Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.
I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”
John 12:44-50 NIV
No matter how you cut it up, the fourth gospel is loaded with meaning, with truth, in each and every utterance of Christ which the evangelist records. We call him John the theologian because we can sense the presence of man’s struggle with God in every line, man wanting and not wanting to be what God has created him to be, and God firmly insisting that there’s no other option. Eternal life is open and free, but only to those who really want to live.
People call church teachings and philosophy ‘theology’ and they say that they go to school and ‘read theology’ eventually becoming ‘masters.’ Nothing could be further from the truth, but there is some value in learning the signs this way, so that when real theology happens to us, we will recognize it for what it is, and not shrug it off as ‘just what happens.’ Theology is struggle, and Christ came to persuade us to take it on and to show us its purpose.
The same words of Jesus can ignite the fires of theology and of hell. ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already’ (Luke 12:49 JB). This is no mythological Prometheus who will steal fire from the heaven of the gods and then be eternally tortured for it, though even in the myth the fire-thieving Titan is said to have created man from clay and then sacrificed himself for their benefit, for the divine fire is the agent of transformation both in myth and in reality.
Curious that the makers of religion can slip through the inferno that Christ provides, and erect towers of their own wisdom to raise them above the flames. All the while, far below them, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, those fire-sifters, the true theologians tread the flames with the Son of God, who cools the fires of their flesh and blows upon the fire of their spirits, transforming them into images of Himself and, like Him, trophy-bearers of the holy fire.
‘The Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life,’ says Jesus, who not only tells us exactly what is in the Father’s mind, but shows us even what the Father looks like. And, far from using threats or force, far from exalting himself over us as our judge—though as the Son of God He has every right—He tells us that not He, but the words He has spoken, will judge us on the last day, making us write our own sentences.
In the gospel, not just according to John but in all four gospels, we have been told and shown everything we need to know about ourselves, where we come from, where we are going. We are even released from religious bondage and fear, not as the atheist imagines himself free by denying Reason and its Source, but by acknowledging Reason in a form we can recognize, a man just like us, who came not once but comes forever, to bestow upon His race the power of words.