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John 8:21-59

Some more memorable moments from John:

8:32 | ‘And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’  This is the verse that has best helped me to square the determinism/free will circle.  It’s another of those Chestertonian dualities, where two complete parts make one richer whole. 

I know the truth.  This is an act of will on my part, to know something or not know it.  Theologian Karl Barth notes that the Biblical meaning of knowledge (aside from risque euphemisms) is more than just the acquisition of neutral information.  Biblically, to know the truth, means to become intimately acquainted with the broadest range of absolute truth (beyond even what can be articulated by the knower) in a manner that redefines the knower’s consciousness, even his self-perception.  In other words, (if we take the logical link that Jesus is the Word and the Word is the truth), to know Jesus is to become so familiar with Him as to let Him redefine us.  This is an expression of will, even if it’s passive; even though I don’t effect the change in me, I make the decision to know Christ and submit to the redefinition.

The truth sets me free.  I do not set myself free.  Knowing Jesus is not a ‘thing’ I ‘do’ in the sense of using that knowledge as a tool to reshape my own life.  The power is in the truth, not in me. 

I don’t want to oversimplify the truth = Word = Jesus link, though.  If Jesus had just meant ‘truth’ to be a synonym for ‘Jesus,’ He could have just said, ‘And you will know Me, and I will set you free.’  That element is in there, but the idea of knowledge and truth still carries a lot of the weight of this sentence to me.  Fundamental to the Christian worldview is that creation has an order, and that order is an absolute, consistent set of principles, defined by God (either by His will, ‘It shall be thus,’ or by His nature, in that all things inherently reflect their Maker).  That identity of God, those principles, the order of creation, are the truth that sets us free.  There are a million more things I want to say about this, many that can hopefully add balance to or correct some of the things I’m sure I’ve said sloppily thus far, but I’ll leave it for now.

8:34 | This verse explains what the truth is setting us free from.  I have no translation or expert support on this (so please correct me if you know I’m wrong), but I see ‘committing sin’ to include existing in a sinful state, inherited through our human nature.  So, by being human, we’re slaves to sin in that we do not have the power to eradicate or completely repress that sinful nature.  We cannot keep from making bad choices and choosing the lesser over the greater.  That is slavery.  Knowledge of the truth in Christ sets us free from that.  It allows us to understand where that inability comes from and to substitute Christ’s strength for ours on earth and His righteousness for ours after death.  He breaks the hold that sin has over our lives, and we no longer ‘have’ to continue in self-destructive tendencies that dishonor God.

8:58 | Jesus makes another radical claim similar to the one at the Feast of Booths.  When Jesus says, ‘Before Abraham was, I Am,’ He is making an express claim to be God.  ‘I Am,’ is the name of God given to Moses and by which He was known to the Jewish people.  The present tense (particularly in contrast to Jesus’ use of past tense for Abraham) indicates His timelessness.  Jesus is identifying Himself with the God that created the world, the God that called Abraham to the promised land, the God that called the people out of slavery in Egypt.  Jesus declares that He is the main character of the entirety of scripture.  Trust me, the people didn’t pick up stones to throw at Him because his tense use was a crime against grammar; they felt obligated to respond to the bald-faced blasphemy they understood Him to be spewing.  (Of course, we don’t believe it to be blasphemy because it’s true.)

OK, wow, so that was a heavy post.  I told you, this is what John does.  He gets you going on these flights of philosophical and theological fancy, interesting only to nerds and stoners (and for very different reasons, I’d suppose).  I’ll lighten the mood with a joke:

A man who has been stranded alone on a desert island for dozens of years is finally rescued by a passing ship.  When the people come to pick him up in the rubber skiff, they see him sitting on the beach in front of three huts.

Amazed at how this man had survived alone for so long while still retaining his wits, they asked him, ‘What are the functions of your huts?’

Well, the one in the center is my house, and the one on the right is my church,’ he replied.

Sensing that this was a man of faith who possessed much wisdom, they asked, ‘What’s the hut on the left?’

He hissed, spat, and said derisively, ‘That’s the church I used to go to!’

  1. Have you ever read The Openness of God? I would encourage you to do so with an open mind and heart!

  2. And have you ever looked into the Classical Arminian view of Prevenient Grace and the Universal Call (Gen 3:9) that God spoke to Adam (and all humanity) right after the Universal Fall? I lean towards the view that God “desires that none should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth” (Universal Salvific Grace – God has provided the grace for all to be saved, but we can thwart his desires).

    • I haven’t had any formal training on Arminian theology, but I’m really uncomfortable with the idea, in your last sentence, that we can thwart God’s desires. Well, maybe that’s not true. If you distinguish between His desire and His will (whatever hairs we’d need to split to make that distinction), I suppose I can see what you mean. I mean, how else can you grieve God if not by doing other than what He would want you to do? This is why I find the whole circle hard to square. We clearly can grieve God, but I don’t believe God’s sovereignty is limited. As you can tell, this is an area I can go around and round on seemingly infinitely.

