Saturday, November 6, 2021

Jesus the Liar

Well, if that title doesn't catch your attention, I don't know what will. 

We all know that God is a God of truth, that God is Truth, that Jesus is the Word and that the Word is life. And therefore, we would think that in God, there would be no dishonesty. No lies. No games. Just truth. But then, there's this...

John tells a story in his gospel in which it appears that Jesus is lying. And it's a tension that John leaves us to wrestle with, never quite resolving (although theologians over the past 2,000 years have made many attempts). 

Jesus is hanging out with His brothers and the time for one of the feasts arrives, so everyone is going to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. His brothers, of course, want Jesus to go with them, but Jesus declines. He is not going, He says. His time has not yet come, so He can't go to Jerusalem. He's going to sit this feast out. 

But a breath later, after His brothers have gone, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. He goes into the heart of the celebration of the feast. He even goes into the Temple courtyards and into very public places. 

So how do we get from a Jesus who says, "I am not going up to Jerusalem" to a Jesus who actually then does go up to Jerusalem at exactly the same time He said He would not be going?

Christians have wrestled with this passage for generations. Many attempts have been made to make sense of what is happening here. Many have tried to explain it away using language or human nature or both or even something else entirely. We have tried to blame John for not quite capturing the conversation correctly, not quite getting it right. We have thought that maybe the Greek means something different than the way we've figured to translate it into English. We have said that maybe Jesus said that, but what He meant was...whatever. 

And that's the right approach...sort of. It follows the standard rule of biblical interpretation that ought to guide us, which is that any question that is raised about God cannot raise questions about the things about which we are certain. (That's a mouthful; sorry.) What I mean is that there are things that we know for certain about God. We are 100% sure of them. Like God is love. Like God created the heavens and the earth. Like God is gracious. And yes, God is truth. So then, anything that seems to come up against our faith cannot negate something that we are 100% sure of. 

Think of it like this: if we allow this story in John to let us question whether or not God is truth, then what we are saying is that we are now 100% certain that Jesus said these words, that they mean exactly what we think they mean, and that He acted directly opposite His words. If we shift our certainty to this, then we are now less than 100% certain that God is truth. And, well, you cannot build a faith on a few words that Jesus said in Jerusalem at one specific point in time, but you can absolutely build one on a character trait that has been demonstrated since the very beginning. 

It's the same thing that's happening all around us, right? We have persons who did amazing, wonderful, tremendous things for our society and then...they said a bad word on social media and now, they are forever a racist/bigot/homophobe/whatever. This is what we have to resist doing to Jesus when we read this passage. We have to put it in the context of who we know He is. 

That doesn't mean making excuses. And it doesn't mean ignoring it. And it doesn't mean it isn't hard. It is hard. It's incredibly hard to know what to do with this passage. 

What do you with a God who is truth who appears to be a liar?

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