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Hidden in Plain Sight

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14.8-9 NRSV

Poor Philip! He and the other disciples have arrived at the very last evening before Jesus goes to the Cross and it still hasn’t dawned on them that everything they have seen in Jesus over the past three years, everything they have heard him say and watched him do – has been a revelation of the Almighty and Everlasting God. More than that; nothing they have seen and heard has NOT been a revelation of God. In other words, you could not say of one aspect of Jesus: ‘Of course, God is not quite like that’ while saying of another aspect: ‘But God is just like that.’ Everything reveals the Father; nothing does not reveal the Father. ‘God is Christlike and in Him is no un-Christlikeness at all’ (A M Ramsey).

‘If, instead of having me with you, the Father had been with you for the last three years,’ Jesus is telling Philip; ‘you would not have noticed the slightest difference because there is no difference. None whatsoever. I and the Father are one.’

Yes, yes, I know … this is a persistent theme of mine (see Spitting Image); but I have to keep repeating it because so many Christians refuse to grasp it. Just the other day, a prominent US evangelical, Ray Ortlund, tweeted a quote from Don Carson: ‘The Bible speaks of the wrath of God more than 600 times;’ and commented ‘No way round that – except the cross.’ What was he trying to say? That God the Father is an angry God and needed to satisfy his anger by directing it at someone else if not us – namely, Jesus? It is hard to see what other interpretation one can put on that tweet. And that being so, can Ortlund not see that, if his is a true understanding of the wrath of God, those who see Jesus have NOT seen the Father. Ortlund’s Father is angry and violent and needs to punish; whereas the Son is loving and non-violent and is free to forgive. Ortlund’s Father and Son have different natures, different personalities … and that is, well, heresy.

The truth is, I believe, that Ray Ortlund’s misunderstands the concept of wrath (see The Wrath of God) and because of that he misunderstands what happened at the cross. As the great William Temple once wrote:

All real thought about the Atonement, about the meaning of the Cross of Christ, must of course start from the love of God. There have been some crude kinds of statement suggesting that it starts with His anger, which needs to be appeased. You must never start from there … It does not begin with his anger; it begins with His love, the love that must desire always to restore the old relationship we have broken, or lead us into the true relationship of children to their Father upon which we have never entered … Once there is love, forgiveness does not mean remission of penalty. Penalty does not come in. Forgiveness means restoration to intimacy … The cancellation of the alienation and the bringing us into true fellowship and communion … At the heart of the Gospel is the promise of free forgiveness on condition of repentance, of which the exquisite expression is the parable of the Prodigal Son. (Christian Life and Faith).

So much of our distorted, wrong thinking about God would disappear if we would only grasp what Philip and the others finally grasped on the evening of the Last Supper: that anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father; that he and his Father are one.

Let’s embrace this glorious truth: for thirty or so years, the Father walked this earth – hidden in plain sight. He was here, hidden in Jesus.

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