Real Love is God Communicated
Before I begin today’s post I want to give a disclaimer.
Much of what I discuss in this post is speculative. I am doing my best to piece together what scripture teaches us, but ultimately these are high and glorious things that are difficult to wrap our minds around. Please read what I say cautiously and through the lens of scripture and toss away those things that do not align with God’s word. I am not writing this post to teach, per say, but to offer stimulation for further thought.
With that said, here is the passage I wanted to all-too-briefly examine:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord [literally, “from Himself”], but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing…”
First of all, I believe that in these verses Jesus is telling us something true – not simply about His incarnate life – but about His eternal nature as God the Son. Certainly what He says here has meaning for the context in which He said it (that is, spoken to the Jewish leaders and spoken in reference to His life on earth). However, God’s actions and ways within time and space reveal to us who God is “outside” of time and space, that is, who He is eternally in Himself. So you should know from the beginning that this is the lens through which I’m reading these verses.
“the Son can do nothing from Himself, but only what He sees the Father doing”
What does Jesus mean when He says that the Son can do nothing “from Himself” but only what He sees the Father doing? At the very least, this way of speaking forges an incredibly intimate bond between the Father and the Son. The Jews were angry because Jesus was “making Himself equal with God” (v.18), but with this statement Jesus goes further than that. The Son is not just equal with God, He does nothing in and of Himself and only ever does what the Father does. This is why John can say things like: No one has ever seen God (the Father), but the only begotten God has made Him known (John 1:18), or to see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9). The first thing to take away from these verses is that Jesus is more than equal with God, He is the Image of God. He is the one whom to see is to see God, because He does only what He “sees” the Father doing.
“For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
At first, Jesus’ statement that the Son does nothing from Himself but only what He sees the Father doing might seem to limit Him. However, notice the explanation He gives for this. The reason the Son only does what He sees the Father doing is because the Son does whatever the Father does.
Think about it this way. There is absolutely nothing good and possible that God is not doing. He is always and eternally doing everything good that can possibly be done. There is never a time when there is a good thing that could be done that God is not doing. And if the Son does whatever the Father does, then this means that the Son is doing all those things all the time as well (you begin to see why I think that these words teach us about the eternal nature of the Son and not simply His temporal, incarnate life).
The Father is always doing all good that can be done, and the Son does whatever the Father does so He is always doing all good that can be done. Now notice, if this is the case, then there is nothing left for the Son to do “from Himself.” All that can be done is being done by the Father and therefore by the Son who only does what the Father does. If there was something for the Son to do apart from the Father either A) it would be a good thing the Father had left undone and the Father would therefore not be God or B) it would not be a good thing and the Son would therefore not be God for having done it.
So, to summarize so far. The Son does nothing from Himself, but only what He sees the Father doing. And this is because the Son does whatever the Father does, and the Father does all good that can ever be done.
Now, we move to the final statement and the point I want to emphasize most. In heading for the following section, Jesus answers the question: “Why is it that the Son does whatever the Father does?” (Or said another way, “why is the Son the image of the Father”?).
“For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing…”
Awesome. The answer is (unsurprisingly and yet gloriously) love. The Son does whatever the Father does – that is to say, the Son images/reveals/manifests/exegetes the Father – because the Father loves the Son. And what does this love “do”? What does the love of God the Father for God the Son give to the Son? What is the content of this wellspring of all love? It is this:
“[The Father] shows [the Son] all that He Himself is doing.”
Now, to feel the full weight of this we need to take a look at Exodus 33:13. In that passage Moses wants to know who YHWH is and here is his request:
“…show me now your ways that I may know you…”
Why do I mention that verse here? Because Moses’ request on Sinai establishes this paradigm for us: to know God’s ways is to know God. God acts out of His nature and character….what He does communicates who He is. This is true of His interactions with humanity, and I also believe that it is true in the eternal Triune fellowship of God Himself.
Therefore, for the Father to show the Son all that He Himself is doing is for the Father to wholly, infinitely, and without reservation communicate Himself to the Son. What is the Father’s love for the Son? To make Himself wholly known to Him, to pour Himself out in complete and unreserved self-communication to the Son.
And because of this, because the Father has (eternally!) loved the Son and so shown all that He is to the Son, the Son has (eternally!) done and been all that the Father does and is. To be the image of the Father – to be the perfect self-revelation of God – is the glory that the Father has given to the Son because He loved Him from before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). And this God-revealing glory of the Son is the very glory that Christ desires for us to see unveiled in Him and so be eternally satisfied in all that God is for us in His Son.
So, the Father is the “spring” of Deity, but there was never a “time” when He was solitary. Rather, the Father has eternally revealed Himself fully to and in the Son because He loves the Son, and so the Son has eternally been the perfect image of the Father to the Father….wonderful things to consider….
Side Note: Someone might ask, “But what about the Holy Spirit?” I don’t have the time to attempt an answer to that today, so I will simply defer to Jonathan Edwards. According to Edwards, the Spirit is the love of the Father for the Son and the reciprocal love of the Son for the Father. He is the “bond of charity” that eternally unites the Father and Son. And He is God and not simply a force because, what is God’s perfect and infinite love except God Himself “over again”? What of Himself does God withhold when He loves Himself within Himself? Nothing. God’s love for God is God out-poured in love….and that Intra-Trinitarian love of God for God is God the Holy Spirit…..according to Edwards.
Love Communicates God to the Beloved
Now, here is the final point I want to make. The most pure and perfect image of love that we can imagine must be the love between God the Father and God the Son. And if my musings above are pointing in the right direction, we must make “the communication of God” at least an integral element – if not the whole – of our definition of “love.” What is love? I assert that it is God communicated. God made known. That is how God loves Himself within Himself. And that is also how God loves the world, isn’t it?
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The gift of God’s love for humanity is ultimately “eternal life.” And what is eternal life?
“This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Eternal life is to know God (in the Son). So, what is true of God’s love for Himself within the Trinity is true of God’s love for fallen humanity: God’s love is to communicate God to the beloved. And may we be freshly stunned that the zenith of this love, the zenith of God’s communication of Himself to us is His absorption of our just punishment on the cross in Christ! In this is love! God the Son sent to swallow up the Lake of Fire for His bride….that is God’s love made known, that is God made known, and that is the avenue through which we must pass to know and love God and so eternally live.
Christian, this intimacy, this fellowship, this union of knowledge and love is what we are invited to join in Christ. As I’ve already said, much of my wrestlings above are theoretical, but this much is clear, they are pointing to something true…..our God is an eternal and personal fellowship of knowledge and love, joy and gladness, beauty and splendor, and He has – through Jesus Christ, God the Son – invited us to “come in and know Him better.” What else in all the universe is more compelling, more desirable, more satisfying, more valuable, more weighty, more glorious, more priority-establishing, more life-orienting, more plan-forming, more beautiful than this? By His grace, may God draw us to Himself more and more in Christ crucified and risen.