the being of God, a revolution which took over three hundreds to reach formulation in the doctrine of the Trinity. But for John, the implications are staggering, and form the heart of his message. The one who is face to face with the Father from before the beginning, the one who dwells in his bosom, and knows the Father inside out, this one has become a human being (1:14) to be with us. The Father’s Son himself has come. He has become human, what we are, and the Father’s Son has become one of us so that he could share with us all that he is and has with his Father in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. That is the staggering sequence. Divine relationship. Incarnation. Sharing of divine life. And nothing less.

Before the beginning, the Son was face to face with his Father, dwelling in his bosom. He became one of us, to dwell among us, so that we could receive of his own fulness and life. Herein lies the heart of John’s message, and he writes so that we can come to see who Jesus is and who we are in him, and what stunning life has been given to the human race in him.

Put your big boy britches on and deal with it. This is what has happened. The Father’s Son himself has come. And he has established a real relationship with us in our darkness, so that we could share in, taste and feel, and experience, all that he is and has in his life with his Father.

Everything in John’s gospel is calculated to help us, who live in the great darkness, to come to ‘know’ Jesus for ourselves, so that believing in him, we may begin to experience his own life, rather than our own. So John’s gospel is both the announcement of the coming of the Father’s Son in person, and the news that summons us to believe in him, rather than in ourselves, so that we can know what he knows—the Father, and experience life in his embrace.

Friday, October 9, 2009

On Evil

Dualism says that good and evil are equal powers, with Jesus and Satan squared off for the prize of humanity. But in the Christian tradition, Satan is a creature whose opposite is not Jesus at all, but the archangel Michael. Jesus is the Creator, Satan a creature, apparently an angel, now fallen. In his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has overcome evil, disarming the rulers and principalities and authorities in the heavenly places. Jesus’ lordship, however, is not yet completely manifested. He instructs us to pray for his Father’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven, and for us to pray to be delivered from the evil one. Moreover, we are constantly called to participate in Jesus’ life and lordship.

The sticky bit lies here, between the completeness of Jesus’ victory in himself, and yet the continued presence and work of Satan and his cronies on earth. The presence and influence of evil, of course, seem to argue that Jesus’ victory is not real. It may be, however, a little more complicated than that. For me, Jesus’ victory is absolute, a non-negotiable. But his victory, and this I think is critical, includes us, and us not as robots, but as real persons. Jesus has included us in his own life with his Father, and in his own anointing in the Holy Spirit, and in his own relationship with all creation. For the most part, I have always focussed on the sheer, stunning beauty of such an act. We are included in the Trinitarian life of God. But the other side is equally beautiful and stunnning. The Father, Son and Spirit have included us in their life. They take us seriously. As Barth so wonderfully put it, “God does not want to be God without us.” And the fact that we are included in the Trinitarian life means that the Father, Son and Spirit are not doing end runs around us. As shocking as it may seem, the Triune God does not operate as if we are not included in the Trinitarian life.

It is here, I suspect, and who knows, that the evil one finds a temporary toe-hold in Jesus’ world. These days, especially in physics, we have come to understand that the human mind is not simply a detached observer of the world around it. What we ‘observe’ actually impacts the thing or things we are observing. The human mind is powerful. But not in itself. That is the mistake the self-help, and the faith folks make. Jesus is the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created, and are sustained. He is the One connected to all things. The cosmos is wired, so to speak, to respond to his thoughts and observations. Having been given a real place in Jesus’ life means, among other things, that we have been given a real place in His connection with everything in the cosmos. While we do not have any power in ourselves (because we do not have any real connections with things in ourselves), our inclusion in Jesus means that we have the plivelege of participating in his powerful connections. What we think, or believe, or observe matters, because of who we are in Jesus.

I suspect, and again, who can really say, that this is what the evil one knows about us that we don’t. He has found a way, for the moment, to hijack, to borrow a great word from Ken Blue, the goodwill and life and power of Jesus through us. Satan exploits and misuses us, and our place in Jesus. It is not that Satan has found a way to reprogram our hard drives, for that would be to violate our wills. He has found a way to deceive us so that we unwittingly, yet willingly, bring his poison into our ‘observations’ of ourselves, others, and life.

If we were not connected to Jesus, then our ‘observations’ would not impact a single particle, even in our own minds, no matter how we strained get our faith right. But we are, and they do. Diabolos exploits Jesus’ relationship with us and our relationship with Jesus through his lie. That is all that he has. Even his own existence comes from Jesus himself. His time is limited because he has been defeated by the Lord Jesus, and because the Holy Spirit himself has been sent to us to teach us the truth. As we come to know the truth, the truth of who we are in Jesus, and as we learn by experience that Satan’s lie is a yoke, grievous to be born, (Thank you, J. B. Torrance) and we cry out to be delivered from his deception, he will have no place in the life of humanity. Toto will have pulled back the curtain of Satan’s confusion, and we will be shocked at the mere creature who has deceived the nations. Then the Lord of all creation will speak to him.

Meantime, we cry out to the Holy Spirit for light, for understanding, for the freedom and life that is ours in Christ to be manifested in our ‘observations.’

“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the cosmos (John 16:33).