Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




 Discerning the Heart of God
“Close to God’s Heart”

Sunday, December 21, 2008



John 1: 16-23


Rev. Dean Snyder

There are lots of questions we have about the world – questions that human beings have always and everywhere had about why things are the way they are. Why is there disease? Why are there natural disasters? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are there such extremes of wealth and poverty in the world? Why do war and violence permeate human history? Why do we have to die?


Sometimes these kinds of questions become very personal and existential. A test result comes back positive. A loved one begins to lose his or her memory and intellectual coherence. A relative leaves for Iraq. We ourselves are confronted in some way or another by the reality of our own mortality. A loved one dies.


Why is the world the way it is?


Almost from the very beginning human beings have wanted to understand God’s way of thinking…God’s logic. What was the Creator thinking when he/she/it created a world with tsunamis and earthquakes and ice ages? What was he/she/it thinking when he/she/it began a process of life that would include bubonic plague, tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS? So many questions humanity has had about whomever or whatever is responsible for the world in which we find ourselves.


At the time the Gospel of John was written philosophers were already searching for a premise or theory that would help them understand the mind of God – what the Creator was thinking? They called this premise or idea or theory the logos…God’s logic…the way God thinks that caused God to create the world the way it is created.


We may not like lots of things about the way the world is, like disease, disaster, and death, but it would help if we could understand why they exist…what God was thinking. Thus the human search for some sense of God’s logic – the logos.


The life and death of Jesus Christ had such an impact on the lives of the first generations of Christians that they said – some of them – that Jesus was the logos become flesh. In Jesus’ life and teachings they found an answer to the question of the purpose and meaning of existence.


This is what John says in the first 18 verses of his gospel. The Word – the logos – became flesh and dwelled among us.


Yet it is still true what Isaiah said; Isaiah has God say: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55: 8) There is still more that we do not understand about life and God than we do understand.


So what was it that these early Christians saw in Jesus that helped them make sense of life, in spite of all its confusions and perplexities? Well, it really wasn’t an idea or a philosophy or an intellectual theory.


It was not intellectual enlightenment that the early Christians found in Jesus, although the followers of Jesus valued the life of the intellect and Jesus changed the way they thought.


John concludes the prologue to his Gospel by saying this: “No one has ever seen God; It is God the only [child], who is close to [God’s] heart, who has made [God] known.”  


What Jesus showed us, John is saying, is not God’s logic as much as God’s heart. Which then helps us live with God’s logic.


Here is the question: Does God love us or hate us or is God simply indifferent toward us? Is the universe the Creator created fundamentally trustworthy? Does my existence have meaning even if I don’t know what it is?


Something about the way Jesus lived his life caused the first generation of Christians to believe that, despite the experience of disease, disaster, disappointment, persecution, hardship, oppression, that creation was an act of love, that God means well for us, and thus, pain is worth enduring and overcoming, our struggles have meaning, our joys are good gifts that it is okay to enjoy.


Jesus’ life and teaching helped the first Christians to trust that God is benevolent rather than either mean or arbitrary or uncaring.


And that can make all the difference in the world. Our theology matters. What we believe about the source of creation, the source of life, the source of my life matters. And there is no way to know. “No one has ever seen God.” There is no way to know. “My thoughts are not your thoughts.”


It is a choice really. We need to choose. Do we believe life is fundamentally bad or good? In the face of disappointment and discouragement, should we withdraw from life or can we trust life? Is God for us or against us? Is the universe for us or against us?


There were a small group of people 1900 years ago – they were mostly poor, they were powerless and persecuted – but Jesus, by the way he lived, had convinced them that God valued them, that God had not forgotten them, that God was not indifferent…that God loved them, that God was pulling for them.


They refused to accept defeat or discouragement. Every challenge, every defeat, every disease, every death, was an opportunity to live with courage and conviction that a better, more just, more inclusive world was on the way. Because they believed in the goodness and love of God, they transformed the world.


Matthew and Luke’s Christmas stories are all trying to say what John said: You poor shepherds, you gentile magi, you teenaged peasant girl Mary, you old man Simone, oddball old woman Anna, all of you. God has not forgotten you.


There are lots of things you and I don’t understand about our world and our lives. But Jesus has shown us God’s heart. We may not be able to comprehend God’s thoughts but we can trust God’s heart.