Lent – Art Reflection on “I AM the Way, Truth and Life”
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7; RSV. Emphasis added.)
According to one New Testament scholar, “This [“I Am” of Jesus in John 14:6] is the heart of St. John’s gospel message, which admits of no compromise with non-Christian religions” (J.H. Bernard, John II:537). We are immediately struck here by the relational way in which Jesus joins us together with God as Father (John 1:18; 10:30; 14:6-24; cf. Luke 11:1-4). God is not some abstract “prime mover” (Aristotle) or “highest good” (Plato) … hidden beyond some distant star; rather, as Martin Luther phrased it, “Christ is the mirror of God’s fatherly heart in whom God himself appears to us” (LW 24:61; cf. John 1:18; Colossians 1:15). During my graduate years of theological study in Chicago and Boston – including five years that gave “close readings” to the world religions – it became very clear that what is unique about the Christian faith is that it is a grace-filled way of knowing God. Unlike other religions, it is not cold and legalistic (e.g. “If you do x then God will do y”). Moreover, Christianity points beyond itself (note the pointing figure of John the Baptist in Matthias Grunewald’s “Crucifixion” painting) to the truth that is embodied in Christ, a truth that is incarnational and personal (John 1:14), not one that is propositional in nature, needing to be figured or “worked-out.” As A.N. Whitehead, the famous scholar of comparative religion at Harvard observed: “The Buddha gave us his great teachings, but Christ gave us his life” (Religion in the Making, p.55). So it is that Jesus is himself the way and the truth. His way and truth is one of the cross, by which there is forgiveness of sin and the way of eternal life. And this finally leads us to ask: “What then of Jesus saying that ‘I Am … the life’”? (Cf. John 10:10).
In both the church and the academy I have found this question classically formulated, as I’m sure you have as well, in the following: “So, what about those who have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will they also have eternal-life or will they go to the no-life of hell?” I offer a two-fold response… First, each of us must discover our particular gifts and be faithful in ministering these God-given gifts to the Church and in the world with love (Ephesians 3:10) – hopeful and prayerful that the Holy Spirit will use the ministering of these gifts in bringing the whole world whom God so deeply loves (John 3:16) to Christ and so into salvation. Second, is the ultimate mystery of God. Salvation of the world is of God and not man and thus finally is a mystery: Jesus accomplished salvation. How, meanwhile, he intends to incorporate those outside the scope of his Church into his salvation, we leave in the mystery of God’s gracious hands. As Jesus perks our ears earlier in John’s gospel: “And I have other sheep, who are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).