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The Word Became Flesh
By E. Stanley Jones
Abingdon PressCopyright © 1963 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Week 1 — SUNDAY
WHY "THE WORD"?
The phrase "the Word" was not really indigenous to Hebrew thought. It used "the word of the Lord," "Thy word," but not "the Word" as a separate entity. But it was indigenous to Greek thought, so the early Christian writers did not hesitate to reach out beyond the Hebrew heritage and take hold of any conception to express that which was beyond expression. For they saw that the gospel was bursting with universal meanings and could not be confined to the Jewish language and culture to express that which was beyond language and culture. A universal faith would require a universal medium for its expression. That universal medium could only be life — the one thing universal to us all. But even that universal "life" would be insufficient — it would have to be "Life," the Life of God and us, the Life of the God-person. The Word would have to become flesh.
But on the way to reveal the Word become flesh, the writer would use "the Word," for it is expressive: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Why was Jesus here called "the Word"? Well, one's words are the expression of the hidden thought. If you should stand before an audience without a word, hoping that the audience would get your thought, intuitively and immediately, it would end in futility. Only as the hidden thought is put into a word is the thought communicated.
Here is the hidden God, like the hidden thought, and we cannot know what God is like unless God communicates through a word. If one says, "I can know God in my heart intuitively and immediately, without the meditation of a word," then the answer is: "But your 'heart' then becomes the medium of communication and knowing the heart as one does with its sin and crosscurrents and cross-conceptions we know it is a very unsafe medium for the revelation of God." God must be revealed.
O God, my Father, You are the hidden God. How can I, bounded by my senses, know you except as you shall show yourself to me? I cannot read you unless I get a Word from you. But I know that Word cannot be verbal, for you are not verbal, but vital. Amen.
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: If the word is the expression of the hidden thought, I shall be, in some real way, the expression of the hidden God.
Week 1 — MONDAY
THE WORD IS THE CHILD OF THE THOUGHT
We saw yesterday that without a word, the thought cannot be expressed. The word is the thought become available. When you get hold of my words, you say: "Now I have hold of his thought." The words are the thought mediated to us. The words are not a third something standing between you and the thought — they are the thought become available. The one who takes hold of the words takes hold of the thought itself. The word and the thought are one.
Here is the hidden God, and God is expressed through the Word. When you take hold of that Word, you do not take hold of something standing between you and God — that Word, Jesus, is God available. Jesus is not a third person standing between you and God. When you take hold of Jesus, you take hold of God. Jesus is a mediator only in the sense that he mediates God to you. When you know Jesus, you know God. Just as the thought and the word are one, so Jesus could say, "I and the Father are one."
But the word is the offspring, or child, of the thought. So Jesus is the offspring, or Son, of the Father. And just as the thought is greater than the word, for all expression means limitation — you have to look around to get the right word to express the thought — so the unexpressed God is greater than the expressed God. God had to be limited in coming to us in human form. So Jesus could say, "The Father is greater than I."
There seems to be a contradiction: "I and the Father are one," and "The Father is greater than I." But there is not. Just as the thought and the word are one, so God, the Thought, and Jesus, the Word, are one. But just as the unexpressed thought is greater than the expressed thought, the word, so God the Father, the unexpressed, is greater than God the Son, the expressed. They are one, and yet the Father is greater than the Son. For God was self-limited when God became human.
Did God have to become human to show himself?
O God, our Father, we are at the very crux of our quest — did you have to become human? Help us not to make a misstep here, for we go astray in life if we go astray in thought. May we think your thoughts after you, for we would be your life after you. Amen.
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I offer my mind, my soul, my flesh to reveal God to someone today.
Week 1 — TUESDAY
DID GOD HAVE TO BECOME HUMAN?
We ended yesterday with the question: Did God have to become human to show himself? Wasn't there some other way? A less expensive way? A less humiliating way?
