Have you ever wondered if you were on the right track in life? If you were going in the right direction? Have you ever got fed up with the lies and false claims of the media, politicians, Twitter news feeds or even other people in your life, so much so that you have been desperate to find out the real truth? Ever thought to yourself “Is this what life is really all about?” or “What is the purpose of my life?”
These are questions that we all ask, regardless of who we are or what we do, what our background is or what faith we profess. They are deeply human questions. So when Thomas expresses his confusion to Jesus in yesterday’s gospel (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A1-12&version=NIV) about not knowing “the way,” Jesus responds with these words: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
The interpretation of this statement has caused all sorts of issues down through the years. The most significant issue has been the view that Jesus is saying that the only way we can know God the Father is through him. So this line has then been interpreted to mean “Christianity is the true religion; all others are wrong.” This causes a problem in our current society where equality is valued above all else. No religion can be above another and so the common view today is that all religions are the same anyway. The simple response to this statement is no, they are not. And it is not just me saying this, it is all the world religions too!
They are all very different and, in the past, when I have worked with Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish chaplains in a university and in the prison service, they too would claim that their religion is the not the same as other religions. We all have different beliefs. The Catholic Church says that, yes, all major religions have something important within them that is good and true but, and this is the important bit, the Christian faith has something that leads in a unique and special way to knowing God the Father. Well, not something but someone; a person – Jesus.
And the clue is found in the next words of Jesus: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” and then, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me?”
In other words, Jesus and God the Father are inseparable. They are one and the same. And this belief is found in the doctrine of the incarnation – God is a Trinity; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and God the Son became a human being in Jesus of Nazareth. So when people two thousand years ago saw Jesus curing a sick man, healing a leper, preaching on the shoreline, sitting with the worst sinners at a meal, throwing tables around the Temple, being arrested, hanging on a cross – it wasn’t just Jesus, it was God being and acting in this way.
For the first time in history, we could actually know God in a real way. I mean really know God. Before this, for most of the human race, there were many gods who had different characteristics but nonetheless remained unknowable and unpredictable. These gods were worshipped in fear. For the Jewish people, God was a loving and caring God who had chosen a people to be in relationship with but still remained unknowable to some extent and distant, especially as the Jewish people still believed that the sins of their ancestors still had not been forgiven. The proof? They did not have their own land, their own king and their own rule. They were waiting for the Messiah to change all this. In the meantime, they had to follow all 613 commandments in the hope that God would offer forgiveness and send the Messiah.
But in Jesus, we see who this God, God the Father, really is. We see a God who tells people through stories that they are deeply loved; he is like a father waiting for his upstart of a son to return home and who watches every day for him until he does so. He sits among those who were considered the outcasts of society and tells them he is for them and that they will be the first into his reign of love. He reaches out and touches the untouchable lepers and women in society showing that human categories of clean and unclean have no place in his reign. He rages at the religious leaders who try to make him a burden on people by the way they check to see if people are following every single religious law and, yet, they themselves were complete hypocrites.
But what is more shocking is that this God, unlike any other belief about god or gods in the history of time, can be vulnerable and weak. God asks a teenager permission to be born in her. God places his divine life in the hands of young parents to be kept safe and secure. This God cries in anger and sadness, this God stays silent in the face of his abuse and the false accusations levelled at him. And most shocking of all, and this is where most other faith adherents will shake their heads in disbelief, this God took on our mistakes and sin and allowed humans to nail him to a cross, suffer the most horrendous pain and die like a common criminal.
So when people think that Jesus was just a wise man, a great moral teacher, another religious guru, a great prophet or a leader of new spiritual movement, there is no way that he can be the Way, the Truth and the Life. Why? Because he is not God.
And this was Jesus’s whole reason for being.
And this is why so many people who have lost their way in life have found the way forward again through their faith in Jesus. This is why so many people, who could not believe they are loved and accepted for who they are, discover the truth that they have a value and worth that does not depend on anybody or anything in this life. This is why so many people whose lives have gone off the rails, whose lives seem meaningless, have discovered real life in following Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the way of the Father, the truth about the Father and the life of the Father. And through their faith in Jesus, many people have discovered the true source of meaning and purpose in life.
Personally, I have seen it first-hand myself. I have seen hardened drug dealers in prison discover the truth about their lives and so completely change their lives because of an encounter with God. I have seen students who were struggling with their self-esteem suddenly rediscover their lives again when they know that God created them out of love. I have witnessed many people completely change their attitudes and mindset when they discover that the true way to happiness is not through having things or trying to be someone they are not, but through believing in someone who completely believes in and died for them.
And the same applies to you. Do you sometimes feel weak? You will be told that “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” (2 Cor 12:9). Do you feel anxious? You will be reminded that “God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe…” (Philippians 4:6-9). Do you think you don’t matter? You will be told “Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!” (Luke 12:7). Do you feel weighed down by problems or worries? He says “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
This is why many people, including myself, believe in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. As I referred to at the start of this post, in our lifetime we will be presented with so many ways, different kinds of truth and lots of advice on how to get the best out of life. But none compare with knowing Christ. And we believe that knowing him means that we know the Father.
And it can be truly life-changing.
If you can make some time, take a look at this talk delivered by Nicky Cruz, a former leader of the violent New York gang, the Mau Mau’s.