Tag Archives: glory

The Image of the Invisible God

The most unique and radical claim of the Christian Faith is not that God has revealed himself, but that he has done so by becoming a human being.

The incarnation is the most central truth of the Christian Faith. The eternal Son of God took up human flesh and became ‘like his brothers in every respect’ not only to ‘make propitiation for the sins of his people’ (Hebrews 2:17) but also to reveal the very being of the triune God to humankind.

The Bible everywhere speaks of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son now incarnate, as the supreme revelation of God. Thus, the author of Hebrews could write: ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Hebrews continues to proclaim the Son as the ‘radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’ (Hebrews 1:3). Paul, writing to the Christians at Colossae, could declare that the incarnate Son is ‘the image (Greek: ikon) of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15). And in John 14:9, Jesus claimed that ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’.

In the person of Jesus Christ, the event of God’s self-disclosure occurs fully and supremely. In the life, speech and acts of Jesus are revealed the very character and purposes of God. As Millard Erickson has clearly put it: ‘The pinnacle of God’s acts is to be found in the life of Jesus. His miracles, death and resurrection are redemptive history in its most condensed and concentrated form’.

Only the second person of the triune Godhead, who is with God and is God from all eternity, can reveal God to us. Thus, the consensus of the Patristic theologians that can be traced to Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 125-202): that God can only be known through God.

To be sure, God’s revelation of himself in Christ comes in a mediated form, through the humanity of the incarnate Son. It is important to note that God has not revealed himself in humanity per se, but through the humanity united to Christ, the divine Son (Latin: humanitas Christi). In the incarnation, God has revealed himself through a medium that is not alien to us.

The Reformers recognise that in order for God to reveal himself to human beings he must in some ways accommodate or condescend himself to the ways of human knowing. According to a number of Reformed theologians like David Wright, Timothy George and Edward Dowey, the incarnation is God’s accommodating act par excellence.

But it was the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner who articulated this with great insight and eloquence. In a 1966 essay entitled ‘The Theology of the Symbol’ Rahner writes: ‘The Logos, the Son of the Father, is truly, in his humanity as such, the revelatory symbol in which the Father enunciates himself, in this Son, to the world – revelatory, because the symbol renders present what is revealed’.

Using different terminology, the Reformed theologian Karl Barth makes the same point when he maintains that the incarnate Christ is the ‘sacramental reality of [God’s] revelation’, the ‘first sacrament, the foundation of everything that God instituted and used in his revelation as a secondary objectivity before and after the epiphany of Jesus Christ’.

To say that God’s self-disclosure is found supremely in Christ is not to deny his universal revelation in creation. Paul is unequivocal that God has revealed himself in the created order when he writes that the ‘invisible nature’ of the Creator is clearly perceived ‘in the things that have been made’ (Romans 1:20).

Neither does it diminish the way in which God revealed himself in his dealings with Israel as recorded in the Old Testament.

In fact, if Christ is indeed the supreme revelation of God, then in him all the other moments of God’s self-disclosure becomes clearer and more comprehensible. In him all the manifestations of God – past, present and future – are clarified. And in him God’s dealings with Israel becomes more understandable and meaningful.

Christ is the summit of God’s revelation.

It is precisely because in him is to be found ‘all the riches of full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery’ (Colossians2: 2-3) that Christ can be said to be the ‘exegesis of God’ (Hans Urs von Balthasar).

In the incarnation of the Son, we also see the profound relationship between revelation and salvation. Insofar as the second person of the Godhead is Word, his incarnation is the revelation of God. But even as he comes as Word to reveal the love of God, he also comes as Son to reconcile us to the Father.

In Jesus Christ we not only come to know God, but we are also brought into communion with him by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

The great Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance explains:

‘In this act of condescension God comes as God the Son and God the Word. He comes as God the Son to enter our rebellious estate in order to effect reconciliation by living out his life of filial obedience where we are disobedient, and he comes as God the Word to enter into our darkness and blindness in order to effect revelation by manifesting the love of God and by achieving from within humanity faithful appropriation of divine revelation’.

