Fr. Nathan Baxter
“Padre, is God really like Jesus?”
by Father Adam Gosnell
The word Epiphany comes to us from “to reveal.” In the narrower context of the Jesus-story, the Epiphany is about the magi/wise men coming to see the Baby Jesus. (Surprise! Your Christmas-day nativities are probably wrong.) Jesus has been revealed to the Gentiles. But in the broader context, Epiphany is about Jesus being revealed in general. And as I was thinking about Jesus and revelation, I was reminded of one of my very favorite theologians.
T. F. Torrance (1913-2007) had an experience, early in his life, that shaped his entire theological career. He was serving as a wartime chaplain. After a battle, he came across a young, 20-something solider. Almost immediately, Torrance realized that this man was dying. Nothing could be done. So Torrance held his hand, and talked to him about his faith. As he knelt over this soldier, the soldier asked, “… Padre? Is God really like Jesus?”
Yes. Torrance assured him. Yes, he is.
Then the soldier died.
This conversation was brief, but it had a profound impact on Torrance. In fact, for the rest of his life he hardly writes about anything else. He started saying it over and over:
- “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ.”
- “God is not one thing in himself and another thing in Jesus Christ—what God is toward us in Jesus he is inherently and eternally in himself.”
- “This is the fiducial [concerning faith] significance of the central clause in the Nicene Creed, that there is a oneness in Being and agency between Jesus Christ the incarnate Son and God the Father. What God is in eternity, Jesus Christ is in space and time, and what Jesus Christ is in space and time, God is in his eternity.”
Torrance said it a hundred times in a hundred ways.
Whatever else ‘the revelation of Jesus’ means in Epiphany, it means that God really is like Jesus.
As we prepare for the Feast of Epiphany on Sunday, have we had our Epiphany? Have we, like the magi, come to understand? “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Whatever ideas we have about who God is, about what he must enjoy, whatever our impulses about how he feels, these all must be relativized by who God has revealed himself to be in Jesus.
If you can be at peace with the God of John 8 who says, “Who is there left to condemn you?… Neither do I condemn you”;
If you can come to the God of John 10 who says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”;
If you can kneel before the God of Matthew 8 who says, “I will; be clean”;
If you can trust the God of Matthew 11 who says, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light”;
If this is how you would think and feel about a God like that, then let’s have a feast day! This is what God is like. This is what God is like because this is what Jesus is like. This is what the revealing of Jesus means before it means anything else: “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ.”