Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” —John 14:6
When I was in high school, I wore a t-shirt with “John 14:6” emblazoned across the top, a green (yes, green) crucified Buddha in the middle, and “What’s wrong with this picture?” stretched along the bottom. I was very proud of that shirt.
Homebrewed Christianity has challenged us to think through this verse with hopes of a free Brian McLaren book dangled out before us as candy. Brian McLaren is coming to my church next month, and I’d love to be able to tell him John 14:6 got me a free copy of his book.
I live in Oklahoma City, and the way to Dallas from here is clear: I-35 South for three to four hours, depending on how heavy your foot is. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. If someone were to ask you, “What’s the way to Dallas from here?” the true answer would be “I-35 South.”
But we know that I-35 South is not the only way to get to Dallas from here. In truth, there are an infinite number of ways to get to Dallas from here, some more scenic than others, some more efficient than others, some not efficient at all. So saying “I-35 South is the way to Dallas” is true as far as it goes, but it’s not the whole truth, and isn’t intended to be. So it’s true for Jesus to claim he’s the way to God, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways that will truly get you to God too.
Another point. I’m no Aramaic scholar, but I can only assume Aramaic has a word that means “only.” I’m also not a historical Jesus scholar either, but I can only assume that Jesus knew the Aramaic word for “only.” Jesus doesn’t use that word here. But he could have. That he didn’t tells me that Jesus wasn’t trying to close off other paths to God.
So what was Jesus up to? In the verses just before John 14:6, Thomas tells him, in effect, that he feels lost. Thomas is asking for directions. The only compassionate response to someone who needs directions is to give them simple, direct instructions that someone who hasn’t been there before can follow. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t tell Thomas all the many ways he could get to God if he were someone else in someplace else. He told him the way to God that was right in front of him.
The question we have to answer is: Is that the way that’s in front of us too?
(Photo by Steve Hardy. Used under Creative Commons license.)