In my last devotional, we looked at the creation story in Genesis 1-2 where God creates the physical universe according to an unseen natural order, then shift gears and creates human beings with a different unseen spiritual order – after God’s likeness – operating inside. We followed God’s wind (ruach) become God’s breath of life that found its home inside the human being, and, with it, God’s spirit, understanding (Job 32:8), and light (Proverbs 20:27).
There is a second creation story in the Bible that focuses on the unseen inner spiritual order. Centuries after the Torah took its final form, the Gospel of John fills in some gaps in the Genesis with some of the most perplexing words of the Bible. It seems like some kind of eternity grabbed hold of the author of the gospel, or, as Rabbi Yaakov Brown put it, “He writes like a man seeing the world through galaxy-stained glasses.”
“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
and without him nothing made had being.
In him was life,
and the life was the light of mankind.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:1-5, NIV)
In Genesis, the Word is not explicitly stated but we see it in action in verse 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” John brings the Word out into the open.
“…the Word was with God, and the Word was God” can cause a serious brain cramp. I have found that the closer we get to the mystery that is God, the more the words whirl around and leave you dizzy.
Fortunately, St. Dionysius of Alexandria gave us a decoder ring. He tells us that before there is a word, there is a thought and they can’t be separated. Without thought, there is no word. Without word, the thought is not expressed. Then Dionysius connects this idea back to the Bible:
“Thought…is the father of the word and the word is…the son of the thought. Before the thought the word was impossible, and the word does not come from anywhere outside, but rather from the thought itself. Thus also, the Father, the greatest and all-embracing Thought, has a Son, the Word, His first Interpreter and Herald.”
The thought is the mystery of God. Without expression, we can’t know it. The Word is God’s activity and God’s expression. It is the way that the mystery created everything. It is the way the mystery reaches out to touch us and, because we have God built in, we can feel the touch and respond by touching the mystery back.
Fast forward to the time when Jesus was born, John brings something new about the Word:
“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.” (John 1:14 NIV)
Now it’s time to weave the two stories together.
Genesis tells us that we are made in God’s image according to God’s likeness, that God made us to be like God. But God’s likeness is hidden inside, so how do we know what it means? John provides the answer – Jesus, in his words and deeds, was the expression of God.
Jesus made the mystery of God plain to see. When someone asks me, “What is God like?” I have an easy answer, “If you want to know what God is like, read the Gospels and follow what Jesus said, taught, and did. Follow Jesus’ way and you will get to God.”
Jesus showed us what would happen if we were to “turn ourselves inside out,” so the “likeness of God” was no longer hidden inside but fully realized on the outside. He shows us what God intended us to be, what it means to be fully human.
Jesus’ expression is simple to understand – to love God and take care of each other. Following it is another matter. The Apostle Peter wrote:
“But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God. To do this you are called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20b-21)
The Greek word for “example” is hupogrammos, which is the line of perfect handwriting at the top of the practice writing sheet. I remember many a night practicing with my tongue stuck out sideways. Ma’s handwriting was beautiful, a perfect replica. Mine, not so much. I just couldn’t get the capital J right, so I finally made up my own cursive with a mix of printing and cursive.
Of course, learning to follow Jesus’ way is several degrees harder than making your handwriting legible but getting there is the same – a ton of practice and determination.
Just like our handwriting is unique, so is our image – our expression of God – unique. We each have different gifts and different callings. Though unique, there is a single test to know that our expression is hitting the mark – that our actions should cause God to be loved by others (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 86a).
Prayer: Eternal God, guide my steps along the way and help me stay true to your purposes. Amen.