Jean’s Gospel: The Finger of God
“Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.’ ” (Luke 11:14-20)
One of my favorite metaphors for depicting God’s power and activity on earth is finger of God. As a figure of speech, finger of God is simple yet evocative, and it communicates many of God’s attributes. Before Jesus adopted this metaphor for His own ministry, Pharaoh’s magicians used it to point to Israel’s God for the plagues they were unable to replicate (Ex 8:19). In the 16th Century, Michelangelo masterfully incorporated this metaphor into one of the greatest fresco paintings ever created: The Creation of Adam, which adorns the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
One easily could say the metaphor finger of God is theologically freighted. Let us explore this metaphor and the various theological themes it conveys. If you have additional or different impressions, please share them in comments following the article.
- God’s power is awesome and asymmetrical in comparison to all created beings and powers. By this small appendage and with the lightest touch, God is more powerful than all our adversaries. God’s sovereign will is unthwartable. By His finger, God saves us.
- God is in touch with His creation. God is not absent from or disinterested in his creation. In Jesus, God came down and joined himself to creation, taking on our flesh. Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, the Word was made man. In this way, the finger of God became more than just a metaphor. This finger became a physical, historical reality in the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
- During his earthly ministry, Jesus wielded the finger of God, redeeming and healing people, sometimes by His physical touch and at other times by His powerful Word which touched the hearts of His followers. Jesus cast out demons; forgave sins; healed the sick; gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf; caused the mute to speak; and raised the dead.
- After His ascension, the finger of God continues to redeem and heal people to this day through His ongoing ministries of Word and Sacrament, by which the Church proclaims the forgiveness of sins through faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ for all people. A touch by the finger of God illumines our hearts with faith, opens our ears to the Gospel, and enables us to confess that Jesus is Lord. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14)
- The finger of God encompasses the work of the one Triune God, which being of one essence, yet are three distinct persons, namely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Note that in Matthew’s parallel account, Jesus equates Holy Spirit with the finger of God: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28)
- The metaphor of a finger, which does all these great works, reminds us that in Christ and His Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, we receive grace, knowledge and a saving relationship with the Father; however, much of God and His providential rule over creation remain hidden from us. It is as if in our earthly lives we are given to know just the finger of God. No doubt, our finite minds are incapable of comprehending much more than His finger. As Paul acknowledged: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33)
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12)
Yet even though our present knowledge and understanding of God is incomplete, Jesus gives us two promises: (1) we are fully known to Him, which is far more important than our infinitesimal knowledge of God; and (2) when it is our time to join the Church Triumphant, we will see Christ face to face; then we shall fully know. In the meantime, may we be content with just His finger, while giving Christ thanks and praise for suffering and dying on the cross to set us free from sin, death and the devil. Amen.
Lord, Jesus Christ: “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.” (Ps 51:7-8 NASB) Amen.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
To Christ, who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore.
Isaac Watts, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross