I’ve noticed something. In both the halls of the university and the corridors of the church, doubt in the existence of God isn’t the most common issue I have run into. Rather, it is doubt in the goodness of God.
Constantly bombarded with the world’s pain, we began to develop a theology: God is distant. God must not really care about us. God is self-interested. God is unknowable. After all, we reason, no one has ever seen God.
I remember a peer, a fellow mathematician-in-training, express incredulity when I claimed that God is both knowable and good. “God is infinite, and just like infinity, what can you know about it?,” he retorted. True, infinity has been at the heart of many paradoxes in mathematics. However, it isn’t accurate to say we can’t know anything about the infinite. Through careful study, we’ve figured out quite a bit about infinity and how best to think about it. Paradoxes remain, but we know something. I suggested the same is true of God. Of course, we won’t ever have God all figured out, but by careful study, we can come to some knowledge of God—knowledge enough to affirm his goodness.
But how does one study God when no one has ever seen God?
Some have tried, through philosophy and clever thinking, to speak authoritatively on the subject of God, but such attempts of the ivory tower, like that of Babel’s tower, fall short of heaven’s gate and result only in confusion.
If we are to know anything of God, we need God to reveal something of Himself to us. Perhaps this is an odd idea for you—God speaking from the mountain top, men and women seeing visions, and the like—but it is a necessary step if we are going to make any progress.
Of course, there are numerous men claiming to be prophets, and sons of men claiming to have inspired books. At some point, I hope to share some of the reasons I’ve found most compelling to trust the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures as a reliable revelation of God. There is, I believe, good reason that billions of individuals over thousands of years have looked to them.
For now, let’s just dive right into the heart of the Scriptures, and see what they claim about God.
Enter John’s gospel, which opens: “No one has ever seen God…” (John 1:18). It appears that the first century, steeped in Greco-Roman thought, was just as stumped on the God question as our generation is today.
Yet John continues: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18). The Gospel acknowledges that, from our perspective, God may sometimes appear distant, cruel, or unknowable, but then goes on to claim that One has come who knows Him best to reveal what God is really like. The rest of John can be seen as an unfolding of this revelation.
Thus, Jesus, the Son, goes around saying things like, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Perhaps this is why the first half of John is devoted to recording the miraculous signs of Jesus. These signs aren’t just revealing who Jesus is–the divine Son of God–but they’re also revealing who the Father is–compassionate, loving, and intensely interested in the wellness of others.
We also see this as the central theme in the teachings of Jesus. At the end of His ministry, He tells His disciples, “I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father” (John 16:25). He then goes on to explain, “The Father himself loves you” (John 16:26).
But the life and teachings of Jesus only whisper God’s love in comparison to the shout of His death. As Jesus put it, “Greater love knows no man than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). If Jesus’ lifework was to reveal a clear picture of God to us, then the cross sends a powerful message: God would rather die for us than live without us.
All of our questions about God’s chief interest vanish when we encounter the cross. We recognize that God isn’t distant and self-interested, but has entered human history in the person of Jesus to communicate His supreme love for us.
But a question remains: If the picture of God we saw in Jesus is accurate–that He is a Person of absolute love–then why is the world so broken, and suffering so pervasive?
This question has led some to conclude that there is another side to God; perhaps God isn’t always driven by love. But this isn’t Jesus’ answer. In the theology of Jesus, all of God’s actions flow from the abundance of His love.
Rather, Jesus attributes the pain and mess of the world to another player altogether, the Enemy. And just as Jesus’ earthly life revealed God’s love, it also unmasked the Enemy’s selfishness. Note a few teachings about this Enemy:
- Jesus calls him “the devil” (John 8:44), which literally translates as “the accuser” or “the slanderer.” This helps explain why there is so much confusion about God.
- Jesus describes the Enemy as a personal being, not just an evil force. Yet this being is fully given over to advancing destruction and deception: “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
- Jesus teaches that people, even respected religious leaders (John 8) or professed followers of Jesus (John 13:2), can align themselves with the Enemy’s plans.
- Jesus calls him “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), explaining why our world is so broken.
We’re beginning to see how this being operates: He leads the cause for destruction and suffering, drafting others to join him, but through deception makes it appear that God is really the guilty party.
Thus Jesus came to call out his lies.
But Jesus didn’t just use words. He performed miracles–healing the sick and raising the dead, showing that death and disease aren’t from the heart of God. Yet all this was just buildup to the greatest unmasking that happened at the cross.
Here’s how Jesus explained what took place on the cross: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31).
In revealing the total self-giving love of God, Jesus also uncovered the devil’s selfishness. Jesus had called him a murderer; beyond any doubt, the cross verified this. Yes, there were human agents involved–corrupt religious and political leaders–but they were merely acting out the devil’s schemes.
Above, we saw that the devil works by destruction and deception. The cross signaled the end of his reign of deception. Now, when one understands the cross event, they discover the beauty of God’s love and the ugliness of the Enemy’s rebellion. Deception loses its power over them. And soon, when the message of the cross has been fully proclaimed, the Enemy’s reign of destruction will also be brought to an end.