The God Seen in Nothing

by Matthew W. Bassford

I love that God thinks so differently than we do. Because His ways are not our ways, He consistently reveals Himself to us using means that we never would have chosen. We prefer straight lines and straightforward propositions, but God works in subtlety and paradox. These things are His signature, His proof that He has not sprung from the mind of man.

Consider, for instance, the way that God represented Himself in the Old Testament. Humans answer the question of divine representation in human ways. We make idols that display the characteristics that we think belong to gods. Perhaps the idol incorporates elements of powerful animals. Perhaps it simply looks like a large, unnaturally good-looking man or woman. That’s as far as our ingenuity takes us.

God's solution to the problem was very different. He gave instructions for the construction of the mercy seat that was to sit atop the ark of the covenant. Two cherubim sat to either end of the mercy seat, flanking a space in which there was. . . nothing. Any other religion on earth would have put an idol there, but God did not. In place of a focus for the devotion of His worshippers, there was only empty space.

Human wisdom finds this baffling, even maddening. What are we to make of a God like that? There is nothing extraordinary about empty space!

Here, of course, we find the paradox that is the divine signature. Indeed, there is nothing extraordinary about empty space, but a God who scorns all representation as inadequate is truly extraordinary! Our highest ideals of what God should look like fall so far short of His reality that we should not even attempt them. The nothingness between the cherubim signified a God who transcended the knowable and visible.

Making representations of God is not a human business. It is God's business. Here we encounter more paradoxes, more of God's fingerprints. Somehow, a God who cannot be constrained in any way was compressed into a human form that nonetheless was and is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of His nature. We make images of wood and stone; God makes a second Adam. This too is incomprehensible, unfathomable even to the people who had been warned for a thousand years to expect it.

In more divine contempt for human expectation, the Word become flesh had no stately form or majesty. He didn't need them. Those with eyes to see had no trouble recognizing His divinity anyway.

As Jesus died, the divine paradoxes multiplied. The God who does whatever He pleases tasted the extremity of human weakness. The Savior of the world could not save Himself. The Prince of Life was put to death. And yet, impotence, failure, and death combined to produce the greatest victory that God would ever achieve.

The sign of this victory is a familiar one. Humans know how to celebrate victories. We hold parades, commission paintings, and build monuments. God does none of these things. Instead, just as He once revealed Himself through the empty space between two cherubim, He revealed Himself in the empty space between two angels sitting in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. The empty space proclaimed and proclaims more than any direct signifier could.

Christ is risen.

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