That Which We Have Seen and Heard
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
The night God finally broke me to mush with my struggle with who Jesus was, I cried, I blurted out, I yelled, all into a silent non-answering frigid-cold night sky. It was December 25, 1972, and I'd had a bad day, topped off with "accepting Jesus" over the phone, along with my wife on the extension, we being led in the "sinner's prayer" by our friend Cary calling from 2500 miles away in Monterey, California.
My reaction to having prayed with Cary over the phone was morbid. Some corner I knew had been turned, but I felt like I had died. I felt like I'd given up and lost and I felt like mourning. I had been dealing with "who Jesus was" for several intense months by then, an ardent student/practicioner of Zen & some Yoga, but weighed down so heavily with the question of who Jesus was that I couldn't get it off my mind. I started reading the New Testament and I understood none of it but it was confounding to me. I'd spent hours in the past arguing with people that the Bible was just a book like any other and kept telling myself that, but the Gospels blew me away. But still I couldn't cross certain intellectual bridges to become a Christian.
I think the thing that gave me the most trouble was the idea or concept of grace. I could not fathom that it was that easy. Pray a little prayer and all your karmic debt is erased and you get off the wheel of life (death & rebirth [reincarnation]) and go to the highest heaven (nirvana) when you die. (I thought like that then.) And you don't do anything. Don't have to do meditation, do yoga exercises, control your thoughts, your appetites, eat correctly, etc. Just believe in Jesus.
I just couldn't believe you didn't have to do anything to get it.
But "it" just wouldn't leave me alone. God would chase me down streets and back alleys, meet me where I least expected Him, reminding me that He was around, and press me Himself through a thousand different witnesses who didn't know each other and were often not even the same species or even life forms but were all nonetheless operating under one divine edict common to them all: to reveal big or tiny portions of the truth of the Living God to me, and to one by one chase me into a corner and til they had me sealed off with no way of escape. (God is good at that.)
And that was what had happened that day, Christmas Day 1972. The hunter had killed his prey, taken it home in his bag, but this hunted still lived, feeling the pain of his death, relieved that the chase was over, but not yet pleased with losing. I had a makeshift "zendo" (place of Zen meditation) in a little tent I'd made in our hall closet, suspended from the clothesrod. It was such a nice place, a calm place, quiet, untouched by the world outside it. I would go into the little tent, 20-40 minutes at a time, time myself by the burning of incense, and practice zazen (Zen meditation, lotus position, hands serenely folded in the lap) for the allotted time. I loved it. Felt cleaner, purer, pleased with myself, just a bit more spiritual everytime I did it. Felt like I was getting somewhere, doing something about my life.
Until Cary called us and made us say that damn prayer. Now everything was all screwed up. So I took a knife and cut down my little hall closet zendo tent, sat on the top of it for a while and mourned and felt sorry for myself some more. I felt like everything I knew before was gone in one fell swoop, and there was nothing to replace it.
Janis found me there and I told her I was going outside. We lived in the most wonderful place then, out in the country outside Rome, Georgia, on top of a hill surrounded by pastures and fields with other forested hills and low mountains beyond. Houses have since been built in those fields now but back then there were no houses for quite a ways below our house on the dirt road, so I went walking downhill toward a clearing a couple hundred yards from our house. It was crisp and clear, the stars as real and as close as the red dirt and rocks below my feet. I walked down the road which doglegged to the right and finally out of sight of our house or any other, the road at this point running beside a clear field that sloped downward to a line of trees below. Right there was where I wanted to go, not knowing why, but I just had to get out of the house and out here where I could see the stars and feel the immensity of the sky.
And then that's when I broke down. I yelled, I screamed, I questioned, I confessed my ignorance, my stupidity, the nerve of me, thinking I knew anything about God, because now I knew I didn't know anything, and there was no way I could know and how could I go on and what could I do.
