“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”
The week before last I pointed out that John the author of the Gospel, since he was a Jew, naturally picked up Israel’s creation story in order to reveal more completely the identity of Jesus the Messiah to his parishes which were scattered about Ephesus. Any Jew who read the Prologue to the Gospel of John — “In the beginning was the Word” — would have associated that beginning with the beginning of the Jewish Bible:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good…”
Keep this in mind as we work our way through the Gospel of John. This is a Jewish Gospel and any Jew who cared the least about his religion, who trusted in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who kept the feasts, who knew the Scriptures would get the message of the Gospel ahead of others simply because it is Israel’s story. And of course that would be true of Gentiles who were converting or who had to some degree welcomed the God of Israel into their lives — I am thinking of the God-fearers, those Gentiles who took up the Law of Moses and Israel’s monotheism. Any of these people would have immediately associated the beginning of the Gospel of John with the beginning of the Jewish Bible and that would have set the stage for their reading of the rest of the book.
Every Jew, every Gentile convert knew from the opening words of Genesis that by means of successive utterances, God the Father created all that exist in the whole wide universe. And Jews would have grasped immediately that when God Almighty spoke it was unlike any other speaking because when he spoke things that were not came into being and really existed in shape, color, form, density, corporality, and weight. He did not merely take matter that had existed eternally along side of himself (because no such matter existed) and then fashioned the raw material into things, but rather as St. Paul declared in Romans, this is the God of Abraham, the God “who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Nothing existed till God spoke. Thus the beginning that John speaks of when he write, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” is before the beginning in Genesis that declares “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…”
John’s beginning is an eternal beginning, the perpetual beginning, frequently referred to as “eternal life,” — that is the life of God the Blessed Trinity, before there was any creature at all. There was no imperfection, no need, only God. So why would God create anything at all? It would be a mistake to think that the absence of creation was an absence of relation. It would be a mistake to think that God was somehow solitary, all alone, forlorn, bereft prior to creation. Why? Why would it be a mistake to think of God as solitary prior to the creation of things? Because there was never a time when the Father was not the Father, therefore there was never a time when the Son was not the Son, and there was never a time when the perfect love between the Father and the Son was not manifested in the Holy Spirit. The point I wish to make is that the Father did not create the angelic host, nor did he create the heavens and the earth teeming with life and nor did he crown his creation with man out of need — God did not create because he was lonely, he did not create because there was anything whatsoever lacking in God. He did not create mankind in his image to be his companion because he lacked companionship and he was lonesome. God the Father called those things which were not into being, he brought forth creation, out of pure divine self-giving love. Remember what Pope Benedict XVI rightly wrote, “That God created the universe in order to be able to become a human being and pour out his love upon us and to invite us to love him in return.” That is how God is; that is self-giving, self-sacrificing divine love. That sums up finality for all creation, including us, but our final cause is realized according to the kind of creature we happened to be. The love that God pours out upon his whole creation is the same divine self-giving love, but it is experienced differently by human beings than it is experienced by angels or for than matter than it is experienced by the birds of the sky or scorpions or butterflies.
When we read in John, “All things were made” by the Word of God we already know that is a reference to creation and we already know that it is a reference to the Son of the Father who is the Word of the Father. We already know that even if it takes the rest of our life to understand it. Furthermore we know from Israel’s creation story that God the Father brought forth his ordered creation by a string of successive utterances. He spoke and it was. And every Jew that heard John’s opening of his Gospel already knew that God the Father declared to himself, in his own interiority, by successive utterances, that the creation he had brought forth and ordered was good. This is what I want you to see: over and over again, in the first story of the Bible, we enter into the interior life of God the Father when we are told, “and God saw that it was good.” As I have said, the declaration of the goodness of creation was not outwardly spoken, but inwardly uttered — the voice of God’s interior life; an interior Word spoken between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God has placed us in a world that he blesses and loves in his own interiority — men and angels, scorpions and butterflies. And by creating us in his image, at least part of that means that he has created us in such a way that we may know our own interiority with the capacity to bless and love God’s creation in a manner that is like God. To bless all of God’s creation — men and angels, butterflies and scorpions — like God is to live authentically as God’s image.
And there is a sense in which our whole study of John’s Gospel will take us deeper into the bosom of the Father’s interior life and deeper into his interior Word, the Son. When God speaks it is like nothing we have ever known and yet it is knowable. He invites us to join his interior Word in prayers and hymns. When God prays it is like no prayer we have every heard:
“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was… Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” John 17
As an aside let me say that I do not think the answer to that prayer depends on us; God the Father has already answered the prayer of his Son and made us one in the likeness of the unity that is between the Father and the Son, which likeness is the unity of the Holy Spirit. Again, this is a unity that we can grasp and understand because we are created in the image and likeness of God and at least part of that likeness is our capacity to understand what God has spoken in his own prayer life.
I hope you see that we are invited into the bosom of the Father and we will learn why as we pursue John’s Gospel. And we will discover new depths in our own interior life just as Jesus promised the Samaritan woman:
“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him (in his interior life) a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:14
What gratitude, what liberty, what great hope, what great joy, what great completion, what great finality it is to be a Christian; to be formed in the image of God and to have to have the sure and sweet Word of God, the Son of Father, who has been formed in our image and now abides in our bosoms through the grace of baptism.