Reflecting on John 12 44-50

The central question – an ongoing one – raised by John 12:44-50, the text we are studying for Sunday, July 17, is probably what we think it means to “believe in” Jesus. Or, to “have faith in” Jesus. Do we think there is some difference between “believing in” and “having faith in” Jesus? If so, what do we think that difference is?

Christians have been talking about our own tendency to make Christian faith all about dogmatics, and our assent to various doctrines, for a long time. That’s part of this question. Another part of the question seems to be whether, and why, the specific content of the doctrines we assent to matters, and for what, exactly – for salvation, for behavior, for having a good life, for God being best pleased with us, etc. At least all that seems to me to be wrapped up in this question.

Some notes on the text are here. Here are a few more questions we might want to think about or discuss as well, or instead:

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In v44 & 45, Jesus makes believing in him, and seeing him, a vehicle for believing in and seeing “the one who sent me.” Does it change how we understand what Jesus means here if we think of his statement as something said in a historical context?

That is, in Jesus’ own time, people presumably already almost universally “believed in” God in the sense of thinking “God exists,” and thought something specific about the God who exists. So, do we think Jesus was telling people of his own time something they didn’t already know about God, or was changing people’s minds about God somehow, or … what?

Does what we think about that, then, influence what we think he is saying to people of our own time?

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In v46, Jesus says that the purpose of coming into the world is so that people do not have to “remain in darkness.” Assuming we understand “light” and “darkness” here as metaphors, what are they metaphors for? That is – what does it mean, specifically and concretely, do we think, to have “light”? What does it mean to be living “in darkness”?

[In my experience, it is often hard for us to be “specific and concrete” about this kind of thing. I am thinking about something as specific and concrete as, for instance, “getting annoyed with that person blocking up the aisle at the grocery store is an example of being in darkness, because …”]

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What is the commandment the Father who sent Jesus has given him to say and speak (v49)? Do we think this is a commandment to Jesus, or a commandment Jesus is meant to give to others, or both?

How do we understand Jesus’ statement “his commandment is eternal life”? How does that relate to what we said earlier about the Father’s commandment to say and to speak?

[Possibly more theoretical …] There are at least a couple of ways to read “his commandment is eternal life,” maybe more. We might think it means “doing what God commands brings eternal life.” We might think it means “doing what God commands is the equivalent of having eternal life; is, in and of itself, the experience of the eternal kind of life.” How do we, ourselves, read this? And, why?

[N.B., 07-15-22 15:11: That last question is the re-worded version. After I just re-read what I posted this morning, which was so unclear, even to me, that I felt obligated to do something about it. Dear readers, my deepest apologies! Along with hopes that I actually made what I was thinking clearer this time around.]

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Here is a question that strikes me as odd, and one I don’t know the answer to: Does Jesus have a “personality” in this gospel of John, and would we say it’s different from Jesus’ “personality” in the other gospels? Particularly, Jesus’ personality in Matthew or Luke?

I ask this question because this thought has suddenly struck me: I wonder whether we [Christians, Bible readers and church-goers] often take Jesus’ words in John, especially this word about believing in him and seeing him equaling believing in and seeing “the one who sent me,” which we understand to be God, and thinking of that as a word about believing in and seeing the Jesus whose personality we have in our minds from Matthew and Luke.

I’m not even saying it would be “wrong” of us to do that, exactly – all the gospels are canonical, and presumably we are meant to gain our understanding of Jesus from all the gospels “taken together.” But it suddenly occurred to me that we might well think something really different if we stuck to “the Jesus of John” when we believe in and see God in the person of Jesus. That difference, and the difference it probably makes for us, seems worth thinking about.

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two young women conversing over a picket fence

Image: “Conversation,” Camille Pissaro, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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