April 15, 2007

These [signs] are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God & that through this belief you may have life…. - John 20: 31

In a sense, John’s Gospel is itself one of those signs. Because of his experience of the risen Christ, he was moved to write about it all, & now it is we who are blest. I once knew an Englishman raised by Marxist parents to believe that religion is the opiate of the people. Yet when he read John’s Gospel, he was converted by what he encountered there & eventually became an Anglican bishop. How many of us can claim that something we wrote changed a person’s life? Of course, the Apostle would say it wasn’t his doing, but the Lord’s, & he’d be right. Still, it was his theological & spiritual insight that makes his Gospel so different from the other three.
Encountering the risen Christ cannot leave us unaffected. The only question is how & to what extent we will be affected. Often it may lead us to ask questions as Thomas did. Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet, is often quoted as encouraging us not to excessively prize answers but to live questions. Behind this advice is a sense that we, as human beings, have not completely explored who we are & who we might become. Doubting in itself is not a bad thing so long as we do not become mired in it. It can be the springboard to a deeper faith if we will permit it. It certainly was for Thomas.
A consistent message of John’s Gospel is that believing is not a matter of physical observation but of realizing spiritual truth, & as creatures with a spiritual dimension, it is spiritual truth that affects us most deeply:
A young American & a young man from India were attending an international conference. During a break in the proceedings, they found themselves talking to each other about religion. The young man from India was very hostile toward Christianity, & the young American was trying to discern the reason for it. “Is it something in Jesus’ teaching that turns you off?” he asked. “No,” came the reply, “it is not anything like that. The thing I resent most about Christians is that they are not Christian.” He went on to share some of the unloving, dishonest treatment he had received at the hands of professed Christian people.
Christianity, of course, has no monopoly on this kind of thing. But that young man had hit on the one aspect of Christian discipleship that is the key, really, to whether or not our faith has ‘blest’ us. We cannot genuinely encounter God’s grace in our Lord & still go on living the same old selfish, insensitive, unloving way. If there is no change, the ‘religious experience’ is contradicted.
This doesn’t mean the change is instantaneous. The operator of a large road grader noted the impatience of motorists who were delayed by his work, so he hung a sign on the front & back of his machine that read, “The road to happiness is almost always under construction.” It is not a matter of once-&-for-all professing one’s faith & then living happily ever after. To be blest is to be consciously involved in a process of continuing growth into greater integrity & honesty & purity of heart. It is the questions more than the answers that help to make this possible. AMEN!