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This week I was reading through John 6 in Greek and noticed, for the first time, a curious vocabulary choice in verses 54-56. Jesus has just told the Jews in the Capernaum synagogue that they must “eat His flesh and drink His blood” in order to have eternal life. This provokes a “war of words” (verse 52) among the Jews, who are offended at such a statement. Jesus does not back down, but repeats His statement. In fact he more than repeats it, He intensifies it. He stops using the word “eat,” and from verse 54 on uses a word that means “to chomp, to crunch” – like crunching a piece of celery, or chomping ice. How would we react if translators were literal in these verses and have Jesus say, “He who chomps my flesh…shall have eternal life”? Of course Jesus and the Jews were almost certainly not speaking Greek in the synagogue, but were conversing in Aramaic or Hebrew. Still, John was there, and he (or more precisely, the Holy Spirit) choses to change the word from “eat” in verse 51 to “chomp” in verses 52-54. Why?
I have been awfully self-satisfied with my 20/20 hindsight, and the knowledge that Jesus is talking about the communion service at the end of John 6. He is. But even with my after-the-fact knowledge, I am still confused by some of Jesus’ words.
For instance, what does Jesus mean when He tells Nicodemus that those born of the Spirit are “Like the wind” (John 3.8)? I have been just as smug over the years in my understanding that in John 3 Jesus is talking about baptism. He is. But only recently have I admitted to myself that regarding John 3.8 I am just as confused as Nicodemus.
I have another question. In the creation account, how is it that vegetation appears before the Sun is created (Genesis 1.9-19)? God can surely keep vegetation alive if He can create it. I understand that. But creation happens in a logical order: energy, matter, water, arable land, vegetation, simpler animal life, more complex animal life, human life. The one thing that is glaringly out of order is that the Sun comes after vegetation is created. Why did God disrupt the logical order of things?
In the Bible, when folks demand an immediate answer from God, and get one, His response is generally disturbing (see Baruch in Jeremiah 45, and the book of Habakkuk). The exception is Job, whose demand that God explain Himself, is met with the answer “Who are you? I Am God” (Job 38-41). This answer is satisfying, and Job repents (42.1-6). It should satisfy us as well. None of our questions, however personal, pressing, or perplexing, deny that Yahweh is God – or that Yahweh is good.
This is where faith comes in – faith sees us beyond the questions we cannot puzzle out. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11.1). Faith does not make up for a paucity of evidence, but for the limitations of human perception and experience. Faith is for the hard questions. We believe God is, and that God is good. There’s overwhelming evidence of that. Therefore, we do not doubt when our experience, imagination, and intelligence are not sufficient to our questions.
After those “hard words” Jesus delivers in John 6.52-28, many disciples stop following Him altogether. This prompts Jesus to ask the apostles, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Peter replies for the 12, in fact he replies for every true disciple when he says:
Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have complete faith, and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God. (John 6.66-69).