Jesus—He Alone Shows Us Who God Is
Athanasius, the great fourth century theologian and one of the main defenders of the Nicene Creed wrote one of the most important maxims,
It is more devout and more precise to know God as Father through the Son than it is to know God as Creator through the things he has made.”1
In other words, we have a clearer perception and closer revelation of God’s true nature through the relationship the Son has with the Father than we could ever gain through mere observation of the creation. Obviously, we can gain great insight and discover many true facts about God through the creation, but the core truth of God can only be known in relational terms. Answering the ‘who’ question concerning God is far more significant than answering the ‘what’ question concerning the things God has created.
Indeed, we can only truly appreciate what God does in the light of who he is, for God does what he does because he is who he is. However, knowing who God is can only be apprehended through divine revelation and not through human deduction. For this reason, the church’s core logic and rationale must be dependent upon the unique revelation we have through the incarnation of the Son of God. Any other theology or ideology that is not rooted in this logic must be considered, at best, ancillary to the revealed truth. Therefore, human rationalism, psychological insight, existential spirituality, cultural contextualisation and any other form of essentially human philosophy must not set the agenda for our thoughts about God.
The unaided human soul is incapable of knowing God as he really is. All our ideas about God are bound to be suspect. Even at our best and most profound we do not see the features that distinguish the essential nature of God. We have notions of God that are true as far as they go, but they do not go far enough. Consequently, we tend to fill in the blanks with our own imagination and invent God in our own image – literally! We view God in the likeness of our parents, authority figures, and sometimes with the fanciful projections of our own imaginations. Most often human images of God tend to be either ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Ivan the Terrible.’
The real God is wholly other than the gods of human invention. He is not Allah, or Vishnu, or the ‘guy with the white beard on a giant throne up there.’ God is a community of love. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The only way we can know him is to share in the knowledge that Jesus Christ has from within that unique complex of relations between the three. Jesus gives us a clear and perfect vision of God and joins us to himself so that we can know the reality of God. The Holy Spirit then takes hold of this reality and makes it ours. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans “For you did not receive a Spirit that makes you a slave again to fear; but you received the Spirit of sonship, and by him we cry “Abba Father.” (Rom 8: 15). The gods of human thinking all end up driving us into slavery, but by the Holy Spirit we are ushered into the knowledge of Christ. We see what he sees and find ourselves finally at home in the embrace of our heavenly Father. Then we are secure and free.
1 Athanasius, Contra Ar. 1.34