Bug Spray

Pod-A-Palooza MEL
Image by Mike Miley via Flickr

There are certain verses we like to keep close at hand.  We bust them out and use them whenever a certain set of circumstances arrives quite unthinkingly.   There may be times that this is an appropriate thing to do.  But there are a couple of dangers in this.

One danger is that we stop reflecting on the scripture.   When we begin to use God’s words like a bug spray, we have this tendency to think that there are no other uses for them.  A related danger is the possibility that the verses we’ve been using don’t actually fit the situation very well.

We often use John 14:6 in just this way: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

The spirit in which we use these words is often at odds with the wider context.  We often use them with this implication that they are primarily aimed at the people who don’t follow Christ. 

On the surface, it appears that these words are aimed in this direction.    If, in the first five verses of chapter 14 of the book of John, Jesus met someone with different religious beliefs who wanted their procedures to get them to heaven, then I would say most of us have been using verse 6 correctly.

But that’s not actually what happens in the first five verses.

Jesus is talking to his disciples in chapeter 14 of John.  More specifically, he is talking to them when they are worried about the fact that he will soon be leaving them.  Jesus tells them he will come back for them.  And he also tells them that they know the way already (presumably because they have been following him already so they have learned things.)

Verse 5 goes like this: 

 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Which brings us to the often-quoted verse 6:

 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

When we use this verse inappropriately, we can’t even use the surrounding verses because they don’t make sense in the way we try to use it.  If we continue onward into verses 8 and 9, it becomes increasingly clear that the target of these words is the follower of Christ, not the person who has yet to meet Him.

 7 If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

 9 Jesus answered: “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’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 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 works themselves.

We have to get all the way down to verse 12 before there is even the smallest implication about somebody who doesn’t follow Christ.  But before we get there, I think it’s worth going back, to verse 6, and wondering what Jesus seems to mean in the wider context.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

When we keep in mind that this is an answer to the question “we don’t know where we are going, so how can we know the way?” it becomes clear what the disciples wanted was a trail guide.  They wanted some one who was going to bodily walk along side them and tell them when to go left and when to go right.

So often, when Jesus is asked a question, his answer points to the fact that the question was the wrong question.  His answer implies that the person asking the question presumed limitations on God where no limitations exist.

Jesus answer is that he is no mere trail guide.  He is the path itself.  But the thing worth noticing is why this whole issue was brought up.  Jesus mention that he was  having to (in some limited sense) leave the disciples.

We know now that he is leaving them to be crucified.   This crucifixion blazed the path to the father for us.  When Jesus said “I am the way.” He wasn’t saying that his words were the way.  He was speaking about His future actions.

Of course, this has implications for someone who does not believe in Jesus.  But sometimes our reason for focusing on them is because we want to avoid focusing on ourselves…

There is so much to be said, here.  But that will have to be some other day.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “Bug Spray”

  1. John 14 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. In it there is hope for those who do not know the name of Jesus, and hope for those who do know that ache for those who don’t. If one takes that position – as i am want to do – there’s also a greater degree of risk from the oft repeated words of Jesus in the passage; “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”.
    Verses 23-24 are the most telling. There implies some degree of innate “loving” of Jesus in the context of his commands. Jesus seems to be offering himself up when he says “if you love me…” more in the form of God than as the man who stands in front of the disciples. The question is if those ensuing commands are also innate. Most notably, Paul in Romans 1 makes the case for “knowing”. Somewhere in our spirits there is a kernel of empathy which leads to compassion; this causality is the catalyst of the Holy Spirit.

    The whole thing has become more mysterious for me every time i contemplate it. i honestly don’t know how much of God’s image we retain; maybe it’s just enough function to cooperate with the Holy Spirit when he shows up.

    i strongly suggest you read John 15, especially from 17- 27. It expands further the maddening questions by its context.


  2. G-
    Always nice to hear from you. In truth, I had a little trouble keeping up with you… but I’m intruiged.
    What’s the danger you’re alluding to in your first few sentences?

    Are you saying that to truly love Jesus is to follow his commands? That it’s easy enough to say we love him, but if we’re not actually following him, are words ring hollow?

    I agree with those things if you’re saying them… but I’m not sure how to attatch them to the ideas I’m pondering in this blog post.
    Looking foreward to your response,


  3. Jeff–I’m looking forward to seeing where you’re going on this. I do think, even without the mention of non-followers, the verse has bearings on all people, but I also agree that that is not the direct context in which He says it . . . and I also like your bug-spray analogy. Very apt!


  4. I love when people quote “I can do all things through Christ” as an attaining goal or mission or objective. Paul’s context was more of him being in extreme situations of poverty and of plenty. Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Phi 4:12 NIV)” It’s a statement of contentment.


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