In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. This was unexpected to pagans, anticipated by philosophers, but still abstract.
Whatever Hesiod and Homer meant by “chaos” (and scholars debate), they did not think the universe had a plan or purpose. We exist, but that is an accident. We live, our fate controlled by forces far outside our control. If we are happy at death, we are lucky. If our souls continue after death, there is no reason to think the afterlife will be any better than our ill fated lives. We have eternity in our hearts, but the gods are not crazy, just selfish. An entire school of thought roooted for extinction of being after death out of fear of what the gods, persons of bad character and great power, would do to us in the afterlife.
Yet Plato refused an atheism based in fear and looked at the world reasonably. What he saw convinced him that there was a design that pointed to Mind. That was good news, though that grand design was great enough that many of us small ones could still get crushed in the revolving spheres. Better news was that justice was greater than injustice. The grinding wheels of reality, a bit sloppy but still good, would get things right in the end.
Meanwhile, we might suffer, but eternity would resolve the issue if we persisted. It is all in Republic.
Meaning came before chaos and so there is always hope or so says Plato’s Timaeus.
This is wonderful as far it goes, but it does not go (quite) far enough. We are here now and as I look at the Christmas tree on this Holy Night, I want more. Plato has God in His Heaven, so in the End all will be right with the world. What about tonight?
I do not ask that things be perfect just yet. I know history takes time to work out our salvation with cosmos fear and trembling. I do wish that there was a down payment on the beauty, truth, and goodness. Plato could not imagine there could be. The effort to see beyond sterile atheism and the licentiousness of paganism took all his effort. You cannot begin in what we see and do more than know there is purpose and justice in the End.
He came so we could have more than hope. We could have present joy.
I am often sad, but in a life where I have failed so much, God gives Christmas. He gives Christmas to you: the giver is the gift, the gift just what we always wanted. Philosophy saw the beginning and the Word. Revelation gave us the incarnation.
Our vision of reality begins in John 1 and not Genesis 1: a word made flesh with visible glory and truth.
Christ is born!
A Christmas series on John 1: 1-14 (Links will not be active until the piece is published. All active by January 5, 2019).
*Phillip E. Johnson