I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.—John 14:6, NIV
Much has been written, and there has been much contention throughout history, about this scripture and others like it that seem to justify the exclusive truth claims and saving power of Christianity. Other religions have made similar claims for their own paths, but for this post I’ll focus on Christianity. I believe these claims rely on an interpretation of scripture that is partially correct, but unfortunately misses a greater and far more glorious meaning.
The thought usually goes like this: the personhood, divinity, teachings, and ultimately the sacrifice of Jesus was and is the one and only way for us to return to God’s presence, so all other religions and spiritual traditions that don’t follow Jesus must not be correct in some major way(s); they are all in serious error, and Christianity is the one and only true path in life and to salvation in God. Jesus seems to have said it himself: there is “no other way” except “me.”
For Mormons this idea is found in scriptures like this in the Book of Mormon:
…there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ.—Alma 38:9 (cf. Helaman 5:9; 2 Nephi 9:41; Mosiah 3:17; Alma 21:9)
On the surface, these scriptures seem to directly and explicitly state that Jesus is the one and only way to salvation, the only return path to God. If we stop there, and go no deeper, then the claims seem to be justified. It seems to be talking about Jesus, and Jesus alone. And if we believe Jesus spoke the truth, then he is it, and there is no other.
I think the way we have usually interpreted these types of scriptures unfortunately misses the greater meaning of what Jesus was teaching, or trying to teach. It doesn’t reach this deeper meaning, and so we stumble and greatly misunderstand, which causes us to isolate Jesus, to idealize and idolize and worship Jesus, and only Jesus. I don’t think this is what Jesus wanted. I don’t think this is what Jesus was teaching. I perceive his message goes much much deeper than this, and is far more marvelous and universal than we typically believe.
Who or what is “Christ”?
Is Christ only the historical person of Jesus? This one Jewish man who lived two thousand years ago in the Middle East? Or is Christ greater than any single person?
It seems to me that Christ is far far greater than a single person could ever be, and I think we can find many echoes of this throughout the scriptures. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.—Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
On the surface, this doesn’t seem to make any sense. When was Paul crucified with Christ? He wasn’t even converted until after Jesus’ crucifixion. And how could he have been “crucified” and no longer living when he was at that moment writing a letter to the communities in Galatia, as a living mortal man? And how could Christ live in him? According to the traditional interpretations, Jesus died and was resurrected in the flesh, with his physical body, and so how could he now inhabit Paul? How could Christ live in Paul? These and many other questions about this scripture and others like it have caused significant confusion over the centuries.
Here is another more lengthy example from LDS scripture, a revelation from the prophet Joseph Smith:
Which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son—
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;
Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;
As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;
And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.
And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;—Doctrine & Covenants 88:5-11
How can Christ be in all things and through all things if he is localized in a single resurrected human body somewhere out there in the cosmos? How can he be the light and power of the sun, moon, and stars if he is currently setting foot on a distant planet? How can he be the light which shines from the celestial bodies? How can he enlighten our eyes and understandings if his heart is beating and his lungs are breathing somewhere far away?
The traditional interpretation of these scriptures usually involves some kind of stretching from a localized embodied Jesus, involving the influence or outreach of the Holy Ghost or Spirit from the limited space occupied by Jesus’ person outwards to envelop the universe, or the power of the priesthood like a radio signal through space from Jesus’s body to us and all things. In other words, Jesus himself is found in a single body somewhere in the universe, but his power and influence extend outward from that human/divine body to fill all space throughout the universe.
But I think there is a much better interpretation, which I think finds harmony with nature and science, which does not require Christianity to hold exclusive (and often divisive) truth claims of salvation through the single historical person of Jesus, it finds universal agreement among nearly all spiritual traditions throughout the world and throughout history (particularly their mystical schools, although they use many different terms to describe these things), and which makes the scriptures suddenly come alive with deeper meaning.
The person of Jesus, alone, is not “the way.” And “Christ” is not Jesus, alone.
The Great I AM
The “I AM” is “the way,” “the truth,” and “the life,” and this exists in all of us.
I believe this “I AM” is what Jesus discovered (as well as many others), and tried to help others to also find, but his message was quickly and easily confused and misunderstood to mean only Jesus, this one man only. When he said “I am,” it was thought the “I” was referring to Jesus alone, this one human/divine person speaking the words. However, I don’t think that when Jesus said “I” he was referring only to the embodiment of the current Homo sapiens sapiens speaking those words. Jesus knew a much greater “I” than him alone.
