Jesus is the Dictionary
It has been a long-held conviction that humanity is irrepressibly religious, and will worship God in one way or another. Since there is, and only ever has been, One God, all religions are attempts to relate to that one God, though misunderstandings abound as to the nature of God and how God works in the world. For much of history it has been presumed that the gods were many (polytheists), a handful of religions, the most obvious ones being Judaism, Islam and Christianity, are monotheistic, clearly insisting that there is only One God, and not more than one.
It is therefore concluded that these three faiths have enough in common for us to unite our energies and forget our differences. After all, we each have Abraham as a common ancestor in faith. There is something appealing about that idea. Whatever breaks down barriers sounds good to me. But then the caution comes, for the three major monotheistic religions cannot agree on how best to describe this One God. What dictionary shall we use to define what we mean when we use the term “God?”
Here is the rub. The Christian church finds its attention drawn to a focal passage in the Gospel of John (John 1:18 RSV) “No one has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known,” But the word “seen” if we are not careful will make us want to refer to actual physical sight alone. Then the debate gets diverted as to whether Adam, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah or Ezekiel ever saw God. So let me paraphrase the passage. “No one has ever adequately known God, understood God, or described God, at any time. But Jesus, who has come to us from the heart of the Father, has fully revealed him.”
Eugene Peterson is right when he makes the note, “Jesus is the dictionary in which we look up the meaning of words.” For the Christian church, Jesus is the one who defines for us the big words, such as God, life, death, salvation, faith, hope, and ethics. But Jesus did not come simply to tell us the meaning of these words, but to demonstrate in his life, and particularly in his death, the meaning of what God is really like. Jesus can say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) The God of the Christian Church is a crucified God who would die for us to bring us life.
So here is the center of the issue when we respectfully agree to disagree with Judaism, Islam or any other religion of the world community: we will we let Jesus define our words for us, and not try to find a lower common denominator.
(Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005. p. 103.)
Published in Light and Life, November-December , 2006