All this I'm yelling out into the night sky which I'm thinking must somehow contain God, though every theory and theology and idea and understanding I ever thought I had went tumbling away into nothing, and as far as I was concerned God was a great big nothing. I told Him I didn't know what to believe, didn't understand about this Jesus, didn't get it about heaven and hell and the devil, but ....
But -- "if you'll show me the Truth, even if it's Jesus" (I had a BIG intellectual problem with that), I said to the silent night sky, "I'll follow you! "
It was nice of God to honor that prayer, since everything about it was technically wrong.
I did not hear a voice. Neither audible nor inaudible. I didn't have any particular "feeling" at that moment. I don't remember a thunderclap or bells ringing or any other thing happening just then to seal the moment in my head.
I just know that I came back in and my wife could tell instantly that I was different from when I left. I had earlier said the sinner's prayer, but my mind had not "believed" at the time. When I railed at God that night, my mind was not believing and I told him so.
When I came back in I told Janis & others who were there that night, that I could not explain what had happened to me, and I didn't know why, but from now on I knew that I was following Jesus, whatever that meant. Something had "clicked on" in my heart, and somehow from the heart the choice had come, and without even knowing what I was doing -- because for a time my old intellect took a vacation -- without even any mental shift in "believing" -- I knew my path in life from here on out was to follow Jesus. I don't even know when the shift came. I just know that from the time it took to walk up the hill to the house I moved from, "whatever you show me I'll do," to, "I'm following Jesus." That's as far as I knew.
Jesus had apparently come through my gas station where I worked and after the fillup had looked at me through the driver's side window and said, "Follow me, and I'll make you a fisher of men," and without even knowing I was responding I found myself running down the street yelling at him to wait for me.
A lot's happened since then, and I won't go over all that right now, but if you would go back to the top and read the scripture I quoted from 1 John.
John first starts out by talking about how he is witness to the physical Jesus. He touched Him, heard His voice, felt his hands, had lain on His breast at the Last Supper. John was perhaps more physically intimate with Jesus than anyone else. If anyone knew "Christ after the flesh" it was John.
Obviously, however, John is describing in the first verse being witness to something far deeper than the normal presence of a man as we understand it. John has seen Him Who is "from the beginning." In other words, in Jesus John has seen The One Who is the Source of All, the Alpha of all existence and being. He Who has always been. And that this same Man who is "from the beginning" is also, this Living Man that John witnesses to, the "Word of Life."
The "Word of Life." There has been no group of disciples, ever, more lacking in knowledge and understanding than the ragtag crew Jesus chose. From day one they didn't have a clue. Not to the real stuff anyway, though little by little some of it seeped in. Jesus didn't hook them by His deep teaching. Whenever He spoke, they didn't get it anyway. He didn't hook them by His mighty works, either, though undoubtedly they might've been the first attraction for some.
Without a doubt this is what happened: when He spoke to each of them, one by one, in a place within them which is beyond our understanding and our emotions, He stirred an unfathomable Love in their innermost depths. It had nothing to do with how He looked, or what kind of clothes He was wearing, or how He cut His hair. It had nothing to do with His accent or His color or who were His mother and His father. Something cut them to the quick in their deepest intimacy and they were undone in the purity of His Love in which there was no guile at all. In Him they were created; in Him they could find their own lives; out of Him came forth forgiveness and peace with God. Their own shame about themselves and the insoluble mess they'd made of their lives was swallowed up in His LACK of shame for them and His redemption of all that had been destroyed and His utter, total, complete, acceptance of them. Here in this MAN was the Resounding Eternal Word of God coming forth to Life, but not just Life in Himself and for Himself, but Life which creates and builds and edifies and lifts up the whole creation, fills it with the glory of God, and blesses all with Liberty.
Simply put, He loved them. And simply put, they loved Him back. This Life is God in our hearts in love. Period. Let everything else anybody adds onto that be only that which comes from the indescribable mysterious Love of God in our hearts, and let our knowledge and understanding always be known to us to be behind that which is primary.
As the song "Hokey Pokey" says, "That's what it's all about."
