1 John 1:1 (NRSV)
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
Touching is Believing
Why do people like going to the ballgame and sitting as close as they can to the dugout? Why do we flock to car shows to witness the shiniest new piece of technology and press as close as we can to the glass at museums? It is because we want to get as close to the action as we possibly can. Human beings have the innate need to validate the reality of things by touch – to feel things with their hands somehow authenticates their genuineness. It’s not enough for us to see things from afar or just read them in a book, we want to experience things face-to-face. From touching a fascinating object close-up, to the reassuring touch of a hand on our shoulder, there is something in us that says, “If I can’t touch it, it’s not real to me.” Ideas reach the head, but a touch reaches the heart.
Christianity is the only religion that has a God we can touch and experience. Today some believe that there is an intelligence out there that rules things from a distance and that no one can really know or touch this intelligence. This brings us to the words of John.
Some of Greek philosophies had a similar idea during John’s time. They thought that a distant intelligence created the universe, one you cannot touch except by cold logic. They called this intelligence, the Logos (Word). John made the bold claim that the “Logos” is Jesus the creator of the universe and that he is the God we can touch and experience.[i]
Incarnation – A God We Can Touch
It’s difficult to relate to anyone who seems to have a perfect life where everything falls into place, where things always go their way and (at least on the surface) they never seem to have any problems. But take someone who has been through the fire and that is a person we can connect with – they are “touchable.” It is difficult to believe in a God who we think stands aloft, running the universe with cold precision.
This is why Jesus came to the human race. We are able to relate to Jesus, not because his life was free from trouble, but because he suffered troubles of all sorts so that he could enter into the deepest part of our humanity. Touch is a powerful thing because when two souls touch one another, there is almost an instant empathy, an unspoken capacity to relate to each other.
Beyond the Academic
John mentioned that the purpose of being touched by God is so that we may in turn touch each other’s lives. “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us” (John 1:3 NRSV).
Some have only an academic relationship with God. They know things about God. They have the neat and tidy Sunday School answers to life’s questions, however their relationship with God is cold and sterile, something of rigid habit. They might care for the religious faithful, but there is no deep connection, no inner revelation that spurs them to address the brokenness of the world. They have never really touched God, nor have they been touched by him because to touch him is to feel the pain that is in the world.
This touching between God and people is called Fellowship. John makes the point that the purpose of the incarnation was for the creator to have fellowship with his creation.
God’s reason for coming down to earth was not to give us rules, but to initiate fellowship with him and with each other. When you have fellowship with someone, rules are not the focus, but getting to know them. When you get to know them, you will know their rules without even realizing it. Traditional marriage vows used to have the line, “And forsaking all others.” This never made sense to me because when you have intimate fellowship with someone you love, why would you need specific wording that declares your undying fidelity?
In true fellowship we connect, we laugh, we cry, we tell stories, we have debates, but most of all, our lives touch one another. This is the kind of fellowship God invites us to. When we have fellowship with God, we don’t just say distant prayers, we spend time with him. We laugh, we mourn, we cry out for justice, we even express anger and disappointment with him. THIS IS REAL CONTACT.
A sign that we have not experienced God is when our times of prayer are formal and always proper, never bent out of shape, even though there is an elephant stomping through our proverbial room.
This is why Jesus, the “Word,” the “Logos”, became flesh, because God wanted us to experience him first hand (through the pleasant and not so pleasant). God wanted to step into our human experience, in its beauty and ugliness, and touch us. Thus, we find Jesus in the gospels scandalously consorting with the outcasts of society – the tax collectors, the demonized, the prostitutes – the very people the religious establishment rejected. We find Jesus today standing at the door of humanity’s heart and saying,
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20 NRSV)
Thankfully, Jesus does not say, “I will come in to give you rules” or to “Have a church service,” to rebuke you, or to tell you all the wrong things you’re doing. He knocks because he wants to be with us. This is the Immanuel (God with us) that we can touch.
1. C. Black, “The First, Second, and Third Letters of John,” in New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, vol. 12 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004), 382.