In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word
John’s opening sentence deliberately invokes the beginning of the Jewish
Bible the opening words of Genesis “In the beginning,” and then goes on
to use language that equates to Jewish thought about Wisdom. (You will
surely in the past have been told that this passage is about logos the
Greek word used by the stoics and much print is expended on this idea)
but actually I think it is unhelpful. John’s purpose was to identify
Jesus as one with God, not another God but the same god as the Jews
believed in; hence his call to Word or Wisdom who “was alongside God
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep.” When he established the
heavens I was there.
Words are important – let me give you an example:
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” wrote Robert Herrick in his poem
addressed let us say to young ladies.
Gather not pluck, pick, prune, snip or even collect but gather – there
is a sense of embracing, of taking into ones arms gently of nurturing
Rosebuds not you see the full flowered rose but the delicate first
appearing curved buds, tinged with the promise of the colour to come
–maybe you can see them in your mind’s eye sense the beginning of the
unfurling of their tips.
And While ye may and here Herrick introduces his theme of time and the
possible eclipse of possibilities as we know that these buds will change
and we must take our chance. Not because we can but because we have
permission – we may.
Words are powerful and creative writers spend time choosing the ones
they need. John in his Gospel personifies the idea of the Word in the
same way that Wisdom is personified by the writers of the book of
Proverbs and other wisdom literature to be found in the Bible. These
writers are grappling to express the questions surrounding creation.
Obviously to them and more obviously to us with our knowledge of
palaeontology, astronomy and physics the earth had a beginning. It did
not always exist; living creatures were not always here. There was a
beginning of plant and animal life. Imagining before all that is really
difficult but imagining nothing as strongly atheist philosophers would
have us do is for most of us impossible. We are constrained to think
that there was always something. Furthermore the power that existed
before, “before the mountains were brought forth” need be great enough
to produce the amazing cosmos, universe, earth, beauty grandeur and
importantly the pattern and pulsating energy of all life. From the
amoeba to the polar bear and of course to us made in God’s image.
In the beginning was the word, and the word (Wisdom) was God’s self
expression – the Word was God’s self revelatory activity from which
sprung creation, evolution, and rosebuds. God said let there be light
and there was light.
I think that the writers of Proverbs and the prologue of John’s Gospel
really capture the essence of the beginning: Wisdom was the first of
God’s creations the word was with God. And this is personal – the
universe is not founded in nothingness but in the person of God to whom
we can relate and who intended us to flourish in this creation in this
expression of his love in his word:
“and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always. Rejoicing in
his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
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