How do you know God is like Jesus?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A reader asks, "How do you know that the New Testament version of God embodied in Jesus is closer to what God is truly like?"

Let's consider how we know things: In the traditional approach we know based on authority. We know it's true "because the Bible says so." But this is a circular argument, meaning it is a logical fallacy, and does not prove anything.

Really what we are saying is not that this proves it (which a circular argument certainly does not), but simply we are affirming our trust. To someone who does not share that trust, this is not compelling of course. Trust needs to be earned.

We know most things based on trust. We trust the Bible, and so we believe it. We trust our pastor and so we believe them. It's not a matter of certainty based on independent verification (which is a modernist quasi-scientific model), but of trust (a relational model).

There's nothing wrong with trusting what is trustworthy. The question is how we come to believe that it is trustworthy or not. Trust is learned based on positive experience. So the reason I trust that the New Testament version of God embodied in Jesus is closer to what God is truly like (to return to the question posed above) is because I have experienced God's love, and have experienced that it is wonderful and life-giving. When I read the Gospels I recognize that the same "Someone" whose love I have known looks like the person of Jesus who I find in the Gospels. My heart cries out "it's you!" recognizing that the same Jesus described in the Gospels is the one I have met through the Spirit.

I trust that picture of God because I experience that it is good and life-giving, and have experienced this in relationship over a long period of time. I also observe (through hearing other people's stories of their lives) that the not-Jesus-like understandings of God are harmful (harming both the one who holds it, and how they treat others). In other words, I look at the fruits of a not-Jesus-like understanding of God and see that it is rotten, and I look at the fruits of a Jesus-like understanding of God and see that it is good.

That is how I "know" in the biblical sense of the word, which has to do with intimate trust (aka faith). This is the kind of relational "knowing" Paul is speaking of when he prays,

"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph 3:17-19)

As Paul says, through experiential trust we can know (personally through experience) this love that surpasses knowledge. That's pretty awesome, and it's all about relational trust, or to use the word the NT uses for trust, it's about faith. Faith=trust.

Now this immediately brings up another issue. Anyone who, having experienced Christ's love and trusting him sought to follow Jesus more, knows that while his way is indeed good, it is certainly not easy. The Disciples all knew that, and as we become Christ's disciple we find it too.

This is because the way of Jesus is not self-focused, but socially focused. This is good for us because we are social beings made for relationship, but it stretches us as we grow out of self-focus (which is the focus we begin with as infants born into the world), and mature to become social and empathetic towards others.

In short the way of Jesus is good, but it is more than that. It is good but also hard. That's why this way is not about simply following what "feels good" or what we "like" (as so many fear), but rather about following what is truly good for us and for the world, even if doing that is hard. And let's face it, good things are hard.

Next time we'll dig into this a bit more, looking in more detail at what the good/hard way of Jesus looks like practically.

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At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Paul Pinos said...

Apart from the Bible though, you wouldn't have the notion of God being like Jesus. Doesn't that basically bring you back to the "circularity" you initially addressed? I personally can't find a more appealing picture than a Jesus looking God, but I don't see how that conclusion is arrived at in any methodologically sound way. I realize that you're appealing to the positive practical experience of trusting in it's veracity, but without the Bible, how would you arrive at similar conclusions? Additionally, emotively positive results does not inherently mean it's accurate. Case in point - there are plenty of people that have positive spiritual experiences outside of Christianity.

At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Speaking from my own experience, I had the notion of God being like Jesus based on my experience of God before I had read the Bible. The NT confirmed and enlarged that experience which is why I was drawn to keep reading it. So by all means let's keep reading the NT! It's a tool that can help us to better follow Jesus. There's no need to do without a valuable tool. However let's also remember that it is a means to an end, a vehicle, a sacrament even, that points us to the true aim of our faith which is Christ. Christ is alive. So the book can help us get closer to the living reality of the Spirit of Christ, but that book is not a replacement for God.

Secondly, I don't think my above argument is circular argument at all. The argument is that we experience that it is good, and so we trust it. This is not simply a matter of positive emotions, but of the results in one's life in how we treat ourselves and others. We can observe that it works and is good.

