I dont think anyone goes through life without experiencing events that make us ask the question, Where was God? Weve all prayed prayers that seem to go unanswered. Weve all observed suffering and evil that seem to go unopposed. But to be fair, wed have to admit that weve also seen things that are beautiful and very good and that there have been times our prayers were answered quickly and powerfully. Yet its the apparent failures and the darkness that seem to capture our attention. And whether we admit it or not those things can shake our faith. They can make us question the goodness of God.
And theres something else that can shake our faith in the goodness of God. Its those passages in the Bible that tend to make Him look cruel or unfair, particularly in the Old Testament. Yes, such passages also exist in the New Testament, but since most are in the Old Testament, some people have concluded that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament. Some assume that its God the Father we meet in the Old Testament, and that God the Son, whose name is Jesus, only arrives in the New Testament. And this Jesus seems to have a very different personality from His temperamental Father. Hes kind, loving and merciful while the Father is
well, mean. If that view of the Father becomes part of a persons thinking it becomes very hard to trust Him. The bold statement of John 3:16 comes as a shock: For God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son. We think of Jesus as loving us but not the Father. Hes the One who does all those mean things in the Old Testament, yet John 3:16 says our salvation is the Fathers idea and that He sent Jesus because He loved every human being so much. So, who is He really? Is He mean, or is He loving, like Jesus?
Today, using only one verse, John will reveal a truth that destroys false assumptions about the Father and the Son. He explains something that will help us trust our heavenly Father even when bad things happen, even when we read passages in the Bible that we find troubling. This single truth will steady us when doubts try to shake our confidence in the goodness of God. What an important verse! Lets look at it carefully.
The only-begotten God (Jn 1:18)
Jesus is not the Father. But as John has shown us, He came forth from the Father and is as fully God as His Father. When He became a man and lived among us, He made the invisible Father, visible. He explains Him. That means He is the supreme revelation of the heart and character of God. Jesus is just like the Father, and the Father is just like Jesus. Thats why when confusion arises and I begin to doubt the character of God, I can always come back to this truth: I can trust the God I cannot see, because I trust the Son whom I have seen.
Whom did they see?
If we look closely at this verse, we discover John is also revealing another truth. He says the Father has never shown Himself to the human race, yet the Old Testament records numerous appearances of a divine Person, a Person people worshiped and even called God. If it wasnt the Father, then who was it?
So, John is not alone in making this statement. Jesus said the very same thing. Listen: And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form (Jn 5:37).
And again: Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father (Jn 6:45-46).
Paul calls Jesus the image of the invisible (unseen) God (Col 1:15). In a burst of praise in a letter to Timothy he addressed the Father as the King, eternal, immortal, invisible (unseen)
In other words, Jesus does not suddenly appear in the New Testament. Hes the Person weve met repeatedly in the Old Testament. That revelation changes the way we think about the Father and the Son. It means we cant picture the God of the Old Testament one way and Jesus of the New Testament another way. And that raises an important question of its own: How can we reconcile some of the very troubling passages we find in the Old Testament with the loving Son of God we meet in the New Testament? My answer has everything to do with the truth John is declaring in this verse. He says Jesus explains God. That means when I see Jesus I am seeing the supreme revelation of the heart and character of God. And when I read passages that dont make sense to me, I can always come back to this fact. It allows me to say, I dont understand why that happened or why God felt it necessary to do that, but I still trust Him. There must be a good reason and I just dont know it yet, but I do know this: Hes a good God, and He never changes. Rather than find fault with Him every time I come across a tough passage or something bad happens in life, I can choose to trust my heavenly Father and put this matter aside until the day He can explain it to me.
Reading the Old Testament
Because I have seen Jesus, I read the entire Old Testament differently. I know Hes there too, and His heart is unchanged. So when I come across difficult passages, I assume there are explanations, that if I understood the situation as God understands it, and was as truly good as He is, I would recognize that what He did or said was right in each case. What may seem to me, on the surface, to be unfair or cruel was indeed necessary for reasons I dont recognize yet.
I also know I must be careful to distinguish between things God specifically told people to do and those things which the Bible simply reports that they did. If we look closely well see that there were a lot of events the Bible doesnt endorse or recommend; it simply says happened. The same holds true for things people said. Not everything said in the Bible is supposed to be heard as, Thus sayeth the Lord! Many times we only have a record of what one person spoke. Because its in the Bible doesnt mean God said it or recommends it. Its often there simply as a part of a history God wanted recorded, so we would understand why things are the way they are.
And the world of the Old Testament was a very different world from the one we live in now. It was a wild, primitive world, and people didnt have access to the Bible or the power of the Holy Spirit like we do. During much of the Old Testament, people didnt have the Old Testament. It hadnt been written yet. People were full of horrible attitudes and had invited into their lives powerful demonic spirits that werent a figment of their imaginations. Meanwhile, God was trying to prepare a people who would walk with Him in faith and to whom He could send His Son as the Savior of the world. Remember there are spiritual laws God put in place that He cant ignore. This is not a game. God cant do anything He wants. Hes a righteous God; Hes given humans the freedom to choose and He wont take that freedom away. Whats happening on earth is a real war between dark and light, good and evil. This is not a puppet-show where God can simply maneuver events. Hes fighting to save as many as possible, and at times the process gets ugly. But thats not because Hes that way; its because theres an enemy whos evil and powerful, and humans have given that enemy a deep hold on their minds and bodies.
Choosing to trust
When what we see doesnt match the Person we know, we can choose to trust the Person we know. Humans sometimes surprise us and do things we never thought they were capable of doing, but God is not like a human, He doesnt change and there is no dark, hidden side to His heart (Jas 1:17). When He sent His Son, Jesus, the Father completely revealed His heart to us, and its a heart we can trust. Its not only a good heart, its a heart that is far better than ours. How do we know this? Weve seen Him in a way we humans can finally understand. The Word, the divine Son, became a man. Such truth is amazing, its humbling, but most of all its comforting. It means no matter what, we can trust our heavenly Father. Listen:
Philip said to Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus said to him, Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I am in the Father (perfectly representing Him, expressing His nature, submitted to His will), and the Father is in Me (guiding, empowering, revealing Himself)? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works (Jn 14:8-10).
We dont know if Philip really understood what Jesus was trying to show him at the time, but the important question for us today is do you and I? Because if we do, this revelation will protect and strengthen us for the rest of our lives.
1) What would you say to a person who is struggling to understand a difficult passage in the Bible, particularly one that troubles you too? How does John 1:18 help you?
2) Who was it who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve? What statement in this verse (Jn 1:18) helps you see that?
3) Give an example of a time when you chose to trust the heart of God even though it seemed that your prayers were going unanswered.