"That which was from the beginning..."
John opens his first epistle with words universally applicable. "That which was from the beginning", the eternal, the infinite, the unchanging, that by which all else is to be judged. Every philosopher of the ancient world had some concept of this, be it the Good, the True, and the Beautiful of Plato, the Supreme Intellect of Aristotle, the Brilliant Light of Plotinus, the Supreme Morality of Epictetus, or even the Natural Law of Epicurus, there is always some universal and eternal standard by which we view and judge the world and ourselves.
And this is not merely an ancient phenomenon, the modern world likewise has its ideas of the eternal. we look to natural law and the physical universe for our eternal source. The bleeding of science into philosophy has caused us to look to order and law in the universe as that which stands forever.
This is not automatically a bad impulse, in order to understand ourselves and the world, we must begin with an eternal by which we may judge.
But here is where John throws us a curve ball. The next logical step is to describe the distance between the eternal and the transient. Aristotle's god is pure reason, and indifferent to mankind. To the Stoics, the fates were supreme and unconcerned with the pain or pleasure of mankind. Modern man's natural law is a set of cold equations, marching nature forward and trampling man uncaringly underfoot. The physical processes of life and death continue no matter how much we struggle against them.
John offends all of these systems. Where all others are forced to separate the eternal from our temporary selves -a physical, emotional, and spiritual separation- John declares to us a wonderful message:
"which we have heard, which our eyes have seen and our hands have felt."
The Eternal can be seen, heard, and touched. As John said in his Gospel, "the Word became flesh." The miracle of the Incarnation is that the distant and transcendent God has taken on a human face. There is no category for this in ancient or modern philosophy or religion. Fate and natural law have no body to be touched, voice to be heard, or face to be seen. But the beginning of the good news of the Gospel is that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, that He has bridged the gap between Himself and His creation by stepping into it. Christians do not have a God who is distant, aloof, or uncaring, we have a God with whom we can intimately relate, because He has become one of us.