I engaged our community at our worship gathering last night with this conversation and am hoping to continue it online this week, but make sure you know this is really long post.
I think we tend to have an unhealthy and unbalanced perspective when it comes to truth. Truth is most often associated with science, math, the abstract, precision, permanence, absolutes, rationality, and reason. But poetic language that is imprecise, ambiguous, intuitive, imaginative and symbolic is nonetheless truthful. The sun sets and rises; time flies; God extends his hand to the needy; the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart (Gen. 6:6). This is poetic language, metaphorical but no less true that scientific language.
There is a broader range and fuller understanding of what (or who) truth is. We have created an unnecessary dichotomy between scientific language and poetic language when we talk about truth. Scientific language seeks to remove ambiguity by using precise and absolute statements. Question: If Jesus indented to use scientific language what does Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life mean? Poetic language delights in the ambiguity and even plays with it deliberately.
Question: If Jesus indented to use poetic language what does Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life mean? See David Tomlison's book The Post Evangelical on this.
So how was Jesus using this phrase? I think like all the other I AM phrases he was using it as a metaphor or poetic language.
Now I must tell you that I am very much in process at this point in my life and am prayerfully and communally exploring what this means for my life and the life of the church so I do not by any means have this figured out and am open to input and critique as we journey through this together! The approach I am taking as I study scripture, read others and talk with our community is to let the Bible interpret me.
There is an ancient Midrashic-Jewish approach to Scripture that I think is very important for us to know and practice always but even more so tonight. The Jewish rabbis when approaching the Torah did not so much seek figure out how to interpret the text, but how that text interprets them. The text, the Bible can be, and is, fully and absolutely true, but its function is to interpret my life, not me its message. We need to sit under the Bible not over the Bible.
This is so important because as my friend Alan Hirsch said to me this week:
“Most of our congregations are professing particularists (Jesus only way, etc.) but practicing universalists. This text (Where Jesus says he is the Truth) IS interpreting the church today and it should be one that makes us stumble. For I believe, to give up on the uniqueness of Christ is to give up on the central anchor of the faith - Jesus and his claims on us.”
Read: John 14:1-7
How does Jesus’ radical claim speak to us and interpret us tonight?
Jesus shows us Truth is a person
Jesus did not claim merely to know the truth as a formula that he could impart to the ignorant; but he actually claimed to be the embodiment of the answer to human problems. Jesus' solution to perplexity is not a recipe; it is a relationship with him.
Truth is not primarily doctrine
Truth is not primarily a belief system
Truth is not primarily theological statements
Truth is not primarily abstract morals and values
We follow a person not teaching, beliefs or values, which flow out of following Jesus because...
Truth is primarily a person – Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus, the person, the Son of Joseph and Mary, the cousin of John, the carpenter’s son, and the Son Of God, He is the truth.
Jesus did not counter Thomas's question with an argument or a quotation drawn from his memory or from the Jewish law. He did not answer Thomas’ questions with the logical proofs for the way to heaven. He responded with an authoritative, self- asserting statement that the truth is found in relationship with him. He said I AM THE TRUTH. Truth with all its complexities, with all its twists and turns and all it mysteries is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. If you want to know the Truth then get to know Jesus.
Jesus shows us Truth is relational
If truth is found in Jesus the God-man, then it must involve knowing him and being relationship with him and being intimate with him. Truth cannot only be known in the abstract but must be known in relationship with and experienced through intimacy with Jesus.
At the heart of being a Christian is a personal and intimate encounter with God in Christ (who is the Truth) that shapes and molds us. There are certain aspects of truth that cannot be grasped by reason. Love is not always logical. Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know.” If we are to know the truth we must shift our language from abstract scientific concepts to poetic language like a loving relationship. If you want to know the Truth then love Jesus.
Truth must change and transform us
The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard talked about how when we encounter truth it will subjectively or intuitively change a person. So if something is really true then it must change me. A person can't claim anything to be objectively true if it doesn't somehow change them. If it has not changed me, then it is not true. When you are in love with a person, a band’s music, a food, a book, whatever it changes the way you see the world.
Therefore if Jesus is the Truth and if we genuinely engage him we will be affected and changed by him. Jesus said elsewhere that "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." The Truth will change you if you know it. Moreover, Jesus' truth claim can only be known if I personally appropriate it to myself. I must be existentially involved to really 'know' it as true.
If Jesus is the truth you cannot know/experience the truth from a safe distance. You cannot have a virtual relationship with Jesus. You cannot and will not know Jesus, the Truth abstractly, empirically, analytically or scientifically because truth is relational and it inherently produces change. Scientists seek to be objective and disengaged with the thing they are empirically studying and that supposedly gives you pure and unbiased insight. If you want to know the Truth then get to know Jesus, not from a distance but intimately.
Truth is dynamic and on the move
If Truth is a person, relational, experiential and transformative it must also be dynamic, not static. Jesus is the Truth as he said, but we as humans cannot fully know Him as such because we are limited by our sin, our culture, language and our location.
This does not make Truth relative, nor promote indifference or a kind of universal blending together of all religions; rather it humbly confesses our humanity, our limits and our inability to articulate the full scope of Jesus, the truth.
The great English missionary Leslie Newbigin said, “We do not have all the truth, but we know the way along which truth is to be sought and found. We have to therefore call people to come to this way with us, for we shall not know the full glory of Jesus [the Truth] until the day when every tongue shall confess him [so].” (To Tell the Truth, pg. 34)
"When Christians affirm, as they do, that Jesus is the way, the true and living way by whom we come to the Father, they are not claiming to know everything. They are claiming to be on the way, and inviting others to join them as they press forward toward the fullness of truth, toward the day when we shall know as we have been known.” (Gospel in a Pluralist Society p.12)
Truth is always one step ahead of us. Truth is knowable in Jesus yet not fully. Truth is revealed in Jesus yet hidden. Or as Bono said,
The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you growI knew much more then than I do now
This is what compels us and calls us further up and further into the heart of Truth in Jesus – the longing for more.
Relational and poetic Truth in Jesus is like a multifaceted diamond in which we are always discovering the further beauty, depth and richness of it depending on our location and how the light that shines upon it. The diamond is still a diamond and our perspective on the diamond does not change the diamond; its clarity, color, cut, and carat do not change but our perception, and understanding, our appreciation and knowledge of that truly beautiful diamond do change.
I wrote this poem last winter about Truth that might cast some light on the complexity of what Jesus clamed, it’s called to walk with her.
walking with her
talking with her
longing to be with her
her beauty is staggering
(her breasts are full and firm)
she is wonderful, playful and intriguing
seeing her is blinding
my impairment leads me further down the path
knowing her is ignorance
which grants me wisdom?
intimacy with her is distancing
leading to dependence
fleeting and compelling
the unattainable search
the closer I am to her the farther I’ve to go
the more her radiance shines the clearer I see
but I want to flee because of me
she calls me further up and further in
her voice is captivating
so I journey toward her
wadding amidst obtuse fogginess
the mystery d r a g s and d r a w s me
longing yet kicking and screaming
contagiously spreading throughout my body
when I arrive I have farther to go
simultaneously endless and relentless
she is ever with me
but never enough
the longing… is the gift…
I do not have or know all the truth but I do know I am following the Truth who is Jesus, the way, the truth and the life, please join me in following him and discovering more of him.