Dear Father, I have a neighbor who loves to gossip. She doesn’t hesitate to mention anything bad about other people. She justifies her conduct by saying that the Bible recommends it. She quotes John 8:32: “And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” What is the correct interpretation of this verse?
Your friend has taken this verse out of context. To understand correctly any Bible passage, we must look at it not in isolation, but as part of the whole framework. For example, an atheist says that the Bible doesn’t believe in God because it contains the saying: “There is no God.” True enough! But the whole passage reads: “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.” You can see how easy it is to distort the true meaning of words by isolating them. So it is with your friend’s understanding. The whole passage does not refer to knowledge in general. Rather it speaks to a very specific audience about a truth that frees us from our slavery to sin.
So let’s look at the full quote from St. John:
- “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free'(John 8:31–32). “
Jesus is speaking to a very specific group of people: those who not only hear his teaching but also strive to live by it. He affirms that he is the way, the truth, and the life for them. How can this be?
He is the truth because in his words and deeds he answers all our questions about the meaning of life. Where do I come from? What am I doing here? Is there a purpose to my existence? Do I have a specific goal? Is death the end of it all — is that all there is?
Jesus assures us that we’re on earth for a very specific purpose. From all eternity God created us in his own image and likeness. Jesus addresses this God as our beloved Father (Abba), which makes us all brothers and sisters. Why did he create us? God who is infinitely perfect and blessed in himself wants us to share in his own life. He calls us to be one with him (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1). We are here to become Christlike because ultimately we’re called to share in God’s life throughout all eternity.
In spite of this lofty goal that God offers us, we humans often prefer to go our own way rather than God’s. As a result of our sinful actions, our will has been weakened and our intellect clouded. As St. Paul says in Romans 7:18–19:
Of this I am certain, that no principle of good dwells in me, that is, in my natural self; praiseworthy intentions are always ready to hand, but I cannot find my way to the performance of them; it is not the good my will prefers, but the evil my will disapproves, that I find myself doing.
In spite of all our transgressions, God has not abandoned us. Flannery O’Connor, the noted Catholic author, wrote: “The world has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.”
Lovingly, our heavenly Father sends us his only begotten Son, not only to show us the way but also to provide us with the means to follow his path. By his words and actions, he teaches us how to overcome evil. He gives us his Church to guide us and show us the way. He makes himself present to us through the sacraments, especially in confession and in the Eucharist. We’re called to become Christlike. St. Paul expresses this very clearly when he writes: “until Christ is formed in you.”
We become Christlike, however, only by carrying our own cross, as Jesus carried his. We all know how painful this is and how often we fail to carry it. We shouldn’t become discouraged, though, “for great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever”(Psalm 117). Thomas Merton expressed it in this way: “Even sin has played an unwilling part in saving sinners, for the infinite mercy of God cannot be prevented from drawing the greatest good out of the greatest evil.” St. John XXIII wrote in his journal: “Mercy is the most beautiful name and the most beautiful way to address God. Our wretchedness is the throne of divine mercy.” St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us that “everything is grace.”
Christ himself is the truth that frees us. By assuming our nature, he liberates us from our slavery to sin. He invites us to abide in him as he abides in us. He will be our way, our truth, and our life. As head of his mystical body, he will always guide and defend us, his brothers and sisters.
May we always see Christ as our truth, liberating us from our sin and enfolding us in the loving arms of our heavenly Father!