      • What if God has sovereignly chosen to limit himself to truly given us freedom (i.e. not determining or completely foreknowing the future) in order to have real reciprocal relationship with us? God is still ultimately God, He is still eternally sovereign regardless of what kind of world He creates, and to whatever degree the future is open/unsettled.

        I believe that the opposite perspective of theologians like Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin (i.e. that God is in control of everything and predestines all) leaves you with a God that could chose to save all but doesn’t, that predetermines all the evil in the world (Luther mentioned about a “dark” side to God – contradicting 1 John 1:5), and it all being for His glory. Personally, the more I read about “Classical Theism”/Reformed or Calvinistic Theology the more I’m sure that it is not only essentially a Christianized Platonic Theology, but anti-Biblical at it’s core. The Scripture reveals a deeply relational and affected God in YHWH and in Christ. The meta-narrative of Scripture from Gen 1 (Adam and Eve) to the Prophets (YHWH and Israel) to Rev 22 (Christ and the Body), marriage, family, and relationship is at the core of Godhead’s self-revelation. Even the titles of Father, Son, and (mothering?) Spirit, are relational in nature. The Trinity is Love, is relationship. The heart of the Law, Prophets, and NT is “love God”, “love one another”, and “invite others into that love”.

        And to touch on your comment that you’re “… really uncomfortable with the idea, in your last sentence, that we can thwart God’s desires.”

        Have you seriously considered the logical conclusion of the other option (Classical Theology)?! If God’s will is never “thwarted” in our reality, then that means ALL evil (i.e. the fall of man, the fall of Satan, the Holocaust, torture, murder, rape, pedophilia, etc.) is ultimately a manifestation of God’s “unthwarted” will… In my books, that means that evil isn’t the result of spirit beings (seen and unseen) rebelling against God’s will, but His will being fulfilled! That means that when we speak of evil, Satan, the most vile, disturbing acts done – we’re speaking really of God and His unthwarted Will. God wanted those things to occur, and then He wanted the individuals that He predetermined to do those things to be tortured forever for crimes He forced upon them…

        I’m “really uncomfortable with the idea”!!! That God is sadistic… And not worthy of worship or “glory” as the Classical/Calvinistic teachers always like to say.

      • I definitely agree with you. My own personal journey is one of rigidly deterministic Calvinism until a period of stark disillusionment and painful questioning led me to reconsider and ultimately reject strict predestination. I realized I had come to a place where I was ignoring or minimizing the reality that you mention: God is a God of love.

        Talking about ‘levels’ of God’s will is so murky, but I think it’s potentially useful. Unless we’re willing to separate His will into proximate and ultimate, how else do we account for acts of evil? My pastor uses an illustration of water flowing down a hillside. The path of water is God’s will. If I put a large stone in the way of the stream, I have ‘thwarted’ God’s proximate will insofar as the water will not flow directly over the place where the stone now is. However, I haven’t thwarted His ultimate will (gravity in this illustration) because the water will still flow downhill and will route itself around the rock and continue on. It’s not as if I made the water flow uphill or up into the air.

        Take another illustration. Is it God’s will for me to rob banks? Most likely not. If I do it, does that mean that we live in a world where God is in Heaven saying, ‘Drat! That Nate and his bank robbing ways are confounding what I’m trying to do on earth. If only there were some way I could intervene!”? I think not. So, using the Chestertonian duality, how can it be both? God’s will is sovereign, but it also is good and loving. I try to touch on this in my post on John 9-10, where I don’t provide an answer, but it’s another example of the many angles from which we can look at this topic.

        Using this illustration as a reference, I probably now find myself believing some blend of Roman Catholic, Arminian, and Calvinist positions on grace. Like the Catholics, I believe that we are dying (not dead) and that we are asked to exert our will not only in being saved but in good works as evidence of our salvation. Like the Arminians, I believe that even if we are not able to exert our will in good works, the grace we receive through faith is sufficient for us. Like the Calvinists, I believe that once we submit, we will not lose our salvation. Examples of people ‘falling away’ are either superficial (they are still connected to God at a subconscious level) or are indications that the submission was superficial (they never believed in the first place).

        When I explore these issues here I admittedly come at them from a more Calvinist perspective, but I reject the ultimate conclusions of that perspective. This is why I talk about squaring the circle. I think this is something that is probably simultaneously too simple and too complex for us to really grasp this side of Heaven. But I think it’s a useful faith exercise to explore the relevant verses and test our assumptions and understandings nonetheless. Thanks so much for your feedback and input.

  3. Oh and checkout these videos and let me know what you think! There’s 13 parts.

    Greg Boyd – A Flexible Sovereignty

    • Wow, thanks. As my friends can attest, though, I’m awful at finding the time to watch videos (mainly a function of when/where I am online). I will try to watch, but if you summarize it for me, I can more definitely and quickly tell you what I think. Thanks.

      • Try watching some of them. Boyd gives one of the best presentations of the perspective of an open future (and God’s open relationship with us).

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