No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
One could, I suspect, write pages and pages on just this one verse. Even the first half. No one has ever seen God. In moments of grief, this hits us as especially true. Amid the pang of loss, the confusion of death, the helpless of illness, and more, it is so painfully obvious that we cannot see God.
We may want to. We may crave to. Yet we cannot. God seems so incredibly distant, silent, unavailable. And all we can do is wonder, mute with disappointment, whether God is even there.
The inaccessibility of God did not trouble some cultures. Greek philosophers, for instance, describing God as the “Unmoved Mover” or “First Cause” conceived of God more like a principle than a person. (Hence, John’s use of logos, the Divine Word and Reason of the universe.)
The Israelite faith, however, imagined God in more intimate terms. God created, but God also cared. God gave commandments, but God also forgave. God sent, but God also rescued. And above all else, God had chosen Israel to be a light to the nations. And so God’s absence, felt at various points throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, was particularly painful.
But while Jews imagined God as entering into and maintaining relationship with Israel, yet there was always a gap, always the unknown, always the dangerous mystery of a God too holy to even pronounce aloud God’s name. There is, in short, something ultimately and utterly unknowable about God, even the relational God of Scripture.
This deep if also painful awareness has filtered through the eons. And so too often we consign anything we don’t understand to “God’s will.” And until recently insurance documents would testify that the bearer was insured against fire, flood, hurricane, tornado… “and other acts of God.”
John, however, confesses a different reality. Might God be present in that which is unknown and cannot be understood? Perhaps, but that is not the point. Rather, the point is that God has chosen to be known, to be available, to be present and accessible to us in and through the Word made flesh, God’s own Son. For this Son reveals to us not just elements of God’s character or plan but represents and embodies God’s own heart and soul. Jesus, John confesses, shows us who God really is and, more importantly, who God is determined to be for us.
And so as we read the rest of the Gospel, we are not simply hearing a story about Jesus, but rather we are entering into the story of God, the God who created and sustains all and who has come for us in love. This is the Christmas story, the Gospel story, that Jesus is God’s Word spoken clearly in the ministry – indeed, in the very flesh and bone – of his Son so that we might know the unknowable God and realize especially that this God is always for us.
Prayer: Dear God, remind us in our darkest moments that we are not alone, that you have come to be with us and for us forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.