“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
These words from John’s gospel are often used to “prove” that people who don’t believe in Jesus will not get into heaven. Which is why I prefer to avoid this particular passage whenever possible. Yet when I read this passage as it stands, apart from the judgmental, dogmatic interpretation it’s been given, I realize these really are beautiful words—as so many of John’s words are: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Isn’t that what we are all searching for? God’s way. The truth. Real life.
I would argue that prooftexting this verse to insist on a simple and dogmatic understanding of how to get to heaven misses the point entirely. In fact, the common evangelical use of this verse appears to be the opposite of what Jesus says to his disciples.
Thomas (bless his heart) wants a clear plan from Jesus, a map to heaven with the route clearly marked: “How can we know the way?” Jesus could have offered a simple 3-step plan of salvation and prayed the sinners’ prayer with him. He could have recited a creed for the disciples to believe and repeat. He could have even offered a concrete—if difficult—task like he did with the rich young ruler: “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor” (Matthew 19:21).
But instead, when Thomas asks for a roadmap, Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Note that Jesus does not say “confessing I am the Son of God is the way,” or “accepting me into your heart as your personal Lord and savior is the way,” or “believing in my virgin birth and (yet to come) bodily resurrection is the way,” or even “following me is the way.”
“How can we know the way?” asks Thomas. “I am the way,” says Jesus.
What does that even mean? For a person—for Jesus—to be the way?
I don’t know, exactly.
But, in part, I think it means that this journey of faith is more about relationships than rules.
I think it means that Jesus will not sign off on the requirements we try to put in place for others to access God.
I think it means that we, eventually, find our place in the Divine Parent’s house not by believing the “right” things and following the “right” path, but by living our lives in the so-often-awkward-and-annoying presence of Jesus–this Jesus who refuses to give a straight answer or show us a clear route; this Jesus who offers comfort for our hearts, truth for our souls, and abundant life now and always.