Jesus, the Fullness of God

theologychange I've heard it said that what's not growing is dead. I trust my growth and change over the years is a sign of life.

After reading Sarah Bessey’s wonderful book Out of Sorts, I began to reflect on all the ways my faith has evolved over the years. In finally facing all those “boxes in my attic” as she describes, I’ve discovered most of the sorting I’ve done has to do with my view of who God actually is. I sincerely hope that my years of following Jesus have led me to a deeper understanding of him than when I began this journey. But much more than that, I hope every day leads me into a deeper relationship with this marvelous God. I hope that as the years pass, I know him more and more intimately. I say with the apostle Paul, “…everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” I can truly say I am more in love with Jesus today than the day I chose to follow him, and he only becomes more and more beautiful the closer I get to him.

I used to think that God had a split personality, but I’ve had the revelation that Jesus is not just God’s son, he is God. So when I have questions about who God is, I can always look to Jesus.

Of course I always loved and appreciated God’s son, Jesus. I didn’t understand everything he said, exactly, but he was wonderful. He healed the sick, he treated everyone (including social outcasts) with dignity, and he sacrificed himself in love for the whole world. I knew he could be trusted, that he was kind, that he loved sinners like me, and so I loved him devotedly.

But “God the father,” especially as he appeared in the Old Testament, was somewhat terrifying. Yes, he did wonderful things like free Israel from slavery, and provided food out of thin air for starving people (manna in the desert), but if I dug any deeper he became positively frightening. I could not understand the God who asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (even though he saved him at the eleventh hour, seemingly tormenting Abraham needlessly). It kept me awake at night that God commanded genocide, and killed all Egypt’s first born. There are about a million more things I could name that made me sick to my stomach and sparked questions—questions that I was unfortunately too afraid to ask. It was difficult for me to even read the Old Testament for many years because of those haunting questions, and it challenged my trust in God’s goodness so powerfully.

After giving my questions the “shhhhh” and the side-eye for years, I’m very thankful I brought them out into the light and faced them head-on. I began to turn them over in my hand, and then slowly seek out answers. I began to read what scholars had to say about scripture and how to read it. And then finally, as I read Paul’s words for the umpteenth time, they began to sink in:

“In [Christ] all things hold together.”

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.”

“For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.”

Jesus reveals God fully. God himself stopped a funeral to procession to resurrect a man from death and give hope and restoration to a grieving mother. God himself reached out his own hand to touch and heal the leper, the woman, and the cripple. God himself refuted the prevailing belief that tragedy or disability signified personal sin or God’s disapproval. God himself became a servant and washed dirty feet. God himself took the path of submission and suffering. God himself bore the pain of all humanity to set us free, conquer death, and redeem the world.

The first chapter of John is one of my very favorite passages in all of scripture. It gorgeously reveals the true oneness of God that I couldn’t quite reconcile for years. He who created the heavens and the earth also entered fully into his creation and constantly sought to redeem it…

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him…”

jesuschurchpeopleCould it be that we didn’t recognize him because we didn’t have a full understanding of who God really is? Could it be that we didn’t recognize him because he was poor, humble, and not interested in the ways of domination and power? Could it be that we didn’t recognize him because he befriended all the “wrong” people? Could it be that sometimes we fail to recognize him still?

 …He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

kingweexpectCould it be that he wasn’t received because he didn’t play by the rules of the religious system? Could it be that he wasn’t received because he touched the untouchable, elevated the lowly and humbled the powerful? Could it be that he wasn’t received because he did what no one expected of him? Could it be that some of us have rejected him for the same reasons?

“…Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Does that not give you chills? The one and only Son, “who is himself God” came among us, to live with us, eat with us, experience the everyday joy and pain with us. “God-with-us” came to bring his kingdom, and to put on display for all the watching world, down through all subsequent centuries, that THIS IS OUR GOD.

Now, thankfully, I can read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus and see the same beautiful God at work. Do I have questions? Sure. Plenty. And I think I will have many of them until I die. But I read scripture so differently now, and I must say that I find a richness in it that I never saw before. I appreciate it for what it is: a beautiful, complex story. A story that reveals a complex and beautiful God that I can know intimately. Now I find myself more in love with God than ever before, more eagerly seeking him, more openly asking all my questions, and more in wonder at the beauty, the mystery, and unsearchable depths of who God really is.