No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18, NIV)
Why are people atheists and agnostics?
Many who identify with either category might give this as a reason: “No-one has ever seen God. How can we possibly believe, given that that’s the case? We have nothing to go on!”
It is striking that this verse in John’s Gospel starts with exactly this assertion. I love the realism of it: John is facing us with the fact that despite all the ceremonies, rituals, shrines, festivals, theologies, artwork, priesthoods and paraphernalia that we associate with religion, no-one has ever seen God.
Indeed. If that were all there were to be said on the matter, then surely agnosticism would be reasonable? Perhaps not atheism (it is surely a shade arrogant to claim that just because something has not been observed, it cannot exist), but certainly a shrug of the shoulders with a resigned sense of “your guess is as good as mine.” And a sense of caution about people who think they know better.
But that is not all there is to be said on the subject. For John continues: but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
What is John talking about? At the beginning of this section, he introduces a mysterious figure he calls the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1) Then he goes on to say this:The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14)
John is referring, of course, to Jesus. John calls him the Word because he is God’s communication to us. He makes God known. John is saying that Jesus was with God in the beginning, and is God — but came into our world. It is what theologians call the Incarnation. As we sing in the carol: “Lo, within a manger lies / He who built the starry skies.”
This is a momentous claim, so we might well ask how John has reached this conclusion. His answer: we have seen his glory (John 1:14). John, and many others, were eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus. It was what they saw and experienced personally that convinced them that the Carpenter from Nazareth was the eternal Son of God.
This verse comes in the prologue to John’s Gospel. In the rest of his book, John lays out the evidence that’s persuaded him with much care and clarity. And he goes further: he tells us what Jesus does make known to us about God, and his plans, and our lives.
If you happen to be agnostic because you say “No-one has ever seen God”, take note that in this great Christmas verse, John got there before you – but then showed that there is an answer.