About fifteen years ago I was down in Toronto attending a meeting of all the members of the various national Anglican committees; I think there must have been about a hundred and fifty people there. We were together for a few days, and being good Anglicans, we had services several times a day during our meeting. One of our worship leaders was the Rev. Andrew Asbil, who was the son of Walter Asbil, the Bishop of Niagara. I’ve seen sons who looked like their dads before, but this was extraordinary; Andrew was truly the spitting image of his father. Someone said, “Now I know what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’!”
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”; what an extraordinary claim! Philip comes to Jesus with a cry from the heart: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied!” (v.8). If you’re like me, your heart warms to Philip at this point. The invisibility of God is a problem to a lot of people; if only God would appear to us! We know that God is so far above us that we’d never in a million years be able to take it all in; after all, we’re talking about a being powerful enough to create the vastness of the universe and the intricacy of the human eye, a being perfectly good and holy, wise and loving, but so bright and glorious that looking at him must surely be like looking at the sun with the naked eye. But deep down in our hearts there’s a spiritual hunger, and we Christians know that only God can fill it. We spend our whole lives longing to get closer to God, to get a sense of God’s presence in our daily lives.
I can hear all this in Philip’s words: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied!” – or, as another translation has it, “show us the Father, and we ask no more”. We could die happy, we think, if we died with the vision of God before our eyes; surely everything else would melt into insignificance compared to that? This is what Philip is asking for, but then Jesus gives him this stunning reply: “Hello! Earth to Philip – don’t you recognize me? Have I really been with you all this time, and you haven’t figured out who I am? Well, let me spell it out for you – if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. The Father is in me, and I’m in him. The words I speak aren’t just mine, but they come from the Father. The healings and miracles and mighty works I do aren’t just because I’m some sort of superhero – they come from the Father too. That vision of God you were looking for? You’ve already had it. Look no further: it’s right here”.
Of course, this is never as simple as it seems. With one breath, Jesus says “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”, but a few sentences later he’s talking about doing whatever we ask in his name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son – thus apparently making a distinction between the Father and himself. Jesus assumed he had the right to forgive people’s sins, even though only God really has that right, but he also prayed to God as his own Father. So we’re dealing with a mystery here, a mystery that the Church has attempted to explore with its doctrine of the Trinity, three persons in one God. It’s truly been said that “If you think you understand it, it’s probably not God”, so we probably shouldn’t attempt to be too precise in our definitions – after all, we’re screwing our eyes up to avoid being blinded by the brightness of God, so it’s not surprising if we can’t see too well! But let’s stick with these words of Jesus for a few minutes and explore what they mean for us: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”.
What is God like? What is God’s character? Is God a distant God, a God who set up the universe and left it to its own devices? Is God an uncaring God who barely notices the tiny little humans swarming around on this tiny little planet? Is God an amoral God, who really doesn’t care about our actions and has no real sense of good and bad? Is God a determinist God who sends sickness as well as health, and loves cancer cells as much as healthy human cells? Is God a stern God who stands over us with a big stick, just waiting for us to screw up so he can punish us?
I suspect we all find ourselves saying, “No, we don’t believe any of those ideas about God”. And yet, throughout human history, many people have believed them. We assume that our ideas about God – that he loves us, that he is passionate about us, that he forgives our sins if we ask him, that he wants to remove suffering and sickness from our lives, and one day will do so permanently – we assume that these ideas of God are self-evident, but in fact they’re not. We believe them, because we’re the beneficiaries of two thousand years of Christian teaching, based on the life and words of Jesus. We believe that Jesus has ‘shown us the Father’, and it’s ‘Like father, like son’. What is God like? Without even realizing that we’re doing it, we’re all saying, “He’s like Jesus”.
So, in other words, we Christians are the ones who have looked into the face of Jesus and seen God there. This is not to say that we don’t see God anywhere else – in the beauty and majesty of his creation, or in our human conscience, for instance – but we believe that we have seen God most clearly in the life and teaching of Jesus. Well then – what have we seen?
Read the rest here.