How to Find God

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 14: 4-7

“‘And you know the way where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.'”

John 14:4-6 rsv

To some, my theme today, “How to Find God,” could seem strange. They don’t see any problem here, don’t feel the need of any counsel. Their view is that you find God wherever you want to, whenever you want to seek Him. You call Him anything you like. In the Bible, on the other hand, the message is quite different. It is “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.”

For the first viewpoint, God is really our creation, isn’t He? A figment of our imagination, a projection of our wishes. For the other, God simply is. He’s there. We meet Him only as He chooses to meet us, know Him only as He is pleased to reveal Himself.

It’s for people who believe the latter, or at least suspect it, that I have a special word today. If all religions are alike to you, if God is simply a word into which each of us pours his or her own content, this message may seem needless, even irrelevant. But if you sense that there must be a Creator of this vast universe, a true and living God somewhere, and would like to know how to get in touch with that God, this word is especially for you. Listen to these sayings of Jesus from the Gospel according to John, chapter 14, beginning at verse 4:

“`And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, `Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, `I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.'”

LIFE’S GOAL

For Jesus, the goal of human life is to find God, to come to the Father. All of us wonder at times what we human beings are really headed for. How are we to understand the meaning of human life?

Some answer that question in terms of what we experience in the here-and-now. Life to them consists of the sheer fact of existence, of awareness. Life is simply what happens to us as we pass our days on earth, nothing less, nothing more. On that view, the person with the widest variety of experiences, who most keeps in touch with things by press, radio or T.V., is living the most meaningful life. The aim is to live as fully as possible now, grab all the gusto you can, sample everything while there is time.

Others see our true fulfillment as found in the dream of “success.” Regular increases in what we call our standard of living represent progress toward the goal. The swelling of our Gross National Product is a sure sign that we are on the right track. But if an endless succession of experiences fails to make life meaningful for some, the gathering of goods and honors seems to do no better. There is a remarkable passage in Leo Tolstoy’s Confessions, in which he describes how as a man in his forties, successful, wealthy, happily married with a large family and all the rest, found himself hiding the rope which hung in his study for fear that he might take it one day and hang himself.

Still others scorn fulfillment and success as selfish, shallow pursuits. They see the goal of life as that of creating a perfect society. Some believe that the goal is almost within the reach of our technology. By astute behavior modification, genetic engineering, and organ transplants, we can perfect human life on this planet, perhaps eventually eliminate death itself. We’re told this is a cause to which we might devote ourselves. Or perhaps to a new social movement or political cause sweeping the earth. Few of us would be prepared to argue that we personally are perfectible. And yet we all tend to imagine at times that human society can somehow be made into a paradise. We forget what happens even to the best of causes and the noblest of people when they eventually come to power.

Jesus Christ was supremely a lover of life and of people. He never despised wealth. He longed to see the world a better place. But for Him, the deepest meaning of our existence was to be found in knowing God. For Him, the true direction of life is always God-ward. Everything depends on our relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth. Jesus said of Himself in the passage we read that He was “going to” the Father and that the destiny of His followers was to be with the Father also.

To Jesus then, the meaning and goal of life cannot be found within ourselves. When we search for it there, we usually wind up either living on a merely animal level or else vainly imagining that we are some kind of “gods.” We can rightly know ourselves and what we are meant for only when we know the One who made us. The truth is that we were created for Him and for each other. Fellowship with Him as His people is our high destiny. No perspective on life which leaves God out, then, can finally satisfy the human spirit. There’s a “God-shaped” blank in us, as someone has said, which only our Maker and Lord can possibly fill. The famous word of the church-father Augustine still stands. It’s freshly verified every day. “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

What about you? What would you say that your goal in life has been – to get an education, get a job, get married, raise a family? All that is good. Develop your abilities perhaps, do something creative, make a contribution to society? Worthy aims, all of those. But think beyond them for a moment. Is there any larger purpose that binds all of that together? Has it occurred to you that you are here to know God, to worship Him, to serve and enjoy Him forever? Jesus said that’s what life is about. Without that we have missed the way, whatever we do or achieve.

JESUS THE WAY

Well, if that is the goal – to find God, to know Him, to belong to Him – how do we get there? That was the disciple Thomas’s problem in this passage. He was confused, almost exasperated, when Jesus began to speak about leaving. He broke in, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus’ answer was short and to the point: “I am the way.”

It’s hard to take in the magnitude of that simple confession. Jesus has been telling His disciples that human life finds its deepest meaning in relationship with our Creator. Our intended destiny is to be loved by God and to love in response, to obey Him in trusting commitment and to live with all His children, in what someone has called “God’s forever family.” Now Jesus calmly teaches that He Himself is the road to that goal.

