The Gospel of John sets forth an alternative definition of truth which distinguishes the theological enterprise from every other truth endeavor. The life and light found in Christ are not of the world though they light up the world, simultaneously providing a new definition of truth (life, light, the way) and a new understanding of the world. Theology begins with this presupposition, set forth in John, that the Logos of Christ, the Word of the Cross, the Gospel, is the principle through which creation has its beginning (its arche) and end. Easter sums up the incarnate life of Christ, referencing all of the life of Christ, but John sums up creations purpose in the story of Christ (summed up in Easter). John begins with the Word of the Gospel (this is not a partial word, or a reference to the preincarnate Christ), but the Redeemer is portrayed as the Creator, with time unfolding from the middle and extending to the beginning and end. This truth sums up and surpasses every other form of truth.
Living Truth versus Dead Truth
What exactly is truth? There are factual trues (the cat is on the mat), historical trues (Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492), scientific trues (water is H20), but when Christ says he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), the very definition and function of truth are changed up. The trues of the previous order pertain to the world and are constituted as true as they reference this order but to treat the truth of Christ as merely factual, historical, or scientific (though this reduction marks modern theology) is to miss the “living way” in which this truth pertains.
There is a certain deadness or irrelevance in the former trues. At some point in time or at some place or within the framework of this world these things correspond to a state of affairs. This truth reduces to packets of information which serve as code about something, but does not really encompass cats, mats, the person Columbus, or the wetness of water. These things show up in the world as “facts” but they are after the fact and do not pertain to fullness of experience. This particular cat has moved on, Columbus is long gone, and H20 references component parts that convey nothing about drinking, swimming, or sailing. The experience of these realities is not captured in their “truth” but these are things which have presented themselves, and are referenced in trues about them, but this truth does not pertain to or capture present or past experience. There is no life in this truth as the truth which is life cannot appear under its reduction to DNA, neurons, and physical particles. Life cannot appear under the parameters of truth of the world.
Christ’s truth claim, of being the way and the life, is a truth that exceeds the factual, historical, scientific, or the predominant philosophical notions of truth. This is a living or lived truth, in that life is the truth and the sharing in this life is the truth. This means it is experienced, it is subjective and the truth of a subject, and it is a first order truth (it is not about something else). Where Heidegger wants to locate truth in the “world’s worlding” (imagining the world is the ultimate context which will show up the truth), Christ says his truth is not of the world. His truth and life are not the “ways” of the world and he pictures a complete humanity as not of the world: “because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). This does not mean that the truth resides elsewhere, but his truth is not from or contained in the world but encompasses the world. Christian truth locates and relativizes the creaturely order: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3).
The ungraspable realms of time, space, language, and embodiment, taken as the parameters of truth, necessarily divide and deal out death, but where these creatures serve their proper end of conveying truth and not containing the truth they are relativized. Time alone would deprive us of all things in that there is no present but only the past and the future converging in an instantaneous, annihilating now. Embodiment is subjection to times entropic arrow, pointing us to the grave upon conception. Creation’s big bang points to its explosive end. Where creation as medium constricts the message, death and entropy seem to contain the original nothingness as the absolute from which the world emerged. What appears is disappearing and what is heard is continually lost in the wind of time.
Isn’t this just a depiction on the order of Paul’s: “For, indeed, the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31)? Truth, as it is in this world, cannot be pinned down as it is continually passing away. It appears complete after the fact. This truth is dead on arrival. Before it arrives from out of the future it is unknown and it is only made known in passing. No one knew about the cat (the one on the mat) or Columbus before they showed up, and attached to their appearance was their disappearance, and only in disappearing are they fully known. Only then do we have a definitive word. The epitaph is the final and full word.
The cross and Easter displace the finality of the epitaph as the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) is the Word which was in the beginning, which is God and is with God. “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18). The resurrection of Christ is the final and full word, displacing death with life: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men” (John 1:4). His life is the light of truth, as he is the beginning, the source, the head (with the “beginning” in John 1:1 meaning the same thing as in Colossians 1:18), and not simply the first in a temporal line. The form of life “is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3) as this life does not reveal itself in the world as it exceeds the world. This life precedes the world (at its foundation – Eph. 1:4) and surpasses the world: “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). But this resurrection life is in effect now: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). This is not a passage out of the immediacy of life but it exceeds time and place in the experience of life.
The prologue of John might be rendered: At the source of all is the Word (the crucified and risen Jesus), and the Word is God and from out of this Wisdom is life and all things. As John Behr puts it, “As such, this verse is nothing other than a summary of the whole Gospel: that Jesus is in first place on the cross, as the head of the body, as the king in authority upon his throne, and as the source and fulfilment of all things; he is going, through the cross, to the God and Father; and, as the crucified and ascended one, he is confessed as God.”
United Truth Versus Divided Truth
The former truth (fact, history, science) is a truth that is divided, whereas the truth of Christ is indivisible. We speak of the cat and mat, Columbus and his dates, and the hydrogen and oxygen in conjunction, locating them in time and space in reference to other referents. This truth is extrinsic to its object, showing us something about what it names. Christ’s claim to truth refers to himself. Though we might speak of him historically (born in Bethlehem), factually (died under Pontius Pilate), or even scientifically (he was biologically human), his truth encompasses and exceeds trues about him, to include himself as the truth. Seeing him, hearing him, knowing him, is not divided from what is seen, heard and known. He is the light and what is first illuminated is himself. He is the word and what is heard is himself. The revealer is the revelation in that his revelation is self-revelation. In each instance, this is life gained in the seeing, hearing, knowing and living.
