by Dcn Adam Salter Gosnell
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. Jesus has been revealed to the Gentiles (more on this during the Epiphany service, January 6th). 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.
F. Torrance (1913-2007) had an experience early on in life, in the military, that shaped his entire theological career. He was serving as a chaplain and came across a 20-year-old soldier, dying after a battle. Torrance knelt over him and the soldier said, “Padre, is God really like Jesus?” Torrance assured him, Yes. Yes, he is. And then the soldier died.
This brief conversation left a mark on Torrance so profound that he hardly wrote 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 means of Jesus in Epiphany, it means that “there is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ.”
This means that whatever ideas we have about who God is, whatever we think about what he enjoys, whatever impulses we have about how he feels, these all must be relativized by who God has revealed himself to be in Jesus.
This begs the question: Have we had our epiphany? Do we understand the revealing of Jesus? Have we, like the magi, come to understand? Have those words from the Creed sunk down into our bones, so that when we think about what God is like, all we can say is, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father”?
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.”
Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church © 2016.