Jesus in a Fish Bowl

In his classic book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey relates how the chasm between God and man was made plain to him as he tended a salt water aquarium.

In his classic book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey relates how the chasm between God and man was made plain to him as he tended a salt water aquarium.

Though a loving owner, Yancey’s fish behaved as if they knew he had come to destroy them every time he opened the lid.  Despite his intention and care, they continued to fear him and always would.  Yancey pondered that if he could become a fish, enter their watery world and make them believe in his good will, then they would understand.  Incarnation was necessary.   Yancey concludes that “In Jesus, God found a way of relating to human beings that did not involve fear.”      

The analogy is apt.  On the pages of the Old Testament, an encounter with God was often synonymous with terror.  His east of Eden appearances included clouds and thick darkness, thunder and lightning, a pillar of fire.  Who could blame the Israelites for politely declining to meet with him on Sinai?  “No thanks, Moses, you go on ahead.”   During the temple era, one brave soul would enter the Holy of Holies once a year, but not without bells on his clothing and a rope around his waist so that if he made a wrong move and fell down dead, the other priests would notice the silence and drag him out without having to encounter the Presence themselves.  Better safe than sorry.  For millennia, when God showed up humans mainly ran for cover.
Turn from Malachi to Matthew and the contrast is stark.  What could be more approachable than a newborn in a barn?   God led those who would have been unthinkable before – unclean gentiles from the pagan east – to be among the first to behold the Word made flesh.   Simple shepherds also came, yet without needing to sacrifice one of their flock in order to draw near.  No protocol, no priest, yet mortals worshipped God face to face and lived to tell about it.
In Christ, God became a fish of sorts.  He permanently took on a new nature and splashed into our little aquarium.   The message of the incarnation was “Don’t be afraid.  Come close.”  In the old way, a well-meaning man reached out to steady the sacred ark and lost his life.  In the new, a sick woman reached out to touch Christ’s clothing and was instantly healed.  Both touched Power but with very different results. That difference is Jesus – he made God safe to touch.  Throngs of humanity have been drawn out of their shells since, swimming towards the God-Man for over 2000 years now.  God with us.  God one of us.  We’ve seen him and lived to tell about it.
But the Son is not simply a diluted, more tolerable expression of the Almighty; he’s THE expression.  And despite what our culture insists, Jesus is not one of many ways to experience God; he’s THE way.  The writer of Hebrews exclaims that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (1:3).   In Christ, all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).   If we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father (John 14:9-10).  Jesus’ words to a skeptical Thomas are the same for seekers through the ages:  “Come here.  Touch me.  See the scars from the wounds I sustained to make your approach possible.  Don’t be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27).  
The only way to know God now is up close and personally.  What an unfathomable privilege.


  • Teresa Box

    Sara,so beautifully

    Sara,so beautifully written,as usual.I loved what you had to say.I think if we really grasped the approachableness of God and the fact that He is always loving and good,no matter what our circumstances tell us, it would make a load of difference for all of us. I look forward to your monthly blog.

  • StephG

    God must be both amused by us

    God must be both amused by us (tying ropes around the priest's waists) and sorrow (us 'hiding in fear when we sin , like the fish).  Thanks for this wonderful post Sara!!

  • JessicaT

    Love this!

    Sara…. As always you take the profound truth of Gods nature and break them down into a beautiful analogy that reminds us we can always come to Him! I love the example of the fish aquarium and must remind myself that when everything gets stirred up in my life and the debris is swirling around me, I can be comforted in knowing that it's just God cleaning out my tank! Love the reminder that He is always ready to care for me and clean up my surroundings…. Lord help me not to run away but to you with faith and anticipation of your goodness! Sara, please keep this good stuff coming! !