John begins his account of the life of Jesus with the same words that begin the very first book of the Bible. The books of Genesis and John both start with the phrase “In the beginning.” “In the beginning,” says Genesis 1:1, “God created the heavens and the earth.” “In the beginning,” says John 1:1, “was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word was Jesus. The next two verses go on to say, “He was with God in the beginning and through him all things were made.”
Of the four Gospel writers, John is the one who delves deepest into abstract theology and philosophy. John was writing a half century after Jesus rose from the dead, and the church was by that time firmly established in many places in the Roman empire. Also by that time it had begun to face some sophisticated criticism from unbelievers, and also some distortions of the message from within the church by misguided believers. John wrote not only to retell the story of Jesus, but to respond to some of these new challenges.
He begins his account by symbolically referring to Jesus as ‘the Word.’ Jesus had taught the disciples that he and the heavenly Father were one and the same. Jesus also taught the disciples that he was not ‘just born’ in Bethlehem, but that he had existed from the very beginning of time with God; and was, in fact, God. The birth of the little baby Jesus in Bethlehem was the result of God’s decision to visit his Creation. Not only that but there would be still another visitor, not in the flesh, but in spirit. In John 14:26 Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things.” This gets us into mysteries beyond our understanding. But the New Testament accounts leave us with a description of God that we call the doctrine of the Trinity; one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The words are familiar, but not even the most brilliant theologians have fully comprehended it.
Yet, when you think about it, the complexity of this mysterious doctrine of the Trinity adds to the credibility of the Christian claims. John and all the disciples were going out proclaiming the Gospel of the salvation to be found in Christ Jesus, whom they had seen risen from the dead. That message is incredible enough. So incredible, that many have argued that this Jesus did not rise from the dead, but that the disciples were inventing a new religion. But if that was the case, they certainly would not have invented a complication like the doctrine of the Trinity to go with it. This doctrine of the Trinity made their job, and the job of every Christian preacher and teacher since then, much more difficult. This is not the sort of complication anyone would invent, and especially not if they were trying to make their case more convincing.
Rather, this complex picture of God is what the disciples were left with after the amazing visit of God Himself to the earth in the person of Jesus. And why should it surprise us that the exact nature of God is beyond our understanding? How could we, who are so little, ever expect to fully understand God, who is so big and magnificent and wonderful?
John was not trying to invent something new. He was simply presenting the truth of God as it was made visible to him in Jesus and taught by Jesus. He saw Jesus work miracle after miracle, he heard Jesus say that he was God, and then he saw Jesus killed, and then alive again, risen from the dead. John’s Gospel is his attempt to tell the story as he saw it, explaining it the best he can within the limitations of human language and understanding.
C. S. Lewis on the Difficulties of Christianity:
“There is no good complaining that these statements are difficult. Christianity claims to be telling us about another world, about something behind the world we can touch and hear and see. You may think the claim false; but if it were true, what it tells us would be bound to be difficult– at least as difficult as modern Physics.”
“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”
“We are talking about God. Why do you wonder that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.”
Not being able to fully understand God is frustrating but it is ridiculous for us to think we have the right to limit God to something we are capable of comprehending. What a stunted, insignificant god that would be! If my mind is the size of a soda can and God is the size of all the oceans, it would be stupid for me to say He is (or, should be limited to) only the small amount of water I can scoop into my little can.
John 12:16 — At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
John 14:26 — (Jesus said), “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
John 10:37-38 — (Jesus said), “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
–The Common Doxology, 1674, Thomas Ken