How We Know God | Sojourners

How We Know God

Trinity painting, Renata Sedmakova /
Trinity painting, Renata Sedmakova /

"God doesn't just hate what you do. God hates who you are." — A Well-Known Contemporary Preacher

What this pastor says above, as well as much of what he says in the sermon from which this line is taken, comes from reading the Bible as if every sentence in it can and should be read as bearing the same weight as all others when we answer the question: "Who is God?"

When we read the Bible with the first Christians we begin to understand that the way they read these texts is not the way an uber-rationalist modern reads them.

Since Jesus himself was the one who taught the apostles to read the Old Testament, the way the churches they founded read the Bible is important for us, too.

God never was only the words he utters, or the ones we utter about God — just like we are never the sum total of everything we have spoken or what has been spoken of us. There is so much more to the mystery of any person than mere words; how much more so the mystery of the divine persons.

God is revealed to Christians as three persons in a holy community of everlasting love without beginning, and Jesus is the flesh-and-blood manifestation of their hidden life.

The speech and actions of Jesus — not merely words on a page, but a Person; not just any person but God become flesh; not just any god but the One who is in the bosom of the Father ("God from God, light from light, true God from true God") — are the highest expression of the nature of God ever disclosed to men and women.

We know what God looks like; God looks like Jesus. We know what God sounds like; God sounds like Jesus. We know how God acts; God acts like Jesus.

John, who knew Jesus as well as any of us ever will in this life, tells us simply that God is love. He uses that word over and over again to describe the essence of our holy God. God's being is best signified by the word love, a holy fire of love that purifies; not a love that merely accepts or tolerates but a love that embraces, heals and transforms us.

Like every good poet, every signer who signs, who tinkers with words to point to a reality beyond the signs, John first has an encounter with the Living God in Jesus Christ: he who is the First and the Last, the One who holds all creation together, the visible image of the invisible God. John saw, John touched, John heard this One and that vision, that hearing, that feeling — that knowing — informs everything else, gives inspiration to his reading of the Scriptures, shows John the way to life.

He sees the unseen God love the world in the person of his Son and knows that the only mere written symbol that encompasses all others we can speak about this God is love. Not hate, not wrath, not anger but a holy fire of love that is never content until we find ourselves, body and soul, transfigured to his likeness. God hates nothing that God has made.

What one word can adequately encompass the profound mystery of humility acted out in the God who becomes what God has made, acted out in dining with sinners, acted out in cleansing the Temple, acted out in God's voluntary sacrifice for us and for the whole world on the Cross?

When we allow ourselves to encounter the God the apostles bear witness to in Jesus Christ — in every deed and word from Bethlehem to Golgotha — we then (and only then) comprehend, in his great light, all of the Scriptures. Jesus opens our minds to understand them.

The only exhaustive Word that the Father speaks is Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Mich. Follow him on Twitter: @kennethtanner.

Image: Trinity painting, Renata Sedmakova /