I follow Jesus. Lots of people think he is a pretty good guy. Believing that he is the son of God, and that he is God, though–that is harder to swallow. Tonight, I explore the question, “What do you think it means that God has a son?”
The most famous words of the Gospel (the Good News, the story of Jesus) as recorded by a man named John say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” At the end of the story, John says that he wrote the book “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
To most religious Christians, the idea of God having a son is old hat, but these words are radical. If the biblical text is not suggesting that God had sex with a human to create a demigod, and these words were made by Jesus, someone who was Jewish, someone who would have recited daily the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” the idea that God has a Son deserves attention.
The original Greek word for “one and only” is monogenes. A few chapters before the classic “For God so loved the world” verse (John 3:16), John says, “. . . grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Monogenes means something like, “one of a kind.” Jesus is God’s son in a way that is not like any other son to a father.
“Has made him known” in Greek is exegeomai. It means something like, “show the way,” to narrate, give an account, offer details. So John 1:18 could read something like,
Nobody has seen God, but Jesus spells out exactly what God is like in a way that no one else does.
This fits with what John says about Jesus being the “Word” of God. He is God with skin on him, God spelled out. Jesus never told anyone that he was out to start a new religion. Instead, he lived as part of a people group, the Jews, who had a long history of their relationship with a God who called himself “I AM WHO I AM.” Their narrative of their interactions with this God is recorded in what Jews call Torah and Christians call “Old Testament.”
Jesus’ reactions to being called the “Son of God” intrigue me. He asks a group of other Jews, If your own Scripture calls those who have received the word of God “gods,” shouldn’t you also call the holy one the Father sent “God?” Why do you call me irreverent for calling myself “God’s Son?” (my paraphrase) Then he says, “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.” He is suggesting, I am only God, and only the Son of God, like I say I am, if my character matches God’s perfectly. Being God’s Son has more to do with obedience than biological relationship.
Other passages in the Bible suggest that all who follow Jesus join him in this relationship of being called a “son” or “daughter.” This sounds nice, but what does it really mean? If Jesus’ relationship as the “Son” to the “Father” is defined by the way he spells out what God is like exactly, the way that he shares in flesh and blood and story who God is, then for me as a “follower of Jesus” and “daughter of God,” that is what I am supposed to be like. I am supposed to let God’s words, his way of doing things, shape my life so closely that everything I do embodies who God is.
That’s pretty wild.