John in July: The Way and the Truth of the Accuser and the Advocate (Jn 14)

Screenshot 2014-07-24 19.09.11

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

I often like to claim a triple religious identity by calling myself an “episcobujew” (an Episcopalian Buddhist Jew). I honestly find wisdom, truth and helpful ways of living in Buddhism and Judaism. So how do I make sense of this line from Jesus in John? This line that has been used to exclude and condemn non-Christians and clobber them into conversion?

I recently read a little book by Yale professor of Old Testament John J. Collins called Does the Bible Justify Violence? He concludes by suggesting we “admit that the Bible, for all the wisdom it contains, is no infallible guide on ethical matters….But historically people have appealed to the Bible precisely because of its presumed divine authority, which gives an aura of certitude to any position it can be shown to support…And here, I would suggest, is the most basic connection between the Bible and violence, more basic than any command it teaches… The Bible has contributed to violence in the world precisely because it has been taken to confer a degree of certitude that transcends human discussion and argumentation. Perhaps the most constructive thing a biblical critic can do toward lessening the contribution of the Bible to violence is to show that such certitude is an illusion” (32-33).

Although Collins does not comment on this verse specifically, his insightful conclusion should apply to any interpretation of John 14:6.

Spong was asked about this verse a couple times in the course he taught on the Fourth Gospel. He answered by first reminding us that the historical Jesus never actually said this so we should be thinking not so much about what Jesus meant but about what the author intended. He thinks the author of the Gospel is saying that Jesus embodies the only way to God: that is, the way of self-giving love. I agree with Spong’s answer to some extent.

Sandra Schneiders added a helpful nuance in her interpretation. She said that if we want to experience God as a loving Father the way Jesus experienced God as a loving Father then we can only do that through him. So Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others may still access and experience God and they may even experience God as a Father, but if you want to be in the Abba Father and the Abba Father to be in you, working and healing through you, then you do that through Jesus, through believing and following Jesus.

“He will give you another Paraclete” 14:16

In the last chapter, we were introduced to the Beloved Disciple. In this chapter, we are introduced to the Paraclete (14:16, 26). Some translate Paraclete as “Comforter” or “Counselor” or “Helper,” but I think the best translation is “Advocate” or “Defender.” The Paraclete is the “Daniel” I mentioned in my post on Chapter 8, the one who stands up for the innocent victim. While the Satan accuses, the Paraclete defends.

Jesus plays the role of the Daniel-Paraclete at the beginning of chapter 8 in defending the woman caught in adultery and then later in chapter 8 in defending himself from the satanic allegations of his accusers. Jesus knows the disciples will need someone to defend them because, as his followers, they will be vulnerable to all kinds of false and satanic accusations. He will ask the Father and the Father will give them the same Redeemer that Job spoke about when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25), as Job found himself caught between god the Accuser and God the Advocate. He argued his case against god the Accuser and felt encouraged by his belief in God the Advocate. Martin Buber understood this when he read Job’s complaint as his prayerful struggle to “see God as His witness against God Himself.”[1] This might sound dangerously close to Marcionism in which the God of the Old Testament is the tyrannical demiurge from whom the God of the New Testament came to save us. But it is much more complex than that. I am not saying that the God of the Old Testament is an evil tyrant. I am admitting that the Bible, which is “no infallible guide on ethical matters,” sometimes records the human tendency to project violence onto God. Sometimes the Bible may deify satanic accusation and Christ serves as our hermeneutical lens for understanding when Scripture is talking about god the Accuser and when Scripture is talking about God the Advocate. In other words, Christ is the way to the Father and no one comes to God the Advocate except through him. Christ shows the truth between god the Accuser and God the Advocate because Christ, as the deified Advocate and innocent victim, is and embodies the truth. And the Paraclete will embody this truth among his followers: “This is the Spirit of truth”(14:17). You will recognize him because he will be doing the same thing I’ve been doing among you and he will now be empowering you to do the same: “You will know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (14:17).

“The Paraclete will teach you everything” 14:26

The Father gives us the Paraclete as the hermeneutical lens par excellence. The Paraclete helps us see and discern the subtle ways of the Accuser in Scripture, in history, in the world and in our lives. Jesus realized that his disciples probably would not understand exactly what he was talking about at the time but he knew that gradually the Paraclete would teach them everything and remind them of Jesus’ words, which would make more sense over time.

I think we are still making sense of his words two thousand years later. However, I also think the Paraclete has been gradually successful in making us more aware of and concerned for the plight of innocent victims. Prior to the Cross and the subsequent Paraclete, we had relatively little concern for victims. This concern was mostly limited to Hebrew prophets and Greek tragedies. After the Cross, we cannot help but associate all victims to some extent with Christ, which makes us less eager to victimize others. This is a sign that the Paraclete has been teaching us something.

Unfortunately, the Accuser, who exists to twist the teachings of the Paraclete, has found ways to use this concern for victims to perpetuate more violence. The Accuser empowers victims or heirs of victims to justify violence against oppressors or heirs of oppressors in the name of victimhood. In this chapter, Jesus calls the Accuser “the ruler of the world” and he says he is coming (14:30). Although the ruler of the world has no power over Jesus, he will submit to the violent mechanism of the Accuser in order to reveal the Father as the God of victims. His death will be the way to discern the truth in distinguishing between the “ruler of the world” who is god the Accuser and God the Advocate who is the Father, in whom we have life.

[1] “Job struggles [to] “see” God (19:26) as His “witness” (16:19) against God Himself, [to] see Him as the avenger of his blood (19:25), which must not be covered by the earth until it is avenged (16:18) by God on God. The absurd duality of a truth known to man and a reality sent by God must be swallowed up somewhere, sometime, in a unity of God’s presence.” Martin Buber, On the Bible: Eighteen Studies (New York: Schocken Books, 1982), 193.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s