Who is God? That was the first question we were asked at one of our Q and A nights on campus last year. I do not remember what went through my mind exactly, other than wondering how to answer such a broad and open-ended question. Where to start?
Recalling that night, I am pretty sure I focused on the person of Jesus. It has become more and more clear to me over the years that for Christians to speak of God is to speak of Jesus Christ. Christians do not just believe in an abstract God but rather that the Creator God took on flesh and walked the earth as a human for just over 30 years, died on a Roman cross and three days later rose from the dead. The very foundation of our faith is that Jesus is fully human and fully God. I think Christians need to emphasize this more than ever.
We hear about God a lot in America. People mention God all the time! Phrases like “In God we trust” and “God bless America” are rooted in our heritage. Athletes and celebrities and politicians and others often speak of God. But that brings us back to our question: who is God?
When a Muslim speaks of “God”, what do they mean?
When a Mormon speaks of “God”, what do they mean?
When a Jew speaks of “God”, what do they mean?
When a Jehovah’s Witness speaks of “God”, what do they mean?
When a Christian speaks of “God”, what do they mean?
Obviously there are some similarities. All of the above religions would agree that some sort of higher power, creator and sustainer, exists. But to honest, committed adherents of any of those religions, there are disagreements of who this God is. All of these groups believe in a “God” who acts in the world, which makes them theists. Yet the disagreements cannot be cast aside.
Christians are unique because we believe God appears in the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. As JI Packer says, this is the great stumbling block of Christianity:
“It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby…and there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. This is the real stumbling block in Christianity. It is here that Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties concerning the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection have come to grief.” (JI Packer, Knowing God, 53)
This is not just theological mumbo-jumbo, an esoteric idea with no connection to real life. Who you believe God is plays out tremendously in life (or at least it should).
Jesus Christ shows us who God is (he is fully God) and shows us what it means to be truly human (he is fully human). Part of this, certainly not all of it but a large part, is self-sacrificial suffering. Jesus did not triumph through heavy-handed power plays, he triumphed by dying on a cross for all humanity. God did not become human in order to walk the halls of power as an Emperor or President, God became human and then became a slave and died (see Philippians 2:5-11). Any formulation of God that ignores this falls short of the Christian God revealed in the person of Jesus.
Simply believing that God exists is not enough. At the end of time every knee will bow and every tongue will confess not simply that God exists, but that Jesus Christ is Lord (see Philippians 2:5-11 again).
The supremacy of Jesus Christ affects our worship, prayer and daily living. It affects how we speak of God. It changes everything. It matters. It means that whatever common ground we have with other theists (and I believe there is some), our ultimate commitment to Jesus Christ and his mission stands in the forefront always and forever. If anywhere I am a fundamentalist, it is here, for better or worse.
There are other questions to explore here. I am thinking this stuff through as I read scripture, other books and pray. In the future I will make these reflections public. For now I leave you with a quote from Gregory of Nazianzus, an early church father writing in the late 300s:
“By uniting to himself that which was condemned [the Son] may release it from all condemnation, becoming for all people all things that we are, except sin – body, soul, mind, and all through which death reaches – and thus he became man, who is the combination of all these; God in visible form, because he retained that which is perceived by mind alone.” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Fourth Theological Oration)