The Only Way to What?
A provocative start. Followed by a challenging summary:
Jesus was not focused on saving sinners from an angry God who is hellbent on making them suffer forever. Jesus was interested in the very opposite: helping us angry, hostile, combative, confused, misguided human beings learn to know, love, and follow a loving God, so we can learn to love our fellow humans, ourselves, and all creation, not just after we die, but starting right now.
This little leaflet is primarily a discussion of the meaning of John 14:6 in its context. Jesus has just washed His disciples’ feet, demonstrating His principle that the leader should be a servant. Then He announces that He will soon be taking a journey and His friends won’t be able to follow Him:
“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you,‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” (13:33)
He is speaking of His imminent unjust trial and merciless execution. That is His Way, the Way to His Father Who sent Him: willing submission to death. And it’s also the Way for anyone who wants to join His Father’s movement (aka experiencing the ‘life of the ages’ or becoming a member of the ‘Kingdom of God’): willing renunciation of personal goals while trusting Jesus to lead them to the true goal of life.
“Don’t worry,” He says. “You won’t see me for a while, but I’ll be back. And after that I’ll be with you forever. Starting here and now. There’s plenty of room for you in ‘my Father’s house’ (aka the ‘Kingdom of God’).”
This is just a prelude, though. Jesus is building up to make another point, so he moves from what they cannot do to telling them what they must do:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13:34-35)
Jesus is trying to reassure and encourage them/us. It’s then that He makes that much-quoted claim:
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ (14:6-7)
The disciples don’t understand. Many Evangelicals also don’t understand. We interpret Jesus’ remark as a barrier for people to find God. We transform His comforting remark into an exclusive doctrine. But…
Jesus is saying, “Listen, you don’t need to understand all this. You simply need to trust me. Don’t look for a way apart from me. Don’t look for a route or destination – some concept or technique or system of thought that is separate from me. I’m not trying to give you information or instructions so you no longer need me and can instead depend on the information or instructions. No – just trust me. Everything you need is in me. I will bring you to my Father’s house – the experience of God’s presence in this life and in this world, the experience of a way of life centered in radical love for God and neighbor. ‘The way’ or ‘the truth’ or ‘the life’ aren’t things separate from me. I embody these things, so you’ll find them in me! Whether or not you know what I’ve been talking about, if you know me, you know the Father, you know the way, you know the truth, you know the life.”
The “no one” here refers to Jesus’ own disciples, who, clueless as usual, seem to want to trust some information – a plan, a diagram, a map, instructions, technique – so they can get to God or the kingdom of God without or apart from Jesus, since he has just told them he is leaving them for a while at least.
People! It’s not about knowing information, techniques, directions, concepts, dogma, or instructions: it’s about having an experiential relationship and connection to Christ! Stay in relationship with Christ, and he will get you to the place where you belong –
the kingdom of God, which is
knowing God, which is
living in dynamic interactive relationship with God, which is
living “the life of the ages” as opposed to life “in this present evil age,” which is
living the way of life Jesus lived, which is
living the way of love for God and love for neighbor, which is
living life to the full.
That was Jesus’ message from the beginning, so trust him … not concepts, not rules, not doctrines. Trust Christ.
If Jesus reveals God, then how can we quote John 14:6 in a way that reverses and nullifies and contradicts John 14:9 (“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”)? How can we assume that God’s character is exclusive, demanding, harsh, condemning, willing to torture, and thus the very opposite of the character revealed every minute of every day by Jesus?
If we stop looking for information apart from Jesus and instead focus on trusting Jesus and his message, we will obey his commandment to love one another.
Not a ticket to heaven
If all you want is a cheap ticket to heaven after you die, that’s not what Jesus is selling. No, Jesus is offering – for free – something much better, deeper, and richer: a life that begins right here, right now, a life lived “in Christ,” a life lived in God’s presence, a way of life characterized by radical love for God and neighbor, with an understanding of neighbor, by the way, that extends to stranger, outsider, outcast, and even enemy. If you live that way of life, you will have no fear of death and no fear of God.
Who goes to heaven when they die?
McLaren maintains, “You’re asking the wrong question!” And the right question is, “How can God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” One final quote:
God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, or to create a new religion that would condemn the world, but rather, to set the world deeply, utterly, gloriously free by revealing God as love … universal, inclusive, gracious, nondiscriminatory, nonviolent, life-giving love.
Excerpts From: Brian McLaren’s “Is Jesus the Only Way?”