In the 2nd verse, John turns the focus from his experience of the physical Jesus and says now I "show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us."
How? How is John now "showing" to his readers this eternal life?
Because the life of Jesus was now embodied physically in him, in John. John the witness doesn't just mean he tells what he has seen and heard as a bystander, but rather what he has seen and heard as a participant. John can be the witness because the same Life that manifested in Jesus is now operating him. John the witness means John the incarnation of Christ. Christ "formed in" John.
Because He commanded us to eat His flesh and drink His blood we don't get off the hook of getting to just be a bystander, someone who just saw things from afar. We are now here as participants in the heavenly kingdom, which means God lives in us as His temple, and being partakers of His Body & Blood, find ourselves in the fellowship of the Father and the Son.
That doesn't mean some big religious extravaganza. It simply means we are in the fellowship of His sufferings and our lives are given for the life of the world, which is what to be "in Christ" means. It is a fellowship of love, which is the only glue that holds it together.
And just here is the point I am making.
John, as did Paul, did not bring them a message written on tables of stone, or written paper made from wood, but written on the fleshly tables of the heart -- in the human person. He is God of the Living, not the dead. The Living Christ is not the object of doctrinal debates, but He Who has His fan in His hand, and will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. When He comes into His kingdom He burns off everything that is not of Himself. And what is left is Christ only.
That Christmas night all there was was the sky and me. Nobody else. It was too much for me, and I had to repent in my heart of thinking I was somehow God.
That night I couldn't put my finger on what happened. But today I have some understanding.
That which was from the beginning, which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you ....
I did not have an iota of a vision, nor any other kind of verifiable spiritual experience. I did however see Him Who is from the beginning. No explainin' how. I had no knowledge, no understanding, not one memorized scripture, except maybe John 3:16, and for the most part at that moment I had not one intellectual agreement with any tenant of the Christian faith, not one, except maybe that I agreed that there was a God. (And I was by no means certain of that.)
But despite that, as Abraham found justification by faith without being circumcised, I knew the One Who IS from the beginning in the grace I found to believe that night, without any further or improved knowledge of Him. The dark night that had become my life changed in a moment, or at least in the time it took me to walk in from the dark, into the dawn of a never-before-seen-nor-imagined Day.
I didn't know a thing. Not one blessed thing about the "Christian life." Oh, but I had found HIM whom my soul so desired (without ever realizing it)! I walked into that house that night "knowing" God. Or rather, borrowing from Thomas Merton, "known of Him."
Now it's been more than 30 years since that day. And today I "know" a whole lot more. I know scriptures galore, have sat through thousands of hours of teachings and sermons, have been to umpteem zillion conferences, read books out the wazoo, devoured the Bible (at times, and at other times avoided it), had forty-million spiritual discussions, and I'm not sure that on the official "Percentage of God-knowledge Scale" that I've moved up too far from where I started. I've read the whole Bible several times, and some of its books literally hundreds of times, read countless spiritual books, listened to tapes, heard sermons til I could nap no more, and still today I am awed by it and think I've at best only cracked into the outermost layer of its shell.
But I know this pretty well. We declare what we have seen and heard. What we have seen and heard is what we have lived, what we have known within, what has welled up inside us as the Living Truth, which could not be contained, nor fully explained, and certainly not predicted. But which nonetheless had to go out, because if we would not cry out, "Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord," (who we have now found to be the summit of our hearts and minds, and the One on whose shoulders the Government has been placed), then the rocks would testify.
That first night I came in from the cold and declared Jesus the Lord. There were five other people there that night. Two of them knew Jesus within the week. Two more within three months. Love flows out. All on its (HIS) own!
If you have received Him then whether you know it or not your life is the Outflowing Life of the Living God in your world -- with no effort, planning, scheming, etc., required on your part -- He does hidden miracles every step you take, because you are His temple where He has taken up residence in liberty and love by hiding the limitless fulness of Himself in your weak frail human frame.
And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.