Consider Jesus’ words here:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”—John 8:58 (ESV)
How could this be? Jesus was not born of Mary until long after Abraham. How did he exist before Abraham? How did he live before Abraham? Again, the traditional interpretation is usually that the person of Jesus lived in the spirit somewhere, and was only incarnated in the flesh when born of Mary. It recalls the name of God spoken to Moses in Exodus 3: “I AM.” This is why it is thought Jesus was God prior to his incarnation in flesh. But again, I believe there is deeper meaning that most haven’t considered.
I perceive that Jesus awakened to a radical truth when he recognized and became aware of who and what he was: this most essential, fundamental, original, formed, real, natural, being, and realized that this knowledge was the key to life and salvation, this knowing one’s own essence, and not the imagined conceptions, thoughts, and ideas of ourselves and identities that often prevail in our minds.
The “I AM” is life. It is awareness. It is being. It is the pure essence of the consciousness and life that emerges from the collection of 100 trillion atoms in each one of the 100 trillion cells in our human body. It is this animated organism. It is the miracle of consciousness. It is the existence of one’s own knowing and observing faculty that emerges from this complex pattern of molecules and energy.
This is God.
As Paul taught on Mars Hill in Athens in one of his most powerful sermons:
[God] himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else… he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.—Acts 17:25, 27-28 (NIV)
The “I AM” is not only this localized being of our person, but all things that this being is aware of, the things of the Earth and our surroundings from which it emerged when we were born and is continually emerging in every moment, the food and water and air and light and minerals and animals, all these become this being, these things which are “object” constructions within our awareness and consciousness, yet seem to exist as incomprehensibly vast oceans of patterned energy of various forms. It is these things somehow being aware of other things, this energy being aware of energy, the universe looking back at itself and being aware of itself as if in a mirror, mirrors reflecting mirrors, this deep and inseparable interconnectivity of all things. This one great whole.
Jesus taught that all people can come to know this same “I AM,” this God that is within them, and that is them. He taught that every one of us can realize this, we can become aware of what we are at the very deepest and most fundamental level, and by so recognizing this we come to know what life is, what our life is, and we are saved from the erroneous ideas and suffering of what we think we are, and what we think life is about.
The Way, The Truth, and the Life
Our own being is “the way,” each and every one of us is “the way.” We are full of life, the life that God/Universe/Source/Law has breathed into every living thing that has ever lived on this Earth. This is the divine nature that is found within us, that we can come to know directly. Our life and living experience is truth because it is purely what is. Truth is what is. It is this truth that we are striving to become aware of, realize, cherish, and live by. And we realize it not by extraordinary thinking or deduction, by the accumulation of knowledge or great thoughts, but by being, by subduing the egoic thinking mind, this thing we often think of as ourself, the natural man, the carnal mind, and by our becoming aware of and observing our being, this simple being, by becoming aware of our awareness, aware of the life that exists within us and all around us, and which fundamentally is us. This can be done through various forms of meditation, contemplation, prayer, and other means.
The “way” to return to God is through the realization of our deepest and truest Self, which is what we are, this Being, this Life, this Breath, this Consciousness, this Light that is in us, and through us, and that is us, the Divinity that is us, this Energy that animates this Organism right here and now that is currently reading these words on this webpage. It is you. It is us. It is all of Life and all things that make up that Life. This is the Light of the world. Jesus was the Light of the world, and so are you and I (see John 8:12 and Matthew 5:14). Each and every thing is this made up of this Light and Energy.
This is the meaning of “Christ.”
This is what this name-title, this word, this label, this term, is meant to describe. This is the “Anointed,” Pure, Whole, Complete, Holy, Perfect, Precious Soul within all things. This is the Incarnation of God, the embodiment of God/Universe/Law in each one of us, in every Being, in every living creature, in all of Life, energy, the material world, and the entire cosmos. At bottom, this is what we are, it is what each one of us is, and we can come to a realization of this directly.
