Glen Scrivener’s recent book, The Air We Breathe (2022) compellingly explores the way that Christianity has shaped the moral values of the West. It is a book for those who believe and those who don’t know what to believe. It especially awakens those of us who believe, to why we need God’s strength to honor him in our lives as well as promote him afresh. Yet how often are we silenced through our fears, forgetting what the Bible reveals about Jesus Christ.
For example, at the opening of John chapter 14 a dark cloud was hanging over Jesus’ disciples. For three years they had been with him and were increasingly confident he was God’s promised king. But at the Passover meal he had told them he was going away. ‘Don’t be troubled,’ he said. ‘Believe in God, believe also in me… I go to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:1, 2b).
Frustration and Doubts. Thomas’s response to Jesus’ words expresses a frustration we can all feel: ‘Lord, we do not know where you’re going…’ For him, knowledge is based on concrete realities not abstract metaphors. ‘Where is this Father’s house you’re talking about Jesus? How can we know the way?’ Thomas was frustrated and doubted.
Jesus’ reply is breath-taking, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). Significantly, he didn’t say, ‘I’ll show you the way’ but rather, ‘I am the way’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll tell you the truth’ but, ‘I am the truth’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll give you eternal life’ but, ‘I am the life’.
He is saying that at the heart of the universe is not a mathematical or scientific equation, but a person. This news is ‘the air we have come to breathe’.
Now many dismiss the existence of God and a supernatural realm – especially the idea that the supernatural can enter the material world. Maybe Thomas thought this too. Perhaps this is why later on, he couldn’t accept that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:25).
Let’s think about this. You may attend church but never admit your doubts, silently going along with the church crowd. It would have been easy for Thomas to have pretended to believe what Jesus was saying. At least he was prepared to admit his doubts. And, helpfully for us, Jesus doesn’t cut him down. When, a week after his resurrection Jesus saw Thomas he said, ‘Put your finger here Thomas. Don’t be faithless but believing’.
In the midst of cynical voices today, it’s also encouraging to know that there are eminent mathematicians who testify to the trustworthiness of the Bible’s record and the existence of the supernatural. For example, Dr. John Lennox, professor emeritus of mathematics at Oxford University, has said, ‘The rational intelligibility of the universe,… points to the existence of the Mind that was responsible both for the universe and our minds. It is for this reason that we are able to do science and to discover the beautiful mathematical structures that underlie the phenomena we can observe’ (cited in Barnett, Gospel Truth, p.21).
Jesus is saying that the only way we’re to make sense of our existence is by recognising that he is the complex person who is the Mind behind the universe. People who can hardly recall their two times tables can be closer to the truth than many high-level scientists or mathematicians – because they have a relationship with him.
Questions. Phillip, another of Jesus’s disciples, had a follow up question: ‘Lord show us the Father. That’s all we need’ (John 14:9).
Philip wanted some tangible experience of God that would assure him of Jesus’ words. He may have wanted a special appearance of God such as Moses experienced at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6). Or maybe he was influenced by the Greek mystery religions and had in mind some kind of inner ecstasy, a spiritual trip that would lift him to new levels of consciousness. Either way he wanted to see God.
Jesus’ response is astonishing: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
We would not have been surprised if Jesus had replied, ‘Don’t be silly Philip. You’re asking the impossible’. Rather he says, ‘Don’t you know me Philip, even after I’ve been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’.
Many who read history still regard Jesus as one of the world’s great teachers. But this doesn’t come near to what he is saying: he isn’t just an emissary from God, but God himself.
Consider how Jesus continues: ‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves’ (John 14:11).
Think about it, Jesus is saying: ‘You’ve seen me turn water into first-class wine; you’ve heard that I cured a young boy at a distance; you’ve seen me heal a man paralysed for 38 years, provide food for thousands at a word, restore sight to a man blind from birth, as well as bring a man dead for four days out of a tomb. Doesn’t that tell you something about me?’
It would have made sense, explaining many extraordinary events over the last three years – how Jesus could out-teach the academics of his day: he knew what he spoke about because he is from God; how Jesus could raise people from the dead, because he is the source of life.
The cumulative impact of Jesus’ life – the signs he performed and his revelatory teaching – exemplifies the truth of the opening lines of John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men and women … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, … (John 1:1-4, 14).
Blaise Pascal, the 17th C French mathematician, philosopher and physicist, wrote in his Pensées‘: ‘People despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is just to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men and women wish it were true, and then show them that it is’.
To rephrase Glenn Scrivener’s words, ‘Is this the air you breathe’?
A prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.