In the Beginning...
Week of Sunday January 4
Lectionary Reading: John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, "He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me." ') From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
In case you have read Mark and thought Jesus was a man adopted by God for a Divine Mission, and just in case you thought Luke and Matthew said enough when they wrote Jesus very birth was of God; In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
John's Gospel makes clear that Jesus is no afterthought, or Plan B. Jesus is not merely a divine messenger. Jesus is from the beginning; or perhaps we should say, from our space-time perspective, the beginning came from Jesus. When you look at this Jesus, you are looking at God, as much as God can be known. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
Logic tells me that no one can fully understand God. No one theological stream can fully describe the Divine. No one religion can contain the whole truth; if God is God, then God is too much for human knowledge to contain. To claim to encapsulate the whole truth is an idolatry; the church should beware. But for me, here, there is a choice being offered. John, the Gospel to which I have never really warmed, and which forever frustrates me with its obtuse symbolism, is utterly clear to me in its beginning. Here is a path; here is a Person; here is a Word which is so identified with the Divine that it is THE Word. Will you receive him?
It seems that John the Baptist was well loved by some in the author's community, or by a group in competition with it. For the Baptist is given great status as the one who came to testify to the Word, but is deftly removed from any contention. He is not the Word made flesh. He is only a messenger. But this Jesus is the One.
The announcements continue. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. He is... the true light, which enlightens everyone. And there is a great statement of hope: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. This is the great claim of benevolence and providence in the creation we are a part of. It is for good; despite all the darkness the light shines.
Here is my choice again: He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
I cannot prove this. I cannot run an experiment, Buddhism vs. Christianity vs. Scientism vs. Fabianism. I have but one life. I cannot rerun even my own personal history, let alone that of the world. For every good Christian, or Buddhist or Humanist there will be a thousand who disappoint and are an argument against a particular life path. And as the truism says... if you do find the perfect church/synagogue/mosque... whatever, don't join it, because you will spoil it.
All of us, I think, have a choice.
We can remain barely spiritually conscious, focussed on ourselves and accepting the majority story of the west that "we can find peace, joy, and fulfilment in what we own, or in what we do." (An Uncommon Spiritual Path, Dion Forster pp9 AcadSA 2008) I am not alone in a deep conviction that this captivity to fad, fashion and affluence is a failure. "Sadly, many people have come to discover that the pursuit of wealth, power, and recognition by one's peers, are shallow and meaningless against the backdrop of what it means to be truly alive." I am one of these people. I have no need to re-run or re-test any hypothesis about the value of the self centred life of material gain!
Or we can seek to live a life beyond ourselves.
At University I completed a degree in Agricultural Science. Here I truly "won the departmental lottery;" the Agriculture Department was a group of deeply committed researchers. They were evangelistic about the potential for agriculture to do good in the world. They were philosophically aware; Crop Physiology began with a heavy dose of the philosophy of science! These were people of high ideals and good science, well beyond the shallower antagonists of today's scientisms. All I can say is that it was not enough for me.
Beyond these observations my choices are open! I can only live one experiment. Buddhism is suggestive. I am humbled by the piety and depth of spirit of an Islamic friend. Le Saux's engagement with Hindu India is a challenge. Christianity is my heritage. Which will it be?
The one other "certainty" I have discovered, is that no progress is to be had by dipping my toe into multiple streams, endlessly testing the waters. A commitment must be made. The chance must be taken, on faith. There is no other way. In the end one must trust that with the way of Jesus, or any other path, there will some passage towards an ultimate reality. I can only begin, or continue, trusting that this skilful means will guide me to whatever is.
Andrew Prior 2009
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!