Last week we started our journey into the Fourth Gospel. John starts with a stunning poem that explains the enormity and significance of what has happened in the arrival of Jesus. This is no less than a new creation story. The light of the world has come into the world; the one who made all things has entered His creation. Even more incredibly, John says, through believing in this Jesus, we can have life in his name. And yet, we often experience or sense the lack of God’s presence, rather than its fullness. To this, John says, we need to sharpen our senses and change our perspective. Even when Jesus came to his own people, they still missed him; still failed to see him for who he was.
So, what does a full-bodied Christian perspective on God’s presence look like? The Christian philosopher, Jamie Smith, says it has a lot to do with how we fundamentally see the world and God’s relationship to it. We know this because the reason the religious authorities couldn’t accept Jesus, was that he made outrageous claims about being “I AM,” the God who could not be contained by human categories or media (John 8:58). To them, the idea that God could be so intimately joined with his creation was blasphemy. In fact, humans have always sought to keep a comfortable separation between heaven and earth, a notion that is blown wide open by John’s opening poem.
In his brilliant book, “Thinking in Tongues”, Jamie Smith points out that modern society has conceived of a world which is a closed system of natural “cause & effect.” There is no place for God in this sort of world. In John’s terms, the Creator has been shut out of his creation. This has obviously shaped how we think about our world. And, it’s also had a profound impact on the Christian imagination too. Within this worldview, we easily fall into the trap of thinking about God as a stranger, who must occasionally “break into” his creation through miracles.
But, God’s Incarnation in the human person of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit calls us to a radically different vision of reality. Smith describes this as an “ontology of intimacy or care.” This simply means that God is not a distant stranger to his creation, but is intimately present within it, his presence holding it all together and sustaining its life. Along these lines, both St Augustine and CS Lewis describe miracles, not as unusual events, but as moments of increased intensity in what God is doing all the time — always creating and restoring. This truth has radical implications for how we see the world and how we experience God’s presence within it. In this view, God is everywhere and always at work in every detail of our lives, in every conversation, and in the beauty of His creation. As John says, the light and life of humanity has come to the world he created; not as a visitor but as the intimate and ever-present creator. May this truth shape the rhythms of your life this week.
Blessings, Rev Jonny Grant