Friday, October 12, 2012

Thoughts: John 14:5-11

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

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In the verses preceding this passage, Jesus said that he was going “to prepare a place” for his disciples. He told them, “you know the way to the place where I am going,” which I assume meant, “you know I am about to die.”

But, in these verses Thomas reveals that either (a) he doesn't really know that Jesus is about to die or (b) he doesn't want to admit it. In what appears to be an attempt to get Jesus to speak more plainly, he says, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” It is in this context that Jesus delivers his oft-quoted line, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I wonder if Thomas thought that Jesus was actually going to an earthly place to prepare a safe haven for them. Maybe he was hoping that Jesus would answer with geographical directions: “Alright, Thomas – you want to get to my Father's kingdom? Here's what you need to do. You need to walk west of Jerusalem for four days, then, after you reach the Holiday Inn, go north for a day and a half. The place I'm going to prepare for you is right up there.

But, of course, Jesus doesn't answer that way. Instead of telling the way, he says that he is the way. You want to get to the Father's house? Forget about roads and compasses. The only way you're going to get there is through Jesus.

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Jesus adds, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

We've all heard it said, "I think Jesus was a good prophet, but I don't think he was God." Although there is undoubtedly a prophetic nature to his ministry, no mere prophet ever spoke like this: “If you've seen me, you've seen God.” Look throughout Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. You won't hear anything like that. Not in those minor prophets either. Jesus is different.

But Philip still doesn't realize just how connected Jesus and the Father are. “Lord,” he says, “show us the Father and that will be enough for us.

I have to wonder what he was looking for here. Was he asking for a physical manifestation of the Father? Perhaps a rendering of the heavens that would reveal a severe-looking bearded man hiding behind the stars (this is, sadly, what many people think of when you claim to believe in God)?

What Philip has failed to realize is that Jesus himself is that rendering of the heavens. Right there in front of him, what he's asking for has already arrived. As Jesus says:

“Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say 'Show us the Father?' Don't you believe that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Jesus and the Father are one in the truest sense of the word. We have trouble conceptualizing this, but that's because we have a tendency to think of everything in material terms. Oneness is not just what happens when a physical chunk of stuff has distinct boundaries from its surroundings. If that were true then God could never be one because He is not material. God's oneness is oneness in the truest sense of the word, but it is not a material oneness. It may be hard to understand how God is one if Jesus is God, but it's not impossible if God is not material.

In other words, we need to avoid the human tendency to reduce God to a chunk of stuff. This is what Christians are accused of doing because of their belief in the Incarnation, but I think that accustation misunderstands the heart of the doctrine. The doctrine of the Incarnation says that God – a non-material entity – has chosen to reveal Himself through the material, but that is not a belief that reduces God to a chunk of stuff. What does reduce God to a chunk of stuff is the assertion that one cannot believe in the doctrine of the Trinity without believing in three gods, because such an assertion is predicated on the assumption that God's oneness is material.

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I like how Jesus tells Philip that if he has trouble believing what he's saying, he ought to believe him “on the evidence of the miracles.” Jesus seems to be saying, “Yeah, I realize I'm making some pretty bold claims here, but haven't I given you reason to believe me? Did I not feed the five thousand, give sight to the blind, and raise Lazarus from the dead?"

Something that always drives me up the wall is when people say, “We can't actually believe those miracles in the Bible. Those people were gullible, but we know better now.” The New Testament is not written for gullible people. In fact, despite having been written centuries before the Enlightenment, it seems to be written for people with a modernist mindset. The modernist mindset says, “I must have evidence before I believe in God” and “If I'm going to believe that any other power exists in the besides the laws of nature, I must have evidence of a miracle.” I have mixed feelings about this kind of mindset, but whether it's healthy or not I think the Gospels are written with this perspective in mind. They portray the miraculous as miraculous - that is, as remarkable breaks from the ordinary course of nature - and then argue that these events should be considered as evidence of the truth of Jesus' claims.

Ironically, modern skeptics demand a miracle in order to believe and yet the presence of miracles in the Gospel accounts are the reason they refuse to believe them.

Of course, in fairness to the skeptic, just because a miraculous claim exists doesn't mean it's true. What I'm objecting to is when people disregard the Gospel accounts a priori simply because they contain accounts of the miraculous. If the modernest mindset requires a miracle to believe in God, it ought to be willing to consider evidence for the miraculous. Jesus tells Thomas that he's provided that evidence. We should all at least be open to considering the possibility that he has.

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