(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, which extends from Advent through Christmas and into Epiphany. We are reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. My reflections on these will sometimes be put in a blog post.)
“In the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh”
These words from the opening of John’s gospel are familiar to many people, especially in the Christmas season. But what do they mean? What kind of ‘Word’ is this?
It’s certainly not the kind of word we usually mean: a sequence of letters (and sometimes other symbols) with one or more specific meanings on its own, but whose meaning is generally related to the other words that surround it; something that in some cases might be replaced by another word or even removed completely without significantly affecting the overall meaning.
In the Earthsea fantasy books by Ursula K. LeGuin, words have power – especially names, which can give some control over the object or person named. Yet, as one character says, “For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before and afterwards” – a word on its own can only exist within boundaries. Again, this isn’t the way we tend to think of the Word – unless it is that period of the Word becoming flesh.
Of course, the Greek word for ‘Word’ is ‘logos’ – which means much more than ‘word’. A Bible dictionary that I have suggests that a wider definition is ‘reason’ (‘logos’ is where we get the word ‘logic’ from’). It also suggests that, particularly in the writings of John, it “stands for the preexistent nature of Christ”; I have to say that I don’t think it help us to understand why John calls Christ the ‘Word’, as it becomes a circular definition!
But logos as reason: “In the beginning was Reason”; “In the beginning was Logic”. As a mathematician, this makes a lot of sense to me, as this is what I think mathematics is all about. (As an aside, when I see instructions for SuDoKu puzzles which say “no maths is involved, you solve the puzzles by reasoning and logic”, I think this is a contradiction in terms; the instructions should really say “no arithmetic is involved”. Except of course for the ‘killer’ SuDoKu puzzles which are my favourite …)
Reasoning and logic are how we make sense of many things in our world. If certain things are true, then other things follow. It is even possible to make rational and plausible arguments for the existence of God, although I think these fall far short of a ‘proof’. “In the beginning was the Word” tells us that there are logical things that can be found out about God.
But reasoning and logic can only go so far, and though I often think of myself as a mathematician, that’s not everything about me. I don’t know my Enneagram type properly, but a simple online questionnaire suggests that I might be Type 5 (the Investigator), but with “balanced wings”, i.e. with leanings to both the sciences and the humanities. So I appreciate (and dabble in) art, music, poetry; and I know the limits of logic.
We can’t, for example, know everything about people by reasoning and logic; and if this is true for people, it is even more so for God. So it is good that “the Word became flesh”; an expression of God that we experience in all the messiness and uncertainties that make up our relationships with other people, but also with all the extra depth and fuller knowledge that these relationships can provide.
Once you’ve learned Pythagoras’ theorem, you ‘know’ it, you know how to use it, and maybe later you’ll learn how to prove it; then you move on to something else. Once you begin to know a person, you realise just how much more there is to learn about that person; if the person is good, you will always want to keep on learning more.
I am thankful for #adventbookclub and other opportunities to know more about “the Word become flesh”.