Insofar as these are the works of the incarnate Son of God, they must be seen not as two acts but as one act: revelation is part of reconciliation, and reconciliation is part of revelation.

In Jesus Christ is revealed the loving God who saves human beings from sin and death. Thus, we could indeed say (together with Paul) that in the face of Jesus Christ we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6).


Roland Chia (suit)_LargeDr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

 

 

 

The Wonders of Creation

In the opening chapters of the Bible, the mystery of creation is presented in beautiful poetic language (Genesis 1 and 2). The passages speak of how God brought about this splendidly diverse universe by simply speaking the word of command: God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. These passages point to the almightiness of the Creator who is not dependent on any pre-existing material to fashion the creation, but created it ‘out of nothing’ (ex nihilo), as early theologians of the Church pointed out. But Genesis is not the only book in the Bible that speaks of God’s marvellous creation. The Psalms contain some of the most eloquent statements about the Creator.

Psalm 19 speaks most beautifully of how the splendours of God’s creation reflect and point to the Creator. The psalm opens with this marvellous declaration: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge’. The psalmist celebrates the majesty, glory and honour of God the Creator as he contemplates His handiwork.

Christian theologians and poets throughout the centuries have insisted that it is possible to get something of a glimpse of the glory and magnificence of the Creator by prayerfully contemplating the created order. The poem of the great 19th century English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins entitled, ‘God’s Grandeur’ immediately comes to mind: ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed …’ Together with the ancient psalmist, these Christian writers see the vestiges of the glory of God in the beauty of the creation.

But the ability to discern the Creator in the structures of the material world is not confined only to poets, theologians and mystics. Modern physicists and cosmologists are beginning to see that the universe we inhabit has an order that is profoundly, remarkably and delicately balanced. For example, in order for life to exist there must be an abundant supply of carbon, which is formed by the combination of three helium nuclei. But the combination must be so exact that if there is a variation of slightly more than one percent either way, the universe could no longer sustain life. Or take the distance between the sun and the earth. A modification of only two percent of the current distance, scientists say, would result in the total annihilation of life. If the earth is too near to the sun, water would evaporate and the earth will be too barren to sustain life. However, if the earth is too far from the sun, temperatures would plunge to the point that life is no longer possible.

Another important observation that scientists have made has to do with gravity and the amount of matter – i.e., galaxies, diffuse gas, ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ – in the universe. Again, the balance must be just right. This has led some scientists to conclude that there must be an extraordinary imposition of constraints on the initial cosmic energy density in order for a universe like ours to come into being. As British cosmologist and astrophysicist Baron Martin Rees put it: ‘If this ratio were too high relative to a particular “critical” value, the universe would have collapsed long ago; had it been too low, no galaxies or stars would have formed. The initial expansion speed seems to have been finely tuned’. Rees alludes to the anthropic principle, which is made popular by John Barrow and Frank Tipler’s landmark book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle published in 1986. The anthropic principle simply points to the remarkable and extraordinary combination of factors necessary to bring about the universe that we inhabit. Barrow maintains that this remarkable confluence of factors, which he calls ‘nice laws’, would be very difficult to explain without reference to God.

It would be too much to argue that the anthropic principle or the fact that our universe is so magnificently ‘fine-tuned’ serves as proof for the existence of God. There is a sense in which one can never prove (in the way scientists broadly understand the word) or disprove the existence of God. But it would not be outrageous (and here is the apologetic value of this discovery) to say that these scientific observations about the universe suggest that it is not unreasonable to postulate the existence of the Creator. In fact, as some philosophers and theologians have rightly pointed it, to suggest the existence of a Creator is arguably more credible than to suggest speculative theories like the multiverse. But for the believer, these scientific discoveries testify to the wonders of the creation and the ever-greater wonder of its Creator. They enable him to join the psalmist in declaring: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was first published in The Bible Speaks Today (March 2013).