“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”—John 1:1-5
There’s an odd English word out there, or rather a suffix, called ‘-mancy’. Anytime you see a word that ends with ‘-mancy’, it’s to do with some kind of fortune telling. You have pretty standard ones like geomancy, trying to find good luck by studying the positions of buildings and furniture — feng shui is a kind of geomancy — and astromancy, trying to find good luck by reading the stars (aka astrology); and you have some stranger ones like pyromancy (fire) or even gastromancy, which is the art of fortune telling by listening to someone’s stomach rumblings.
There’s also a pretty common type called bibliomancy, which involves asking yourself a question and then opening a book to a random page and finding the answer there. And actually Christians sometimes do this too, we ask God a question and then try to find the answer by flipping to a random page of the Bible.
Now obviously that’s not how you read the Bible, but sometimes misreading the Bible is a bit more subtle than that. I remember a friend of mine treating the Bible like an answer book: he, like lots of Christians, went to the Bible when he had any kind of issues or questions or problems, and tried to find answers there.
But I stand by the idea that the Bible isn’t here mainly to answer all our questions. The final part of the Bible was written about two thousand years ago; the biblical authors lived in a world that was very different from ours. So when it comes to questions like which subject should I pick? Which university should I go to? Which job should I take? Should I stay here or emigrate? How should I treat this annoying classmate of mine? — when it comes to these kinds of things, we can’t really expect definite answers. The authors of the Bible, from two thousand and more years ago, mostly wouldn’t have thought of these things.
But one thing they did clearly think about, one thing they aimed to show in writing the books of the Bible, one thing that holds the whole Bible together, was this question: who is God?
That’s what John is trying to answer here. This prologue here sounds a little wacky, like the prologue to the Fellowship of the Ring, but John’s audience would have understood quickly what he was saying.
Who is God? He’s the same God as the one at the very start of the Bible, the one who did something big in the beginning. And he’s doing something big right now.
What is he doing? He’s making himself known. He doesn’t sit on a cloud in the middle of space, huffing and puffing and getting mad for random reasons, he’s the one who gives us his Word, this Word has always been with God, but this Word is God. What is God doing? He doesn’t want to keep to himself, he creates, he shows himself to the people he created, he refuses to be separate from them, he gives them life, he comes closer and closer to them, even if they hate him, even if the darkness wants him gone. What is God doing? He sends his Word into the darkness, and no matter how much the darkness wants to smother him, it cannot.
So who is God? According to John, if you want to know, just look at Jesus. Look at how Jesus is God, but look at how Jesus goes on God’s behalf to us, not to stand above us and sneer, but to humble himself to become a man, to live with us, and give us life. That’s who God is — not a God who sits on high and glares at us, but a God who sends us himself. That’s who his Son Jesus is. Not just a good teacher and role model, but God himself.
In many ways, it seems less exciting that the Bible isn’t here to answer all of our questions. Because it really is only interested in one question: who is God? But if God wants to be known through Jesus, maybe it’s helpful for us to come to the Bible with the right mindset, trying to know Jesus, with Jesus as King, rather than us demanding answers from him, with us as King. Maybe you won’t find out what university you should go to by looking at the Bible, but in knowing who Jesus is, and knowing him as King, maybe everything will fall into place. After all, it’s not fortune telling, it’s getting to know the God who made us and reaches out to us.
Did you ever realize John’s gospel does not name the garden of Jesus’s arrest? We can presume he means Gethsemane, of course, but thanx to the other gospels.