Lightning is a fascinating phenomenon. In an instant, electrostatic discharge super-heats a jagged line of air transforming it into plasma. This process expands the air so quickly that it creates shock waves we call thunder.
I once sat through a violent thunderstorm at the end of a portage (under an overturned Souris River Kevlar canoe). When the lightning was directly overhead, the flash of light and loud crack of thunder coincided. As the storm moved away, the distinct crack became a loud ongoing rumble as the deep bass tones of the storm bounced off the forest fire-scarred hills and cliffs of the Temagami wilderness.
Is it any wonder that Scripture associates God with a thunderstorm?
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
—Jeremiah 10:13 (NIV)
What a Gift!
Say this with me: Monogenēs. No, it’s not some strange disease. It’s an important Greek word used to describe children who were in trouble. If you memorized John 3:16 in the old King James, you’ll remember the expression “only begotten”. Those of you from the NIV generation will recognize the translation as “one and only”.
Let’s look at the people the New Testament authors describe as monogenēs:
- The Widow of Nain’s “only begotten” son had died (Luke 7:12)
- Jairus’ “only begotten” daughter was near death (Luke 8:42)
- A man’s “only begotten” boy was demon possessed (Luke 9:38)
- Abraham offered up his “only begotten” son to God (Hebrews 11:17)
- Of course we add Jesus to this list, the “only begotten” Son of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).
After looking through this list, the New Testament meaning of monogenēs is clear: it refers to a sole, significant child who is in trouble. Jesus, like Isaac before him, would be offered as a sacrifice with one significant difference. Where God provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac, he accepted the death of his son.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his monogenēs Son into the world” (1 John 4:9). Like a bolt of plasma from the heavens, radiating light and life to all around, God became man. Jesus entered our world. This was more than a good gift—this was the best possible gift God could give. God gave us Himself.
Like lightning sends thunderous shock waves into the world around it, the incarnation of the Son of God has sent shock waves of the Father’s love into his creation from within.
The Invisible Made Visible
John repeats what for the Jewish people was common knowledge. The God of Israel, who permits no idols or images of him to be made, cannot be seen by mortal eyes. “No one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12). This, of course, makes God difficult to share with others. No matter how assured you are of God’s presence on a personal level, sharing this invisible God can be like trying to convince your friends that the Polkaroo is real (with no apology for the shameless Canadian culture reference).
There’s an answer to this problem. Since, as we saw a few verses earlier, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), God becomes visible to the world in the love of his followers.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)
Consider how Jesus described it in John’s Gospel:
Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Resonating At the Right Frequency
We have a bass guitar in the sanctuary of our church. When I turn up the amplifier I can make all sorts of objects dance. One note makes the snare drum vibrate (C# if you’re curious). A lower tone makes the wooden plaque on the wall behind the amplifier tremble. One note even vibrated the screws inside the speaker cabinet loose.
As Christians, we are tuned to the frequency of God. His gift of Jesus—the light that gives life—has entered our world like a lightning bolt. When we love each other with the self-giving sort of love that Jesus demonstrated, our lives resonate with the thunder of God. What began as one unique and unrepeatable event rumbles on throughout time in the lives of God’s family.