It seems so simple, so basic, so unremarkable, and yet so few come to truly realize it directly for themselves (Matthew 7:14). These words are insufficient to communicate what you are; they are only symbols. This realization can only be truly known through first-hand experience, within one’s own self. Few come to know intimately what they themselves are at the most basic level of their existence. But if they do, it is indescribably Liberating, it is Awakening, it is Enlightenment, it is Well-being, it is Happiness, it is Grace, it is Mercy, it is Spiritual Rebirth, it is the Resurrection, it is Salvation, it is the Apocalypse, it is the Second Coming, it is the Revelation, it is the Beatific Vision, it is Love and Peace that surpass understanding, it is Life, it is knowing God is within ourselves and is our fundamental Self, and simultaneously it is knowing Christ, because it is knowing what we are, this Sacred Incarnation of Life and Consciousness in material form. This is Eternal Life, because it is our knowing and identifying with this Life and Energy and Existence that will all roll on indefinitely past this particular embodied estate (John 17:3).
What about Jesus?
This is what I believe Jesus was teaching. It wasn’t about his particular corporeal frame and unique humanity or divinity or sacrifice alone that was “the way.” He wasn’t saying “worship me, and only me, and it is I, Jesus, that will sacrifice myself to save you.” I don’t think that is what he was teaching. No other being can do this for you, even as LDS scripture attests:
Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another.—Alma 34:11
Not even Jesus.
We must each at-one with God in our own mind and consciousness to become aware of our oneness with God, even as Jesus did (John 17). This is why we still suffer and die in life (Jesus did not suffer and die once and for all) and we must work out our own salvation (Jesus did not save us once and for all; Philippians 2:12). Jesus showed and taught what we should each do if we are to realize our oneness in God, but many “would not” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus did not and could not do it for us, even if he wanted to.
The Atonement truly is Infinite and Eternal. It is right here and right now, at all times past, present, and future. We each at-one as we become aware of our perpetual and ever-present oneness in God; this oneness often remains hidden from our awareness beneath the egoic mind, “natural man” and “carnal mind.” I perceive that it is our thinking self-conscious minds that are the veil over our Godliness.
Christ is in all of us, each and every soul and living thing and non-living thing on Earth. It is in and through all things. What saves us is the experiential knowing at the deepest level what we really are, and living to honor and embody that sacred and wondrous Truth that is in us and all things.
It is knowing that our egoic self-perception and identity are not permanent and will one day be sacrificed and pass away, but that Christ is resurrected and as Paul taught “lives in me.” As Jesus and Paul and Moses and many others throughout world history have discovered, we can come to know this directly while still living in this mortal life, and this radically changes our perception of life.
5 thoughts on “I AM is the Way, the Truth, and the Life”
Another great post Bryce! I have recently discovered so many of the insights you describe, and it was from my interest in my wife’s family’s religion – Roman Catholicism- that I was (mis)taught was all false. The Catholics have such a mountain of writings by mystics such as I am sure you are familiar. Even today, Richard Rohr is one of my favorite writers on the subject. I mentioned AA in a previous comment, and I cannot overstate how HUGE it has been to reduce my previously held doctrinal beliefs down to the atomic level and then allow my current experience to rebuild my worldview. One of the books that blew the top of my head off was a fairly recent translation of the Tao Te Ching. I am convinced that “Lao Tzu” (Master) who is almost certainly no more historically concrete than Jesus of Nazareth, and the Tao Te Ching (Book of the Way), said to have been given as a response to a need, is simply another archetypal “Christ”.
Thank you, Robb! There is so much truth in most of the world’s religions. We are blind to it most of the time. They all originate from a common Source. I have loved Richard Rohr’s writings. He is a true modern day mystic-prophet. The Tao Te Ching is excellent. There’s are many similar symbols as Christ, including Buddha-nature, and the Hindu Atman. It can be found all over. Thanks again for commenting!
This is all great stuff! I have known for some time (intuitively speaking) that “the Christ” must be universal. Otherwise, we are dealing with a tribal religion and anthropomorphic god. Yep, the scriptures can be a stumbling block — but then again religions can be stumbling blocks; dogmatism of any sort can be a stumbling block. And on it goes…
For some unexplainable reason I awakened to God (Source) many years ago. But religious doctrines and dogmatism entered my head and I struggled for a long time. Today, the sun is shinning. Much of that past “mental junk” has disappeared. The journey is once again in full throttle. And what is unquestionably clear is this: God is love. It’s a love that is simple, powerful, healing and transcendent.
Thanks for your article. Possibly you will let me post it on my website: http://www.wisdom2be.com
Great thoughts, Keith. Thank you. Yes, it is all Love. Feel free to post a link to the article on your website. That would be great.