John’s letters may best be understood within the dualistic rubric of “the natural” and “the spirit.” By “the natural” I am referring to the physical world in which we live, and by “the spirit” I am referring to the vibrant realm where non-physical activity takes place. As whole human beings, we live both in the natural and the spirit realmboth at the same time. Hence, John’s dualism is not strictly Platonic. It is understood within the holistic Hebrew worldview of the spirit and the natural as being one. (“And the LORD God [spirit] formed man of the dust of the ground [the natural], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [spirit AND natural]” [Gen. 2:7]).
Our lived reality cannot be reduced to a mere existence in the natural realm. Our lived reality subsumes the natural realm, yet also transcends it to find fulfillment in the spirit realm. The natural realm focuses on the here and now; the spirit realm deals transcendently with the past, present, and future perspectives of life.
Clearly this dualism is not Platonic; however, it provides the semantic field from which John draws in order to make sense of the paradigm that truth is a lived reality that can only be fully realized in the spirit realm, not merely in the natural. Then, to reduce our living exclusively to one of the domains is to deny the power of truth as a lived reality.
John’s core teaching is stated in 1 John 3:23, which he extols as a command (and I would add a dualistic command). It is that we should believe in the name (authority) of Jesus (as Son of God4:15; 5:1, 5:20) and that we should love one another (3:10, 14, 17, 18; 4:721). The former entails believing that he came in the flesh (not merely and exclusively in the spirit, which was a Gnostic teaching) and the latter declares that there is a Christian’s lived reality (in both “the natural” and “the spirit”). In John, this lived reality of love is articulated in terms of walking, remaining, obeying, believing, doing/practicing, keeping, confessing, imitating, being born ofand the list goes on.
If Jesus did not come in the flesh, there would be no lived realityno substantiated truth. Equally, if Christians did not love, there would be no lived realityno lived truth. This is because, as alluded to before, truth belongs to the spirit realm (1 John 5:6). Let me explain.
Truth is more than mere facts. Many have reduced truth to basic factsmere data. Here, their truth is safe and easily manageable. Science and history, to name two fields, are preoccupied with facts. There is a dichotomy and yet a relationship between fact and truth. Though facts might be considered on their own, truth subsumes and transcends the facts. See the relationship:
- Reality in human eyes
- HIS-tory/HER-story God’s Story)
- Reality in God’s eyes
I am not pitting fact against truth. It is not a case of “either,” “or.” I am simply saying that facts are never enough. They must be valued through God’s eyes. Only then do we have the whole truth.
Put another way, if facts are considered in mere terms of data they cannot be the whole truth, only part of the truth. The whole truth looks at the situation through God’s eyes because truth is spirit (1 John 5.6). Postmodernity has punctured the myth of the power of facts but it has not gone far enough in its struggle to grapple with the spirit, wherein lies the whole truth. On the other hand, some Christians have reduced the Decalogue to a series of “do’s” and “don’ts” and eschatology to a series of sequentialized facts, and their righteousness is “a righteousness by facts”legalism. But their testimony is not the truth.
The challenge then is to know (experience) the truth, and to discover that the truth sets you free (John 8.32). The good news is that Jesus is the total personification of truth (John 14.6). It is his lived reality to which we are invited to surrender within our daily routines, even with all of its complexities, contradictions, pain, and struggles. Only then do we have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Then we will not merely survive, but thrive! (that is, overcome1 John 5:4, 5).
Gifford Rhamie is a lecturer in the Theology Department of Newbold College, UK, where he teaches in Biblical and Pastoral Studies as well as co-directs the Centre for the Study of Religious and Cultural Studies.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1761