As human beings, we are clever creatures. Yes, at times we can be foolhardy. Not to mention capricious, mean, and all the rest. But none of that changes the fact that we are created to do remarkable things. We have five senses with which to take in the world, and minds to ponder and make sense of what we’ve found.
The apostle Paul even suggests that the fact of God’s existence can be known by anyone who hasn’t closed his or her mind to the wonders of God’s creation (Rom 1:18-21). We can look around and know that God exists.
But for us to know specifically that God is loving and gracious to the core? That’s not something we can figure out on our own. For that, he has to reveal himself in special ways that a human mind could still understand — like becoming a human being to walk among us and show us how God in the flesh would live.
There are other means of revelation, of course. Every year during the season of Advent, the story of the shepherds is told again. Picture them peacefully guarding their flocks at night, minding their own business. Suddenly, the darkness is rent by an angel blazing with divine glory. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel says (Luke 2:10). Too late. They’re terrified, and rightly so. Still, the event seems a fitting way to announce — complete with back-up choir! — such earth-shatteringly good news.
And then, at the other end of the gospel story, a more mundane kind of revelation. As we’ve seen in previous posts, the disciples, out fishing, don’t recognize that it’s the risen Jesus calling out to them until he does a miracle: they’re practically pulled off their boat by an enormous catch of fish. “It’s the Lord!” says the beloved disciple, with a flair for stating what should have been obvious to all.
Both events are amazing, attention-getting. But in some ways they’re quite different. A nightly visitation from a dazzling host of angels is other-worldly. But a net full of fish is strictly this-worldly, marked as miraculous only by its timing and abundance. Luke 2 stands at beginning of the gospel story, announcing the arrival of a baby who will grow up to demonstrate the power, love, and humility of God. But John 21 stands at the end of the story, as an encouragement to those who must themselves go forth with the gospel, in essence continuing the mission of Jesus.
Think about it. If God wanted to send the disciples the message, “I will provide,” he could have sent another heavenly host. God would certainly have had their attention, and they would never have forgotten the experience. But like the shepherds, they would have been terrified, cowering in the boat or jumping over the side.
Instead, God simply provided, abundantly, in a way that would surely have warmed the heart of any tired and frustrated fisherman.
Personally, I’ve never been fishing in my life. If God is going to get my attention in a way that reassures me of his providence, I doubt he’d send me a truckload of fish.
But that’s the wonder of it. You’d expect God to send angels to announce his intentions; it seems a God-like thing to do. But the God who also enters into our humanity stoops to speak our language, delights to reveal his providence and care in ways that are simultaneously miraculous and mundane.
Hey, guys, he seems to say, watch this. You’re going to like this one.