Mom’s Family Bible
There it is. Right in the same chapter with the verse that Christians have quoted for 2000 years to say that Christianity is the only way to God. And yet I’ve never heard a sermon that focuses on this verse, one of the most intriguing things that Christ ever said. And it is, perhaps, the single biggest reason I don’t believe the Bible can be interpreted literally.
Thomas, always the one to question, has just asked Christ to explain what he means when he says that there are many dwelling places in God’s house, and Christ has responded that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that Thomas shouldn’t worry about having a place with God.
Philip follows up by expressing his confusion and pleading with Jesus just to be plain—just to show them God’s face.
Jesus’ response astonishes me anew every time I read it:
“Believe in me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe in me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14: 11-12, NRV)
Now I don’t know about any other mere human out there, but in all the years I’ve lived on this earth, I have never met a single person, Christian or otherwise, who believes he or she can do greater things than John describes in the thirteen chapters leading up to this scene. Jesus turns water to wine at the wedding in Cana. He accepts water from a Samaritan woman he has never met and tells her everything she has ever done. He heals the son of a royal official without even being in the room where the sick boy lies. He heals a paralytic—despite the fact that it is forbidden on the Sabbath—and gives a perfectly logical explanation of his actions to religious leaders. He feeds 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. He walks on water to stand beside the disciples who are terrified by the storm…and more than a little scared of what they’ve just seen Jesus do. He saves the life of a woman who is about to be stoned for committing adultery, gives sight to a blind man, raises Lazarus from the dead. And even people who see these miracles with their own eyes walk away in disbelief. Not even his own brothers can believe him.
So are you kidding me, Jesus? I believe in you—and I believe the world could be a better place if all of us had your compassion, your wisdom, your love. I believe in the God who sent you.
But if I’m supposed to read the Bible literally, as so many of my fellow Christians do, then I can’t quite find it in me to believe that I could do a single one of the things you did in the books leading up to this moment when you tell me that I can do greater things than you did.
But if I’m to read the Bible literally, then I have to believe that I, too, could raise someone from the dead. And in the wake of losing one of my dearest friends on this earth, there’s nothing I’d like to believe more at this moment.
I don’t think even the most conservative Christians in the universe would say that they believe they can perform a single one of these acts that John describes to us and leaves us to untangle 2000 years later. In fact, if someone uttered such a belief, those same literal readers would probably label her a heretic.
So I will read these stories of God for the people of God as best I can in my limited human understanding. I will have faith that my dear friend is dancing with the Spirit of the universe and just beginning to understand what I cannot about the great I Am. I will do what I can to follow the example Christ set for me—to be compassionate, to seek wisdom, to love God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength.
And I will remember, as a woman of great faith once told me, that I have something to learn from everyone I meet in this life—from people who share my faith and people who do not. Because the one thing I believe most of all is that if people of every faith and no faith worked together to be a Presence in the world, then we truly could do greater things. We might all have life…and have it more abundantly.