The scandal of Christianity is not that Jesus is like God but that God is like Jesus. It is a scandal because so much of the world has trouble conceiving of a God that would become flesh, let along become someone who was humiliated unto death on a Roman cross. Nevertheless, the claim of Christianity is that the revelation of God is Jesus Christ, who is God Incarnate.
While most discussions on the Doctrine of Incarnation begin with the Gospel of John, the book of Colossians also contributes to this understanding as well. The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-20:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
This passage is not just christology, it is theology proper as well. That is, the passage is not just telling us about the nature of Jesus. It tells us about the nature of God who has reveals himself in Jesus. The question of how the invisible God can be known is answered by this passage.
There is more said in this passage about God and Jesus than just the contribution it makes to the Doctrine of Incarnation. However, I want to focus on this because I believe it provides the narrative or story necessary to understand God’s will.
When we want to understand who God is and what God is like, this passage points us to Jesus and says “See who God is, see what God is like!” When we want to know what the purpose or mission of God is, this passage points us to Jesus on the cross and says, “See what God has done!” The passage even provides explanation by defining the cross event as that which God reconciles all things to him.
This is necessary as we read scripture with an ear towards tradition, reason, and experience. We all can cite scripture, including Satan himself. It is really easy to cite a passage of scripture(s) as a proof-text to legitimize whatever practice, ethic, etc… we want to uphold. Sometimes we even might try appealing to some text in the Old Testament to legitimize the way disciples of Jesus should think and act (when reading about the OT, we need to keep in mind that God could be accommodating himself within history until that time when he reveals his fullness in Jesus).
Yet since Jesus is the living image of God, in whom the fullness of God dwells, the life Jesus lived, along with the beliefs and values that shape that life, and the larger creative-redemptive narrative that Jesus is the central figure of, should become that which we measure our understanding of specific beliefs, values, and practices against. In other words, if we want to know whether or not a certain belief, value, or practice is the will of God, we ought to measure against Jesus and the life he lived and lives.
Yesterday I posted a link on Facebook to an article on the Huffington Post website written by Lee C. Camp titled, “Batman, Neo-Nazis, and the Good News of Jesus.” In the article, Camp calls into question the myth of redemptive violence that many people, including many Christians, have placed their faith in. In doing so, Camp writes:
To embrace a “war on terror” is a rejection of the fundamental Christian conviction that the world has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved not through violence and warring, but through long-suffering, self-emptying love.
Camp reminds us that God is reconciling all things to him through the self-sacrificial love of Jesus’ “blood, shed on the cross” rather than the power of the sword. It is also a reminder that Christians will only bear authentic witness to this redemptive act of God by embracing this way of self-sacrificial love rather than the violent power of the sword.
This obviously raises the question of Christian pacifism vs. just war and the many moral dilemmas that Christians could hypothetically find themselves in. It should be recognized that in such moral dilemmas, the lines of black and white seem to blur. Be that as it may, appealing to such potential dilemmas or even to certain biblical proof-texts in order to justify violence as a legitimized way of life is counter to the way of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
For example, even though I don’t have the answer to every moral dilemma and have plenty of unanswered questions, I certainly would not stand by idly and let some assailant attack and harm my family. I would not stand by and allow this to happen even if it required some degree of violence. I doubt you would either. Nevertheless, whether we are morally right or wrong in such admission, it does not permit us to legitimize violence as a value and way of life for those who follow Jesus. After all, among the many ways we are blessed, we are still blessed, among o to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9) and peacemaking, as Jesus teaches us, is by the means of self-sacrificial love on the cross.