When Jesus goes on to say, “I am the truth,” He is opening more fully how He is the Way. To dwell forever with the Father means knowing Him, and Jesus Christ is the full revelation of the Father. In Him the truth of God becomes visible. In Him the living Lord makes Himself personally known. God can be known by anyone only as He pleases to draw back the veil and reveal Himself. Our senses cannot perceive Him, our minds cannot reach up to grasp Him. We can never know what God is really like until He opens His heart to us, until He lets us know the truth. Christ is the way because in Him we come to know the Father. He said that, didn’t He? “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” In the life and ministry of Jesus, and supremely in His death and Easter victory, God shows us who He is and how He feels toward us. That’s why He, Jesus, is the way.

Think of His other great word, “I am the life.” Again this gives light on how Jesus is the way to God, to fellowship with Him, and likeness to Him. If we are to enter God’s kingdom, says Jesus, we must be born again, born from above. Flesh and blood, human nature as it is, cannot inherit the heavenly kingdom. In our wandering from God, our ingratitude, our rebellion, we have lost our true life. Physically alive and mentally alert, we yet remain spiritually dead. We need a new birth, a new beginning. We need new life, God’s own life, a life that even death cannot kill. And Christ claims that that life is in Him. He has come so that people like us may have it. In Him we find not only the knowledge of the true God, but also the power to be transformed into His likeness, to share His life. In Christ we learn that God is a gracious Father to us and in Him we receive the power to become His children. He both reveals God to us and makes us fit to live in His presence. That’s why He, Jesus, is the Way.

And think of it, friends, these words were spoken shortly before Jesus gave Himself up to be crucified. What an affirmation of faith on His part! He said He was the Way, but when He died it seemed that there was no way at all. He claimed to be the truth, but it seemed that lies had conquered and destroyed Him. And how could He be the life, if death had finished Him after all?

But strangely, wonderfully, it was by that very cross that Jesus became the way, the door into the Father’s house, the one mediator between God and men. There on Golgotha the truth of God came fully to light: His holy wrath against sin and His sin-bearing love for us. And by descending into death, taking its worst on our behalf, and rising again, Jesus became the Prince of Life. Now He ever lives to be the Way, the living Way to God!

JESUS ONLY

But there is a further claim here that goes to the heart of Christian faith. Jesus not only says, “I am the way,” but He makes it very clear that He is the one way. “No one comes to the Father,” Jesus says, “except by me.” Here is where many people today are inclined to take issue with Jesus. They may think highly of Him, respect His character, cherish His teachings, and yet reject His exclusive claim. The religions of the East, for example, are broad and inclusive in many ways. They have a place for Jesus. They assign Him a high rank, together with other great teachers, other agents of revelation, other manifestations of the divine. But they do not yield to Him a solitary throne.

Is it sheer stubbornness when Christians confess this “one way”? Certainly all of us are vulnerable to the pride of opinion which insists on our being right. But there’s more involved here than that. Christians hold that Jesus is the one road to the Father’s house precisely because of His claim. We make the confession, in other words, out of simple loyalty.

Christians see in all the great religions of the world much of keen insight and noble striving, much earnest searching for the truth. But we confess that in Jesus, God has done something unique and wonderful. He has come to this earth in the person of His own Son to bring us into a new and right relationship with Him. Jesus is God’s voice calling to us, God’s heart yearning over us, God’s hand reaching down toward us. To ignore that loving, divine, once-for-all approach, to refuse that way and insist on finding one of our own, is to miss life’s meaning and to give up hope of reaching its goal. Perhaps we would like to believe that all the roads on which people walk eventually lead to God, but Jesus, the Lord of love, warns us that it is not so.

Suppose, for a moment, that you are lost in the heart of a jungle. Near at hand are tigers on the prowl, poisonous snakes, unknown perils. You don’t know which way to turn. Without help you are sure to perish. Suddenly a man appears, promising to be your guide. He says to you, “Follow me. Stay right behind me. Walk where I walk. Do exactly as I tell you, and I will lead you to safety and home.”

Everything depends for you on whether or not that person is trustworthy. He could be leading you to death or to the hands of enemies. If you believe that, you will probably ignore him and stay where you are. But suppose he is telling the truth, suppose you are inclined to believe him. Then you will concentrate all your energies on staying with him.

Not all the guides that offer us a way to heaven and home are trustworthy. Not everyone who professes to show us how to find God can be depended upon. But consider Jesus: One who loved you enough to die on your behalf. He’s not likely to lead you astray. Isn’t He worth trusting? And it’s Jesus, the faithful witness, not some headstrong follower of His, who has said, “I am the way. No one comes to the Father except through me.”