Elephants and Toddlers

hello-elephantIt has been said that the gospel according to St. John is like a pool in which a toddler can wade and an elephant can swim. It is simple enough for the novice but it is also plenty deep for the experienced disciple. As evidence I would offer the very first verse, John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” . Here are three clauses. Each clause in itself is very simple (particularly once one knows that “the word” stands for “Christ”). Take the second clause, “the Word was with God”. It is very simple. There’s no trick to it. A child knows what it means for someone to be “with” someone else. So here the Word was with God. Alongside God. In the company of God. Nothing could be simpler.

Simpler still is the third clause, “the Word was God”. A subject, a verb, and an object. A child knows what it means to be something. So here the Word was (and is!) God. Nothing could be simpler.

But we enter the elephants’ pool when we put those two simple statements together, as St. John does. Suddenly it’s not so simple anymore. The two simple statements don’t interact with each other well. How can the Word be with God, and therefore distinct from God, and be God. Are the Word and God the same? Are they distinct? Can both clauses be right? How? And then, John makes the pool deeper yet by wrapping all this up and handing it to us in quivering flesh – “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!” (John 1:14)  We are swimming with elephants now.

All this to say that as we contemplate the birth of Jesus in  Bethlehem we should keep in mind that there are depths and shallows in the background. The simple story of a baby born under unusual circumstances and the deeper story that this child is the word made flesh. The pool is refreshing both at the shallow and at the deep end.

– posted by Richard C


~ by Richard on December 4, 2012.

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