Well, there are number of ways God might be revealed. God can be revealed through nature. But not perfectly. I look up to God through nature and come to the conclusion that God is Law. But the revelation is a very impersonal kind of law. The discovery of atomic energy has driven many thoughtful scientists to God. From whence this awe-ful energy, so awe-ful and so law-abiding? All this drives humans to a dependable Creator. But that energy tells you little about the character of God except God's might. Said a chaplain, "That plane holds more power than was expended in the last war." But the revelation of God's character in an atom is questionable. That atom can burn millions to ashes, or it can lift the life of millions to a higher level if it is harnessed to the collective good. The character of God revealed in the atom is morally neutral. The song we sing, "How great Thou art," tells of looking at the stars and hearing the rolling thunder and concluding that God is "is great," but "great" in what? The stars look down on us, indifferent as to our moral character, and the rolling thunder and the flashing lightning may hit a brothel or a baby with no moral discrimination. So nature's revelation of God is equivocal.
Then God is revealed through prophet and teacher and sage, but not perfectly, for the medium of revelation is imperfect and the message coming through that imperfect medium partakes of that imperfection. Besides, it is the Word become word — verbal.
Then there is the method of revelation through a book. We must be grateful for every inspired word which has come down to us through a book — grateful, but not satisfied. For two reasons: first, a book is impersonal, and God is the infinitely Personal; second, a book is the Word become word, not the Word become flesh.
O Father, we search through various ways and various media to find you. For we are homesick for you. For you are our Home, and apart from you we wander from thing to thing and from place to place seeking, seeking. Our hearts are restless till they rest in you. Amen.
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I shall be an imperfect medium, but nevertheless a medium, through which people can see God today.
Week 1 — WEDNESDAY
CAN GOD BE REVEALED PERFECTLY THROUGH A BOOK?
We paused yesterday to ask whether God could be revealed perfectly through a book, however sacred it may be. The Sikhs of India treat the Granth Sahib, their sacred book, as though it were a person. They fan it in hot weather, offer it food, and put it to sleep under mosquito curtains. To them, it is a person. But however they may attempt to make the book personal, it is still impersonal. The Vedas of the Hindus are supposedly eternal, but we know that ofttimes there are historical references in them. They are of time and are impersonal. The Koran is supposedly dictated by God, but if it were, it would still be impersonal; hence the Word become word. There are those in my day who put out books with such titles as God Speaking, which were supposedly dictated to the listening scribes. From the contents, it would seem that they are, at their best, the highest thoughts of the writers translated as the voice of God, for nothing beyond high human thinking has been revealed — and some of it is not even high — it is very, very ordinary. But if it were dictated by God, it would still be the Word become word.
Then there are those who in religious circles sit in séances waiting for some word from God through a medium, who in turn is supposed to get some word from a person in the next life. Apparently, what has "come through" has added little or nothing to our knowledge of God, and little or nothing to our knowledge of the hereafter — nothing except what the human mind would project into the future and call revelation. In any case, if it were real it would be inadequate, for it would be the Word become word and, a very secondhand or thirdhand word at that. But there are those who go into contortions and trances and speak supposedly as God. "Who is he?" I inquired of a disciple when people at every railway station fell at the feet of a "holy man." "He is God. He can tell you anything." But I could see he was a spastic and his contortions of speech were supposed to be the result of divine possession.
O God, we project ourselves and our thoughts into the heavens and call it your voice and your revelation. We are sick, nigh unto death, at the echoes of our own voices. We want some authentic Word from you — the Word for which we have been waiting. Amen.
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Regarding God, I shall be not a second-hander but a first-hander.
Week 1 — THURSDAY
SEEING GOD THROUGH IMPERFECT MEDIA
We are considering how God could be revealed perfectly. We continue to look at the question of whether a book can be a perfect revelation. Words get meaning from the life that surrounds them. If I should use the word "home" before an audience, to some it would mean "heaven," to some "hell," according to the life which surrounded the word. Literature can never rise higher than life. For life puts content and meaning into the literature. Suppose God should give us a book from heaven with all God's will written into it — would that be a perfect revelation of God? Hardly. For we would read into those words our highest experience of those words. I would see the word "love" in the book, and I would read into it my highest experience of love. But my highest experience of love is not love — it is my highest experience of love, which is partial, incomplete. I would see the word "purity" in the book, and I would read into it my highest experience of purity; but my highest experience of purity is not purity. I would see the word "God," and I would read into it my highest experience of God; but my highest experience of God is not God.