Greek philosophical truth (arguably the characteristic philosophy) makes division an absolute, separating the forms of truth from their appearing so that the H20ness of water, and not the water itself is its truth. The truth of the water, the cat and Columbus reside outside of their passing physicality and time bound nature. Truth, for the Greeks, is what is unchanging and therefore the signs of these changing things are their truth. In turn, the Being of the world equated with the essence of God reduces the living God to the Unmoved Mover of the philosophers, trading an appearance, an apparition (a lie) for the God revealed in Christ. The same principle is at work in each realm of truth, as the language (or signs) takes precedence over what they signify. The description, name, location, date, chemical composition, are the things that can be said about objects. These things show themselves as external to the reality shown. Appearance apart from substance or an empty word devoid of content is of the order of a lie, which may be why Christ contrasts his identity and truth with a language grounded in a lie (John 8:44). The lying word is bound by and binds its adherents to the temporal order (“Abraham died, and the prophets also” (John 8:52) and that is the end of the matter according to his interlocutors).
The Logos of Christ stands over and against this divided logos in that the word of Christ is not about him, describing him, reducing him, but it is Him. “In the beginning was the Word and this Word was with God and was God” (John 1:1). To speak or hear this word entails the full phenomenological reality of who he is. There is no division between the sign and what he signifies. The passage of this sign into flesh, into the spoken word, into history, into time and space, is not diminished by these means but the mediums are relative to who he is. Time and history do not diminish his abiding presence (e.g., “I am before Abraham”). Embodiment does not delimit his universal incarnate presence (e.g., “Where two or three are gathered, I am there.” “I am the Alpha and Omega.”) This revelation makes of time and space his effective presence. He gives himself through these media but what is given exceeds the creaturely order through which he gives. Those who receive this gift receive life and this life is who he is and this is a truth not bound by the divisions of language, time, space, and embodiment.
The Phenomenology of Suffering as Model of Life in Christ
According to philosopher Michel Henry, one way of getting at the difference between the truth of the world, in its divisiveness, conjunction, and otherness, and the truth of Christ, in its self-referential unity, is through the phenomenology of suffering. “Suffering experiences itself,” as Henry describes. “It is only in this way that suffering speaks to us; it speaks to us in its suffering. And what it says to us, by speaking to us in this way, is that it suffers, that it is suffering.” Rather than a mere appearance, a name, or a fact (the truth of the world), suffering does not appear external to itself or as other than itself.
So too the life and truth of Christ are not other than himself and those who enter into this experience share the unified life of Christ. What is manifest in Christ is not a power, or life, or redemption separate from Christ. The revealer, revealing the revelation, manifests himself in the fullness of human experience. “It is the first decisive characteristic of the Truth of Christianity that it in no way differs from what it makes true. Within it there is no separation between the seeing and what is seen, between the light and what it illuminates.” This truth is “irreducible” to the concept of truth which dominates the world. “What manifests itself is manifestation itself. What reveals itself is revelation itself; it is revelation of revelation, a self-revelation in its original and immediate effulgence.”
Henry, having begun with the phenomenology of Heidegger and Husserl, concludes with the idea of a pure revelation and phenomenology: “With this idea of a pure Revelation – of a revelation whose phenomenality is the phenomenalization of phenomenality itself, of an absolute self-revelation that dispenses with whatever is other than its own phenomenological substance – we are in the presence of the essence that Christianity posits as the principle of everything.” This pure experience of life through access to God by means of his self-revelation consists of a singular “phenomenality proper to Him.” It “is not susceptible of being produced except where this self-revelation is produced and in the way self-revelation does so.”
This revelation is redemptive as it is a sharing of life in his light: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men” (John 1:4). The temporal, intellectual, sensual, concentrated as it is on appearances exists as a form of darkness and incomprehension of light and life: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).
The equating of life with the essence of God and with the opening of God in Christ, Henry maintains, is thematic in the New Testament. He references the following examples: “I am the living one” (Revelation 1:17), “the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15), “by him who is declared to be living” (Hebrews 7:8), “He who is living” (Luke 24:5). The point is that this is a life opened to all: “‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people these words of life’” (Acts 5:20). Henry’s focus is on developing these themes from John, as in the prologue, “In him was life and this life was the light of men” (John 1:4). “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). This life given to the Son is opened to all humanity: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25); “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). The divine essence is explicitly stated to be that of Life, “the bread of life” (John 6:48) and “the water of life” (John 4). The life Christ gives provides open access to God and in the New Jerusalem: life is opened to the nations in the river flowing “down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life” (Revelation 22:2).
Life reveals itself in a two-fold sense: “it is Life that achieves the revelation, that reveals – but, on the other hand, that what Life reveals is itself.” Henry concludes, “Living is not possible in the world. Living is possible only outside the world, where another Truth reigns, another way of revealing. This way of revealing is that of Life. Life does not cast outside itself what it reveals but holds it inside itself, retains it in so close an embrace that what it holds and reveals is itself.” This folding in of truth and life in a unity which is unbreakable is the revelation of Easter. Death, difference, distance, time, cannot disrupt the resurrection life, the condition of all true experience.
(Register for the upcoming Class on the Gospel of John starting May 9th here: https://pbi.forgingploughshares.org/offerings)
 John Behr, John the Theologian and His Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (Oxford University Press, 2019), 260.
 Michel Henry, Words of Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012) 74. Quoted in Behr, 276
 Michel Henry, I am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy of Christianity (Stanford University Press, 2003). This quote and the following are from an online excerpt: https://philosophiatopics.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/i-am-the-truth-ch12-pdf.pdf
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