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“What Should We Say About John 14:6?”
The Fifth Sunday of Eastertide
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Those words, from John 14:6, have become, to popular Christianity, what the ninth inning closer is to a baseball bullpen; the one you can always count on to shut down the other team.
Specifically, whenever anyone raises the possibility that the grace of God might embrace persons who are not Christians, the verse most often quoted to shut down the conversation is John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through Jesus,” more often than not, with a kind of “The Bible says it and that settles it” finality, which is why, every time the lectionary places John 14:6 in our path, I feel an obligation to help us think about what we should say about John 14:6.
For starters, careful speech requires us to acknowledge the fact that it is difficult for any of us to say, with integrity, “The Bible says it and that settles it,” about anything, because we don’t believe it about everything. If we believed that the Bible saying something settled something, we would sell all our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, disable our alarm systems at home and at church, stop wearing jewelry, and embrace the redistribution of wealth as our guiding economic principle; all of which is what the Bible says, but, apparently, does not settle, in Luke 14:33, Matthew 5:39, I Timothy 2:9 and Acts 2:45.
Let’s be honest; there might be a Quaker, Mennonite or Amish person out there somewhere who can say, with integrity, “The Bible says it and that settles it,” but no Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian I have ever met in Jackson, Mississippi. The truth is, we don’t live that way, so we don’t get to talk that way, not even when it comes to John 14:6.
And, anyway, when John 14:6 says that, “No one comes to the Father except through Jesus,” John 14:6 probably isn’t even talking about what people are talking about when they talk about Christianity as the only way to heaven.
John 14:6 is one of several verses in John which appear only in John, all of which appear to be more about the incarnation than salvation:
The Son has made the Father known.
If you knew me you would know my Father also.
I did not come on my own, but the Father sent me.
The Father knows me and I know the Father.
The Father and I are one.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
The Father is in me and I am in the Father.
All that the Father has is mine.
All of which is to say that, when John 14:6 is used to shut down conversations about the size of the circumference of the reach of the grace of God, John 14:6 is probably being sent on an errand it wasn’t written to run.
John 14:6 gets used that way a lot, and, one imagines, it always will. It’s everybody’s closer; the verse most often counted on to shut down any conversation which raises the possibility that the embrace of God might reach beyond the boundaries which Christianity has placed around the grace of God.
Which is understandable to me. I used John 14:6 that same way for more than half my life. And, the many people I know who use John 14:6 that way today are dear and good souls.
But, I don’t use John 14:6 that way anymore. And, I would encourage others not to, also, because, one thing the Spirit of God has revealed to me across a lifetime of walking and praying in the Spirit, is that, any time we use any Bible verse to place our conditions on God’s grace, we are probably sending that Bible verse on an errand it was not written to run. Amen.