I would pull these words to the level of my highest experience, and so would you, so the book would not be so much a revelation of God as a revelation of us. What then do we need for a perfect revelation of God? A life must come among us — a Divine Life, which will lift these words from the level to which we have dragged them and put a new content into them — a Divine Content through the Divine Illustration. We would then no longer see these words through what we are but through what God is. We think that has happened. A Life came among us and lived publicly for thirty-three years. We no longer see the word "love" in the light of our poor, partial love, but in the light of a Love that prayed for enemies upon a cross: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." The Word of love became flesh.
O, Father, we see you faintly and distortedly through the lattice of nature and through the lattice of your followers, but we begin to see you through the Life of your Son. And what we see sets our hearts on fire to see more and yet more. In Jesus' name. Amen.
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: My light may be poor, but it will be light, not darkness.
Week 1 — FRIDAY
THE QUEST FOR THE PERFECT REVELATION
We continue our quest for the Perfect Revelation. If God should give us a book from heaven as the revelation of God, we would read into those words our highest experience of those words. But now the new possibility has come. I can see those words through a Divine Illustration of the meaning of those words. I see the word "purity," and I no longer read into it my highest experience of purity, which is partial and incomplete, but I see it in the light of a Purity which shared my temptations, minus my falls. I see Purity — the Real Thing. I no longer see the word "God" in the light of my imagination of God, but in the light of this authentic uncovering of the nature of God in understandable terms — human terms. I look up through Jesus, the Son, and I now know what God is like. God is a Christ-like God, and if so, then God is a good God and trustable. I could think of nothing higher; I could be content with nothing less.
If God isn't like Jesus, I am not interested in God. For the highest I know in the realm of character is to be Christlike. I said that in India, and a Hindu wrote to me: "You took my breath away. This is Bhakti [devotion] par excellence. You said you wouldn't be interested in God if He were not like your Guru [Master]." But my Guru is no human Guru — he is God's authentic self-revelation. When the disciples said, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us," Jesus quietly said: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:8-9, KJV), and it was one of the greatest moments in human history. In the Congo when those in charge were about to pull up the idol from the idol-pit, the people fell back, terror-stricken. They cried: "If we look on the face of 'our father,' we will die." But here, as we look on the face of "Our Father" in the person of Jesus, then we do not die, but live! We see God not terrible but tender, not forbidding but forgiving. We see in Jesus God as he is — really is!
O Son of God, we thank you for showing us the Father. We would never have known what God was like had we not looked on your face. Seeing God in your face, we rest not satisfied but stirred — stirred to be like what we see in you. Read our gratitude. Amen.
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Perhaps I cannot be authoritative, but I can be authentic.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10
Week 1 — SATURDAY
THE SILENCE OF ETERNITY HAS BEEN BROKEN
We come now to gather together what we have been saying this week. We must reject as inadequate or inaccurate the attempts to find God through nature — the nature worshipers; the attempt to find God within ourselves — the "I" worshipers; the attempt to find God through teachers, gurus, priests — the human worshipers; the attempt to find God in legalism — the written law worshipers; the attempt to find God in slogans and affirmation — the cult of the Positive, the Positive worshipers; the attempt to find God in the quiet of submissiveness — the worshipers of Silence, of Quietism. In any of these you may find glimpses of God, but if you are to see God face to face you must see God in the face of Jesus Christ. For Jesus is God approachable, God available, God simplified, God lovable. The Word has become flesh.
There was, and is, no other way for God to be revealed except in understandable terms, human terms. God had to show his character where your character and mine are wrought out, namely, in the stream of human history. The Word had to become flesh, or else not be the Word; it would be something else — words!
Lao-tse, the great Chinese philosopher said: "The Word that can be uttered is not the Divine word; that Word is Silence." He is right, in a way, for the Divine Word cannot be uttered. That would be the Word become word. But the alternative is not silence. Lao-tse had to say the alternative was silence for he knew of no Word become flesh, knew no Jesus Christ. So it had to be silence. But "the silence of eternity" has been broken, it has been interrupted by love, by the appearance of Incarnate Love — Jesus.
The statement of Lao-tse, himself a philosopher, that the Word that can be uttered is not the Divine Word, sweeps from the board of adequacy all attempts to utter the Divine Word through philosophy, laws, reason, and theology. They are all the Word become word. The only method of revelation is the Word become flesh.
Excerpted from The Word Became Flesh by E. Stanley Jones. Copyright © 1963 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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