By J.R. Miller
John 14:8, 9
"Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me--has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"
Christ had just told His disciples that they had seen the Father. Philip was bewildered. What did the Master mean? That was just what the disciples were longing for--to see the Father. "Lord, show us the Father," said Philip, "and that will be enough for us."
There are many sincere Christians today who are longing for fuller, clearer revealings of God. They wish they might see Him. God seems unreal to them. An earnest young Christian wrote: "For some time I have been drifting away from God and have not been able to drop anchor. The more I read and study the life of Jesus, the farther I drift. I find myself ever asking, 'Are these things true? They certainly are very beautiful to read about; but are they true? How do we know they are true?'"
Human hearts are alike in their feelings, their longings, and their perplexities of faith; and, no doubt, there are many who sometimes ask the same questions as they read the wonderful story of Christ. "Are these things true? How do we know they are true?"
There is nothing wrong in such questionings. Philip had the same longing. Spiritual things seemed unreal to him. Many of the best people who ever lived, have had similar difficulty. There come times in the life of almost every Christian, when such questions as these arise.
Two girls were overheard one evening by a gentleman, talking with unusual earnestness, as if in perplexity, and one of them said, "Yes--but why has no one ever seen God?" This was all the gentleman heard of the conversation, as he stood near them, waiting for his car; but this single sentence showed their state of mind. Evidently they had been talking about the apparent unreality of spiritual things. Why had nobody ever seen God? They had heard a great deal about God, about His love, His care, His interest in human lives, His kindness. But they had never had a glimpse of Him. How could they know that all they had heard about Him was true? How could they be sure that there is a God? How could they know that the things of Christian faith and hope are real?
Questions will arise with all who think. Does God indeed love me? If He does--why must I suffer so? If He does--how can I explain all the accidents, calamities, and troubles of my life? There is nothing wrong in such questions. God is not grieved with us if we ask them, desiring light. Christ is always patient with the questions of honest doubt.
It is not surprising if sometimes we cannot understand the mysteries of Christian faith. All life is full of things we cannot comprehend. Can you explain how on the bushes in your garden, which in March were bare and briery, there were in June masses of glorious roses? In the most common things there is mystery. Linnaeus, the great botanist, said there was enough mystery in a handful of moss--to give one a lifetime's study. There really are few things which you can actually understand and explain. How do your eyes see? How do your ears hear? Shall we refuse to believe these things--because we cannot explain them?
We have read how the cry of the wireless went out from the wrecked ship and was heard far and wide over the sea--a prayer of distress--and how help came swiftly. No one doubts this pathetic experience of the sea. Why, then, should we doubt or question that when a mother sat by her sick child the other night, while the little one hovered between life and death, and pleaded with God, her prayer reached the ears of her heavenly Father? Why shall we doubt or question that God loves us--when we believe that our human friends love us? You cannot see the love in the friend's heart--any more than you can see the love for you in God's heart. You tell me that your friend is true, is patient, and is kind; that he is a refuge, a tower of strength, to you. But you cannot see these qualities in him. Your friend is much away, out of your sight, and you cannot set spies on him to know that he is always faithful. Yet you never doubt him. Evil tongues whisper false things about him--but you refuse to believe them. How do you know that your beliefs in him are true? Why can you not, then, in the like manner believe in the love of God, who you cannot see?
A sorrow breaks in upon the joy of your home. You cannot understand it. By why must you understand? We would be far happier sometimes if we did not try to understand things. Robertson Nicoll says: "There are some very devout people who know far too much. They can explain the whole secret and purpose of pain, evil, and death in the world. They prate about the mystery of things--as if they were God's spies. It is far humbler and more Christian to admit that we do not fully discern a reason and method in this long, slow tragedy of human existence." You remember that Jesus Himself said, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear" (16:12). Why should we expect to understand God and His ways?
