I have been reading your gospel lately. It has always been one of my favorites. It paints a very beautiful picture of who Jesus is. I like it when you talk about him using imagery such as light, resurrection, the true shepherd, etc. I am also moved by the way Jesus “sees” the blind man and the way he then “sees” Jesus in Chapter 9, while the arrogant leaders can see nothing.
I’ve read your gospel many times – on and off for all of my life, really. Up until now, I’ve always thought it was pretty simple and straightforward: a very easy thing to read. But this time around, I suddenly find myself bewildered.
I have a question for you. I’d like to ask you myself, but seeing as how you lived in a different millennium from me and all, and seeing as God hasn’t yet yet raised you first-century guys to live in his new creation, I figure my chances of getting an answer right now are pretty slim – so I hope you won’t mind me putting this letter on my blog in hopes that somebody who reads it might be willing to help.
Here is my problem: you keep talking about how people who “believe” in Jesus will have “eternal life.”But you never really tell me what that means in practical terms. Does it simply mean saying that I believe that Jesus was sent from God? Or when I say it, do I have to mentally acknowledge that he was sent from God as well? Is that all there is to it?
We now have a “cannon” of writings from your day, similar to the Torah, that we call the New Testament. Over time, your book made the “cut” into that cannon, along with some other books that were written in your day.
The other writers in the New Testament do talk about believing in Jesus, but they also talk about the implications of belief. Other gospel writers, for example, invite me to enter into the kingdom of God, and to be a disciple of Jesus. They tell me about what Jesus taught – about his sayings and parables. Paul, whose letters to several churches are in the New Testament, often emphasizes “faith” in Jesus, but he also talks about the practical implications of that faith in terms of the way we treat others, live holy lives, etc.
All of those things are – for the most part – absent in your gospel. No teachings from Jesus about God’s kingdom or about how to treat my neighbors. Few references to God’s kingdom. Few discussions of what it means to be a disciple. The point I keep getting is to “believe in Jesus and you will have eternal life.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to do that. I want to do that. And I do acknowledge that Jesus was sent from God. Its just that I am suddenly overcome by this suspicion that when you say “believe”, you mean a whole lot more than thinking about Jesus in a particular, abstract kind-of way. And I wish you could explain to me what “belief” means. What am I missing?