In the beginning
... was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God.... begins a very familiar verse from John's Gospel. Lots has been done with the word Logos and like many words, it has evolved. Early on in my fundie background Logos was described as God's spoken word which was written down and formed the Bible. This was contrasted with the Rhema word, the living word aka the Holy Spirit.
Logos is a significantly larger more wonderful term than I imagined and the author of this part of Johns Gospel packed some incredibly scandalous claims about Jesus (and his ABBA) that starkly distinguishes them from other deities and no doubt ruffle some metaphysical feathers.
Much more than just the written word (or the bible) Logos is the ordering structure or ordering principle of the cosmos. In a very real sense, it is the heart and mind that gives structure to everything that is. It precedes the Big Bang and is the reverberating fractal that gives creative and sustaining order to the cosmos - from nothing (ex nilo) to mind-boggling intricacy of creation. The Logos provides the energy, shape, and form to an evolutionary journey marked by increasing complexity, greater relationship, and deeper consciousness.
What might the original hearers of John's Gospel have understood?
Around the 5th century BCE, before Plato and Aristotle, there was a Greek thinker by the name Heraclitus. Heraclitus was known for his thinking about cosmology and he was looking for a unifying theory of not only the physical but the metaphysical - the everlasting Logos (ordering principle). He reasoned that essentially all things are one in some sense, that opposites are foundational and necessary to maintain a balance in the whole of what is. For Heraclitus, as he observed the world from his perspective he determined that the Logos was conflict. This is quite likely what the gentile listeners of Johns Gospel would have understood.
Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE - 40 CE) was probably another voice and lived close to the time that the Gospel of John was written. Philo was a Hellandized (Greek) Jew and was noted for his synthesis of Greek and Judaic thought. Philo believed that there was pre-existent matter floating aimlessly and without form in the cosmos. He suggested that this matter was the raw material for a God-inspired creation, however, Philo understood that God being pure and holy could not sully himself with the evil pre-existent stuff. Philo would suggest therefore that God required an intermediary (angel-esque), a buffer between a pure and holy God and with the celestial matter. Hence, the Logos to deal with all the messy stuff.
When logos was understood as based on conflict and violence can you imagine how perplexed the hearers of Johns Gospel would be with the idea that Jesus was the Logos?
This was not entirely a new idea. Early history tells us that most people groups had an origin story. Stories they would tell about how they and the world came to be and the god who did it. These stories provided identity and a worldview in which their community was built and functioned. Many of these origin stories were conflict stories between one or more deities. Stories of creation from war, violence, and dominating power. Stories of one deity violently defeating another.
Now in comparison, consider how scandalous the Genesis account of creation must have been. No war, no violence, no coercive power - just a word. The God of Genesis spoke creation into being. This is no small discrepancy, in fact, it was revolutionarily unique in contrast to the origin stories of others in the region. In a world where might makes right a god who creates non-violently, with a word in love might be seen as underwhelming, and could we even say nonsensical?
Nonsense? Perhaps this could be a foreshadow that something very different is going on with the God of Israel and something very different as we will see in the person of Jesus.
A Back-handed Insight?
Fast forward to the 19th century and the work of a German philosopher Friederick Nietzsche. Nietzsche is famous for the assertion that ‘God is dead’ and was a strong critic of Christianity. For our purposes here, he offered a parody paraphrase of John 1:
“In the beginning was the nonsense, and the nonsense was, by God! and God (divine) was the nonsense”. - Karl Fuchs in Friederick Nietzsche, Human, All too Human
Nietzsche contends that metaphysical things don’t exist and if they did exist it would be nonsense. Therefore, a metaphysical ordering of the world is absurd. Hence the parody by replacing the word logos with the word “nonsense.”
So while I am not an authority on all things Nietzsche, in one sense I couldn’t agree with him more. In a world drunk on coercive power, violence and war - where champions are crowned for the bloody destruction of their enemies - a God who comes like a child, a lamb for the slaughter, who is abused and tortured; who instead of spewing hatred and threats of revenge Jesus tenaciously forgives his murderers. Emphatically, hanging on the cross in agony he pled "Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing! They don’t know what spirit they are of!
A Different Kind of God
This God who is love takes the full wrath of humanity, all of our sin and absorbs it into himself and offers forgiveness in exchange. In the context of our Genesis creation story, Jesus on the cross is the climax of our creation story, and in Him, he declares ‘It is finished!’ Christ on the cross defeats death, the accuser and sin. It is this that the author of Johns Gospel asserts is the true logos. Not conflict and its violence. The true organizing heart and mind of the cosmos is self-emptying, self-giving kenotic love.
Perfect love is the Logos.
In the beginning was Love, and Love was with God, and Love was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Ah, such sweet nonsense indeed!