God does show Himself to us, and we do see Him more often than we think. There is a picture of Augustine and his mother which represents them looking up to heaven with deep earnestness, great eagerness, and longing. One is saying, "If God would only speak to us!" The other replies, "Perhaps He is speaking to us--and we do not hear His voice!" Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father." And did you notice what Jesus said to him? "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me--has seen the Father!" Jesus told him that he had been seeing Him all the time He had been with the disciples. What Philip had in mind when he said, "Show us the Father," was some revealing of glory, some outshining of majesty and splendor, a theophany, a transfiguration. That was the way he thought God must appear.
When Jesus said, "Anyone who has seen me--has seen the Father," He referred to His common daily life with His disciples, not to His miracles. Only a small proportion of the things Jesus did were miraculous, supernatural. Ninety-nine percent of His acts were simple, common things that did not need Deity to perform. He performed only one miracle in the Bethany home--but in His frequent visits--sitting with the family by the open hearth or at the table, talking with them in the quiet evening, walking with them in the garden, sharing with them the gentle things of friendship--there were a thousand kindnesses which made His name sacred to them.
It was so in all Christ's life. There were a few miracles, showing divine power. But there were countless revealings of gentleness, sympathy, thoughtfulness, cheer, encouragement, which were as full of God, as the miracles. It was to this part of His life that Jesus referred when He said to Philip, "Anyone who has seen me--has seen the Father." It was in Christ's most human ways, that the disciples saw most of God. His miracles dazzled their eyes and awed them. Many could not have sat at His feet and listened calmly--if He had appeared transfigured. John could not have leaned on His bosom at supper restfully and quietly--if glory had been shining in His face. God is love. Wherever there is love, God is revealing Himself.
Jesus showed the disciples the Father--in all the love and sweetness and compassion they saw in Him continually. Do we not see God in similar ways? Does not God reveal Himself to us in a thousand familiar things that we do not think of at all as divine revealing? A writer says that most men are religious when they look upon the faces of their dead babies. The materialism which at other times infects them with doubts of God and immortality, drops away from them in this hushed hour.
People see God only in the unusual, the supernatural. "If we could see miracles," they say, "we would believe." But the common things are full of God. Moses saw God in one bush that burned and was not consumed. Yet God is as real in every bush in the woods, for those who have eyes to see, as He was in that little tree in Horeb.
Have you never seen God? If you think of God as only burning majesty, shining glory, you will answer, "No--I never saw God." But splendor, Sinai clouds, and flaming fires are not God. God is love. You remember Elijah's vision. A great wind swept through the mountains--but God was not in the wind. An earthquake made the hills tremble--but God was not in the earthquake. A fire swept down over the crags--but God was not in the fire. Then came a still small voice, a sound of gentle stillness--and that was God (see 1 Kings. 19:11-13).
You have seen God a thousand times--in love, in peace, in goodness, and in comfort. You see Him daily--in providential care, in the sweet things of your home, in friendships, in the beauty of little children. Do not forget that you have been receiving blessings all your life in manifold ways. Do not call it chance, or luck, or good fortune. The heart-hungry girl asked, "Why has no one ever seen God?" Yet she had seen God herself every day, every hour of her life, in the goodness and mercy which had followed her from her infancy.
You were in danger, and there came a mysterious protection which sheltered you from all harm. You called it chance. It was God. You had a great sorrow which you thought you could not possibly endure, and you felt strange, sweet comfort which filled your heart with peace. You thought it came through a friend's gentle kindness. Yes--but it was the loving-kindness of God that brought it. There was a tangle in your affairs which seemed about to wreck everything, and in an inexplicable way it was all straightened out as by invisible hands. You had a crushing loss which threatened to overwhelm you, and suddenly--the loss proved a gain! You were wronged by a professed friend, and the stars in your sky all seemed to go out. That was some while ago, and today you are quietly praising God for the event which was a deliverance from a real misfortune, for there came instead--a blessed friendship which fills all your life.
Your years have been full of great providences, wondrous guidances, gentle comforts, answered prayers, sweet friendships, happy surprises of goodness, divine love and help and care. Yet you say you never have seen God, and ask, "How may I know that the beautiful things the New Testament tells me about Christ are true?"
