Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Human Face of God

Many years ago Karl Barth wrote an essay on "the humanity of God."  In that essay he wrote about the paradox of bringing together the deity and the humanity of God.  Of course, for Barth this is a question that involves Christology.  He writes:

In Jesus Christ there is no isolation of man from God or of God from man.  Rather, in Him we encounter the history the dialogue, in which God and man meet together and are together, the reality of the covenant mutually  contracted, preserved, and fulfilled by them.  Jesus Christ is in His one Person, as true God, man's loyal partner, and has true man, God's.  He is the Lord humbled for communion with man and likewise the Servant exalted to communion with God.  He is the Word spoken from the loftiest, most luminous transcendence, and likewise the Word heard in the deepest, darkest immanence.  He is both, without their being confused but also without their being divided; He is wholly the one and wholly the other.  Thus in his oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man.  Thus He comes forward to man on behalf of God calling for and awakening faith, love, and hope, and to Godon behalf of man, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding.  Thus he attests to man God's free grace  and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man's free gratitude.  (Barth, Humanity of God, p. 46-47) 
James Dunn, in his book Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? (see review here), comes at the question from a somewhat different angle, but he too posits the idea that Jesus is the "human face of God."  This is, he believes the confession of John's Gospel.  Jesus is the "one who made the unseen God known and known more clearly and more fully than he had ever been known before.  In  a real sense that the first Christians could only explain inadequately, to be in the presence of Jesus was to be in the presence of God -- not, be it noted in the presence of a god, but in the presence of God" (Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, p. 122-123).   

Although the confession that Jesus is the human face of God affirms that when we approach Jesus, see Jesus, experience Jesus, we are in the presence of God, that doesn't mean that we are to worship Jesus as a substitute for God.  He is, as both Barth and Dunn seem to suggest, the mediator, the point of contact with God, in which and through which we are invited to worship the living God.  Jesus is the definitive Word (Logos) of God, but Jesus is not the Father -- the one who ultimately deserves our worship and adoration. 

Does that mean we can't have a conversation with Jesus?  No, that's not the idea -- but if that conversation doesn't lead us through Jesus to God the Father then the ultimate conversation has been short-circuited.  But as Dunn is very clear in his book, even if we do not worship Jesus directly, Jesus defines what it means for to worship as Christians. 

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