In the Son of God, we do not see a haughty God, reluctant to be kind. We see one who comes in saving grace while we were still sinners. In him we see a glory so different from our needy and selfish applause-seeking. We see a God of superabundant self-giving. We see a God unspotted in every way: a fountain of overflowing goodness. In him — and in him alone — we see a God who is beautiful, who wins our hearts.
It is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.
As a child, I used to have an almost physical reaction to the word God. To me, it was a sharp-edged word that cut through all others. When it was spoken, I felt both searched and unsettled. Now, I knew enough to understand why the uttering of that word should make me feel searched. God, I realized, was high and holy; I was not.
But why was I unsettled? That question would pester me for years. It wasn’t merely that God transcended me. It wasn’t only his dazzling perfection. I had only the dimmest appreciation of those realities. What I couldn’t quite express at the time was that God in his glory was not then beautiful to me. His holiness troubled me, not just because it exposed me, but because I did not clearly see him as good.
And so, I found myself interested in heaven, interested in salvation, even interested in Jesus, but not attracted to God. I longed to escape hell and go to heaven, but God’s presence was not the inducement. Quite the opposite: I would have been far more comfortable with a Godless paradise. At the same time, I loved the idea of justification by faith alone, but couldn’t quite believe it — for, quite simply, God did not strike me as being that kind.
Rescued from the Unsmiling God
I have always been an avid bibliophile, and as a teenager I began to be drawn especially to the writings of the Reformers and Puritans. And one soon stood out to me: Richard Sibbes.
The way Sibbes described the tenderness, benevolence, and sheer loveliness of Jesus was utterly enthralling. And I knew he was right. Yet it didn’t compute. How could the Son of God be so beautiful when God was not? It could only be, I dimly reasoned, that the kindness of the Son was but window dressing. Jesus was the lovely facade behind which lurked a more saturnine being: an unsmiling God, thinner on compassion and kindness.
Perhaps it was unsurprising then that I soon found myself surrounded by books about the Arians, that fourth-century group who held that the Son was a different being from the Father. Then I met Athanasius. Where the other writers struck me as dull, he had a twinkle in his eye and a mind that saw with a clarity none of the others had.