That of course does not mean we can step outside of the universe and verify that "this is the one right view." No human can do that. However on a very practical level we can look at our lives together and say "living in this way is good for all of us." We still are subjective humans, and so need to approach things with humility, but that's just the reality of being human.

Finally, I see no problem with affirming and embracing that people have positive spiritual experience outside of Christianity. Same goes for positive moral development and social consciousness outside of Christianity (which I find more important since it impacts how we act and treat one another). I fully affirm that. Lots of non-Christians know more about the practice of compassion and forgiveness and enemy love that many Christians. Truth is truth wherever it is found, and goodness and love are good and loving wherever they are found

p.s. I learned that last part from Jesus, reading what he says in the Bible.

At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Paul Pinos said...

Thank you for the reply! I might not have phrased my question very clearly. To be more concise, how do you,or anyone for that matter, know that Jesus reflects the character/intent/preference of the Ground of All Being? I don't deny the positive benefits of following Christ's example, but fundamentally, how do we know that it is what God prefers?

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for your clear thinking Derek.

1.Jesus is the exact representation of God.
2. He's given us a conscience- when we are functioning at our highest we see Love and sacrifice of our own needs to benefit others is the way.
God could be non-Jesus like. In this case Jesus came just to confuse us!

At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I don't think that anyone can really say what the character/intent/preference of the Ground of All Being is. That is kind of "proof" that I was saying I was not attempting to make. I think when religion attempts to make those kind of "proofs" it's pretty much a waste of time.

What I instead want to do is say why I can embrace and trust and open my life to Jesus and understanding the Ground of All Being as being Jesus-shaped. Here I'm making a relational argument. I'm saying that while I can't step out side of the universe and look down on it, what I can do is look at life here and recognize what is good for us as humans, what matters, what life is about. We can recognize what makes us come alive, what we were made for. That's something mystics and artists do. So I sing that song and see who dances.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Robert said...

Derek- i really like the dance moves you have haha. What do you think of how hard it is for us living post-enlightenment and with so much scientific kind of *knowing* so thoroughly ingested in us, that we really have a hard time letting mystery and intuitive experience have any chance for taking place?? This seems to be the major obstacle with the way the Bible is seen. If there was no Bible, we still could have relational experience with God & Jesus. The Bible is a very tool though, and we should always use it for what it can serve as. Just can't put it in place of what only God can do.

At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

"God could be non-Jesus like. In this case Jesus came just to confuse us!"

Haha! Yes that's a great way to put it. Another way to express that is that affirming that Jesus is Lord means say that the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is good and right in contrast with the empire of Rome and the lordship of the emperor. It is about embracing the vision of the good that Jesus embodies and placing ourselves under that rule, and rejecting the vision of the good embodied in Rome.

So a question for us today is to what extent does our country, and to what extent do we embrace the values of empire as good, and not the values of Jesus? Where are places that we and America need to repent and come under the lordship of Jesus?

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Paul Pinos said...

Derek - Again, thank you very much for your thoughtful reply! I really appreciate your openness to dialog and your honesty. I wish I could be where you're at, but alas... Maybe someday... as it wasn't until recently that I finally accepted that a Ground of All Being is more probable than not, specifically in regards to "why is there something, rather than nothing?".

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Sure Paul, we are all at different places, but can still share the same journey.

The reason I want to focus on trust, rather than an objective proof really comes down to how we live. The focus is not on me being right, but on me getting right. If I trust in Jesus and say that is what "the good" is all about, then that means I invite Jesus to change how I think and how I see and how I treat others. I don't want a theological system that makes me secure, but one that topples me over. I want a theology of the cross.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My personal experience of God has been much more "old testament". I'm not a fan of this experience of of this god. Why should I embrace the Jesus like God even though my experience tells me otherwise? (I'm honestly asking)

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hard to take an honest asking without giving your name. Just saying.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Derek I love that. I am gonna steal it. It is so good. It "...means I invite Jesus to change how I think and how I see and how I treat others. I don't want a theological system that makes me secure, but one that topples me over..." Amen.


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