Is Jesus Like God? Or is God Like Jesus?

How would you describe God? Perhaps as holy, transcendent, loving or good.

What about Jesus-like?

Recently I was reading J.I. Packer’s Praying the Lord’s Prayer and in the opening pages, Packer writes an illuminating sentence. He begins by stating that people who find it hard to believe that God exists and that God is personal will find it difficult to pray. He continues: “But if you believe, as Christians do , that Jesus is the image of God- in other words, that God is Jesus-like in character- then you will have no such doubts, and you will recognize that for us to speak to the Father and the Son in prayer is as natural as it was for Jesus to talk to his Father in heaven, or for the disciples to talk to their Master during the days of his earthly ministry” (13-14).

God is Jesus-like in character. To be honest, I’ve always thought about it the other way around. Scriptures like Hebrew 1:3 which says Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature. In other words, Jesus is God-like in character. It’s as if Jesus is the mirror that reflects God. The mirror show us the nature of the image it’s reflecting but we would’t say that the mirror and the image being reflected have the same character- they aren’t the same thing.

To put it another way, it’s easier for us to say that Jesus is like God than to say that God is like Jesus.

Packer, however, is asking us to think about the latter. Just as easily as we say that Jesus is like God, we should be able to say that God is like Jesus.

It may seem like splitting hairs and it may not seem like a big deal to anyone but me but it might just reframe how we think about God and God’s character. Too often God is seen as the great unknowable, the great Other and to ascribe any attribute to God is simply a guess to know what is ultimately unknowable. Philosophers can spend their time debating if a person within time and space can truly know a being that exists outside of time and space but for this discussion but if Jesus is the incarnate God, if they are the same substance and if they are, in fact, equal they why can’t we say that God stands as Jesus-like in character?

What does this mean practically? It means that the character we see in Jesus, as displayed in the Gospels, is the character of God. Jesus is not the mirror that reflects God but ultimately isn’t God or has a different nature than God. It also means that if we want to know how God acts, reacts, thinks, behaves, speaks (if we use human language to describe God) we can apply what we see Jesus doing, thinking and saying to God.

What’s God like? Jesus-like.



One response to “Is Jesus Like God? Or is God Like Jesus?

  1. This is something I’ve only recently begun to think about and think through. We tend to think of God in terms of abstraction. Most systematic theologies begin with God’s aseity or omniscience or omnipotence. Perhaps we should begin with the enfleshed revelation of God as presented in the gospels.

    I wonder if this thinking takes you in the same direction it has me. While o don’t think it necessitates a rejection of certain parts of orthodox theology, it does, I think, potentially challenge certain claims. Specifically the doctrine of Impassibility. If the revelation of Gods character is found in Christ, and more specifically in Christ crucified, is it a very Christian teaching that God doesn’t or can’t suffer? Or are we smuggling in hellenist thought?

    Loved the post. It touches on what I’ve been thinking about a lot the past six months. Thanks for writing it.

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