If God had a face what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets
And yeah yeah God is great yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
– One Of Us, Eric Bazilian
(Note on the above song credit: the song was a hit for Joan Osbourn, but written by Eric Brazilan of the Philadelphia-based band, The Hooters. A “hooter,” by the way, is another name for a melodica, an instrument that the band featured.)
So, who is this God of the Bible? Is he the scary, wrathful “dangling sinners over the pit of Hell” kind of God that Jonathan Edwards ranted about, or is he “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” (Jonah 4:2)?
There’s a basic rule of interpretation that will really help us here, and that is to start with what is the most clear, and interpret that which is less clear in light of what we know. Keeping in mind that both Testaments speak of the unchanging nature of God, we know that we should see the same God throughout the Bible – but where to start?
I believe that the book of Hebrews holds the key:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3a
If Jesus, then, is the highest revelation of God, this should be our starting point. And, we see that Jesus himself made a similar claim:
If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. … Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:7,9
Now, most people like Jesus. As gods go, he is hands down the best. Antony Flew, the famous ex-atheist, but who is still not a Theist, said in an interview, “Well, one thing I’ll say … is that, for goodness sake, Jesus is an enormously attractive charismatic figure.”
The people who didn’t like Jesus, of course, were the religious power-mongers of his day. He tended to snub those who we would call self-righteous, and chose to hang out with the sinners. Far from dangling people over hell, he healed people without requiring repentance (though he certainly advised in favor of repentance), forgave sins without being asked, and on the cross even asked the Father to forgive those participating in his crucifixion, “for they know not what they do.”
He also chastised the Jews for keeping the knowledge of God to themselves and for holding religion over people’s heads. He chastised the rich and the self-righteous. If you look through the Gospels at those whom Jesus criticized and those whom he accepted, I think you’d come up with a rather interesting par of lists with the headings “sheep” and “goats.”
So far, he appears to be the original Working Class Hero. But, here’s where people begin to have issues: he claimed to be “the truth” and “the only way.” He made it clear that you accepted Jesus’ Good News – or you missed the boat. At this point, you can hear a Jarjar-like exclamation, “how rude!” So, Jesus turns out to be this extremely nice guy with the only “words of life,” which at times can be rather harsh. As it turns out, Jesus offended everybody, as the Gospel tends to do. Jesus’ moral teachings are welcome on one hand and offensive on the other. Jesus, after all, claimed to be God. As CS Lewis argued, you cannot just accept Jesus as a heckuva nice guy; he either was God as he claimed, or he was a flake. You either, then, have to accept Jesus at his own word, or come up with some hair-brained theory to explain how his words were altered by wacko followers.
In spite of ridiculous arguments that Jesus never existed (as was made by one of the atheists in the recent debate against Ray Comfort), the evidence for Jesus is sufficient for any reasonable person not to doubt it. And, as far as that goes, the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus is also quite sound. Quoting Antony Flew again from his interview with Dr. Gary Habermas, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.”
Considering the best scholarship on Jesus and the Bible, we have to conclude that the four accepted Gospels are authentic and aside from a few questionable passages (which by the way, are noted as such in most versions of the Bible), we can accept them as historically reliable; it really makes no sense to doubt them. So, again we are faced with dealing with the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be God.
But what about God in the rest of the Bible? Certainly we have to address the total picture of God as revealed throughout history – for that is essentially what the Bible is about. However, until we get past Jesus, there’s no point in dealing with anything else. Again, Jesus is the highest revelation of the Biblical God that we have, and we must start here, and then interpret the rest according to what Jesus has revealed.
This is not a cop-out by any means, meant to avoid dealing with the Old Testament. It is, rather, a challenge to deal with Jesus.