This past week I experienced something that most people dread but something that I’ve been looking forward to ever since we moved to Blind River: some Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on our door. I could barely hear them knocking at the front door because I was on the other side of the house and we’re not used to people knocking on the front door (my wife thinks it’s strange that in Canada, at least where we live, people tend to come to the side or back door rather than the front).
The conversation started off like most conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses do – they started off with some generic spiel about suffering and conflict in the world to get me to read their literature and to get the conversation going before saying that that they were actually Jehovah’s Witnesses – so I wouldn’t get turned off. The whole time I was thinking in my mind, “Who do you think you’re kidding? We all know that you’re Jehovah’s Witnesses – just get on with what you really want to say so we can actually have a meaningful conversation.” So I quickly changed the subject to the two main areas of contention between Jehovah’s Witnesses and orthodox Christianity: the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Whenever they tried to change the subject to the importance of God’s name (which I totally understand) or that believers will be spending eternity on a new earth rather than in heaven (which I totally agree with) I brought them right back to those two subjects.
So I told them that the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God and I told them that you can see it pretty clearly in the Gospel of John. Of course they thought I was talking about John 1:1 but I was actually thinking about John 12:41. We did talk about John 1:1 and I showed them from their own Bible that it still teaches the deity of Christ even in their own translation. Anyway, I had them read John 12:41 and asked them who they thought John was talking about. They told me that it was important to read the verse in context so they read the entire section out loud to me. Then I asked them again, “Who do you think John is talking about?” And they said, “He’s clearly talking about Jesus.” And then I asked them, “Do you know what passage in the Old Testament this text is referring to?” They didn’t know so I pointed them to Isaiah 6, which I asked them to read. The very first verse in their Bible said, “I saw Jehovah, seated on his throne, high and lifted up….” or something to that effect. And then I said, “You see, John is equating Jesus with Jehovah!” They were taken aback and said they would have to go home and study it some more.
But then they brought a verse to my attention that they thought would stop me in my Trinitarian tracks – John 1:18, which says: No one has ever seen God…. Then they asked me, knowing that it was obvious that people had seen Jesus before, “Has anyone ever seen God before?”
My answer was, “Yes!” They were completely taken aback. Before they had a chance to answer I took them to Exodus 24:9-11:
Exodus 24:9-11 – Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
They were in absolute shock. One of them tried to get around it by saying that their translation says, “They had a vision of God, and they ate and drank” – they didn’t see God, they just had a vision of God. But then I pointed out that the Hebrew text actually says that they saw God.
“Was this a contradiction then?” They were ready to delete this passage from the Bible! Then I said to them, “It’s not a contradiction – it’s a paradox. A paradox is something that looks like a contradiction but, when you look at it closely, is actually true.” So how do you solve this paradox?
The Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us how to solve this paradox – we have to take both statements and try to make sense out of them theologically. The best way of solving this paradox, in my mind, is to look at what God says in Exodus 33. In Exodus 33:20 God says to Moses that he won’t show him his face because no one may see him and live. That second part sounds a lot like John 1:18. But what does he mean by “face”? It has to refer to seeing God in all of his splendor and glory. God’s unveiled glory would be so overwhelming that it would literally consume any human being who saw it.
Getting back to Exodus 24, when it says that “they saw the God of Israel” it must mean that they saw him in a form where his glory was somewhat veiled. They didn’t see “the face of God” because no one can see the face of God and live.
So has anyone ever seen God before? Yes – but not in all of his glory. John 1:18 must mean that no one has ever seen God before in all of his glory. Whenever the Old Testament talks about people seeing God it has to mean that they saw God with his glory being veiled. And then I brought them back to Jesus – no one has ever seen God in all of his glory, but Jesus shows us God’s glory in the veil of human flesh, which is precisely what the rest of John 1:18 says:
John 1:18 – No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (NIV)
I’ll have to write a bit more on that conversation some other time but it was amazing how the dots were connected in the conversation to show who the Bible says Jesus is. I gave them two challenges when they left: (1) We both can’t be right. The Gospel of John tells us that salvation is wrapped up with recognizing who Jesus really is. If I’m wrong, I’m in trouble; if you’re wrong, you’re in trouble. Don’t take your time trying to figure this one out. (2) Go home and study these passages. If you can’t come up with an answer, you need to change your mind and go where scripture leads you – even in your own translation.