Think of some definite ways in which we may learn that the things of Christian faith and hope are true, and how we have them become more real to us.
First, by experience. In one of Psalms we read, "those who know your name--will put their trust in you" (9:10.) It is sometimes said of a man that none know him--but also love him. They who truly know God--both love Him and trust Him. We have to learn by experience to love our human friends. One was telling how he found a particular friend. He had heard much about him. His neighbors spoke well of him, praised him--his unselfishness, his kindness, his sincerity, his helpfulness, his readiness to give time and thought and money in assisting others. But this man never had met him. Some months since, circumstances led him to seek his kindly interest. Then he found that all the good he had heard about him was true, and that the half had not been told. Now he believes in him.
In the same way we can only learn to know God. We read in the Bible of His goodness, His justice, His truth, His kindness, His faithfulness. But we must come into personal relationship with Him--before we can surely know that these qualities are really in Him. When Philip said to Nathanael, "I have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth" (see 1:45, 46), Nathanael sneered at the suggestion that the Messiah could come from so lowly a place as Nazareth. Philip did not argue. He said only, "Come and see!" He knew that if His friend would only meet Jesus, he would believe. If we can only get people to come to see Jesus, to get to know Him, to experience His love--they will soon believe in Him and follow Him.
The story of the conversion of Lady Aberdeen is well known. She had been long in doubt, wavering, indecisive. In her time of perplexity she sat one day under a tree in her garden, in deep thought. Out of the silence she heard a mystic voice speaking as clearly to her consciousness as if a friend had uttered the words, "Act as if I were--and you will find that I am." She had been asking the very question of my friend's letter, "How can I learn that these things are true?" Was Christ real? She could not be sure. Would He be her friend? Would He bless her as the New Testament says He would? "Act as if I were," said the voice, "and you will learn that I am, and that all these things are true." There is no other way to find out that Christ is, and that the things the Scriptures tell us about Him are true.
Again, if we begin to do the will of God, we shall learn the reality of the spiritual life. Jesus said, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the teaching" (7:17). You are to will to do God's will. This means the most earnest determination, the most unfaltering obedience. As we do the things of God's will, as they are made known to us--we shall learn the reality of God and the beauty and blessedness of His love. One who tried to believe there is no God, confessed that it was never in His best moments that he felt himself an atheist. Jesus said the pure in heart shall see God. He did not mean only that we shall see God when we get to heaven, and look upon God in His glory. He meant also that those whose hearts are pure--shall see God on the earth. They will not be troubled about the reality of the things of faith. They well not ask, "Why has no one ever seen God?" They will see Him themselves! No cloud will ever dim for them the radiance of His face.
Then it is only in Christ that we can see God. Notice the precise words in which Jesus answered Philip's request, "Show us the Father." "Anyone who has seen me--has seen the Father." In Jesus Christ, therefore, and only in Jesus Christ, can we see God. The Incarnation was God coming to the earth in human life--that men could understand Him. Those who saw Jesus--looked upon the face of God. Those who knew Him--knew God. Those who became His friends--became God's friends. This privilege is ours. Friendship is the holiest and most sacred of all human relations. Think of all that is possible in ideal human friendship. Then think of all that is possible in friendship with Jesus Christ. There never was another friend like Jesus. Think of what His friendship may be to you, if you will let it into your life in all its sweetness, its divineness, its power to transform and bless.
But the girl asks: "Are these things true? How do we know they are? They are very beautiful. They were true of the people who knew Jesus personally; but may I have a share in them?" The friendship of Christ is the most real and the most wonderful thing in this world. To very many people there does seem to be an unreality in the things of spiritual life. God seems far away. We cannot see Him. We cannot feel His touch. But this need not be so. Christ wants to reveal the Father to us. He wants His friendship with you to be as real and as close as your friendship with your closest earthly friend. Get acquainted with Christ. Act as if He were what He says He is. Trust His promises--not one of them shall fail. Let His love into your heart--it will fill you with joy and peace; it will transform your life into love and beauty and radiance.