Jesus is the Face of God. That means all our thinking about God must start with Jesus. He is the unveiling of God. As we look at Jesus we are able to see the inner life of God. We see the internal relations of God as Father, Son and Spirit in personal communion.
But is Jesus the starting point for thinking about God in Western Theology? I suggest that in the west our thinking about God begins the Being of God as One essence or substance. That means that we live before God as the Faceless Being of philosophical theism.
This Faceless Being was Aristotle’s God. Aristotle ( 384-322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato. He saw God as timeless, changeless and passionless. For Aristotle, God was the “unmoved mover”. Aristotle’s God lives in splendid isolation within his own perfection.
The theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), was greatly influenced by Aristotle. We can see this in the way that Aquinas defined God. He decided, on logical grounds, that the investigation of the One God must come before that of the Triune God. We must first explore the essence of God as the “simple, perfect, infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable, eternal, impassable, one. Notice that the One Essence was his starting point. Only after exploring fully the essence of God in terms of these abstract attributes can we move on to consider God as Trinity and then later still, God in Jesus.
The English Puritans also made the Faceless Being their starting point. Question 4 of their Westminster shorter catechism asks, What is God? There is a problem with that question? The catechism does not ask Who is God, but What is God? From the start, we are to think of God as a “What” rather than a “Who”.
So what is God according to the catechism?
“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth”.
This answer raises some questions about their view of God:
Is this the very first thing you want to say about God?
Would you describe this God as a Faceless Being?
Could this God be Allah?
In Western Theology, thinking about God begins with this abstract essence or substance. We explore the attributes of the Essence. The Being of god is infinite, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Having fully defined the One Being, we move on to look at the Triune God, but mostly in terms of proofs texts and perplexing puzzles. Then, a long way down the line, we look at Jesus. We say Jesus is God. What we mean is Jesus is this Divine Being, this essence. We then have to fit Jesus into the Essence.
Does all this have any practical bearing on our daily walk with God? I think it does. Too many people have in their hearts the vague fear that God may turn out to be different from Jesus.
Thomas Torrance says,
“We fear that there may be “Behind the Back of Jesus” some dark inscrutable God, some arbitrary Deity of whom we can know nothing”.
Before this vague nameless dread, we can only quake and shiver as he withers our souls. If this God has a face at all, it is frowning on us with continual displeasure over our failures to measure up to his perfection and rules.
Will God turn out to be different from Jesus? He tells us clearly, “I and the Father are One”. He also says, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father”. What Jesus is and does the Father is and does. They are one in being. There is, in fact, no God behind the back of Jesus. The only God is the one that we see and meet in Jesus. Jesus is the open heart of God towards us. Therefore, God is, not one thing in himself and another thing in Jesus. He has not shown us one face in Jesus but kept his real face hidden from us. God is who he is as revealed in Jesus and that is who God will always be for ever.
That is why we must always start our thinking about God with Jesus. He is the unveiling of God as persons in relation. We keep Jesus at the centre of our vision of God and allow what we see in him to shape and colour everything else that we say about God. If we do not begin with Jesus we will all end up living before a FacelessGod that is remote, solitary and turned in on himself in his own perfect Essence.
Thomas Torrance served in World War 2 as a Padre. He often recalled an event that deeply affected him during the conquest of Italy,
“When daylight filtered through I came across a young soldier (private Phillips) scarcely twenty years old lying mortally wounded on the ground, who clearly had not long to live. As I knelt down and bent over him, he said “Padre, is God really like Jesus?” I assured him that he was … As I prayed and commended him to the Lord Jesus he passed away.”
God is really like Jesus because he is the Face of God. In the Incarnate Son, God has opened himself up to us his own inner life as three persons in communion.