WARNING: DA VINCI CODE SPOILERS BELOW. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK OR SEEN THE MOVIE AND PLAN TO DO SO, WAIT TO READ THIS UNTIL AFTERWARDS.
John 8:32 “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
When I graduated from High School, every senior was asked to put a quote with their yearbook listing. The above passage from John was mine. Of course at 17 I had a much more limited sense of what “truth” could mean than I do now, but still, 30 years later, I still think this verse is critically important. And that’s why I have no issues with the Da Vinci Code.
I’ve read the book, seen the movie, and spent 6 hours of today talking with a group at church about the issues it raises. Sure there are some factual mistakes. But hey, it’s fiction, and the primary advocate of the theories that have many people so upset is the chief villain. If you’re going to go looking to villains in novels for your church history, you deserve what you get. I’ll grant you that I was more inclined to believe the movie version of Teabing because he is played by Ian McKellan and I couldn’t quite get Gandalf out of my head…but still, he makes some critical errors.
In the book, hero Robert Langdon goes along with Teabing’s history, but Ron Howard and Dan Brown apparently heard the criticisms of their “facts” and in the movie Langdon argues some of those points (like what really happened at the Council of Nicea) instead of merely assenting. Of course the central factual error that Teabing makes (and that Langdon doesn’t seem to have enough knowledge of Christian doctrine to contradict) is the notion that if it were proven that Jesus had married and fathered a child, that the divinity of Jesus would be disproven. That is not so.
The creed that the Council of Nicea adopted as orthodoxy for the Church says that Jesus is “true God from true God,” and also that Jesus, “was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.” Fully God, fully human…both at once. If someone were able to prove that Jesus was married and had a child, that proof would merely support the part of the Nicene Creed that claims he was truly human. It would say nothing at all about whether he was also truly God…and probably there is no factual evidence that can prove such a thing. As Langdon correctly asserts in the movie, the divinity of Jesus is a matter of faith.
To listen to the debates surrounding the book and movie, you would think that “truth” was a set of facts that could be proven or disproven, given enough evidence. The novel itself makes that mistake by assuming that revealing a set of documents would be to reveal the truth. The Gospel of John tells a different story.
In John, the “truth” is not a what, but a who. Jesus says in John 14:6 that he is the truth. He doesn’t say he understands the truth. He says he IS the truth. The truth is a person, and that is hinted at in John 8:32. “You shall know the truth.” The word for “know” is ginosko. It does imply learning, but it is the kind of learning that comes with experience of a thing. Ginosko is the word you use when you talk about knowing a person, as in “Do you know Jerry?” It is also the word the Greeks used when they wanted to imply sexual union. The Hebrew word for knowing has the same underlying sense.
Jesus in John is not saying that if you manage to learn a set of intellectual propositions and doctrines that such knowledge will set you free. He is saying that if you get to know Jesus…if you form a close, intimate relationship with Jesus…you will be set free. Free from what? Free from the sins that are bred when we get to thinking that faith is all about doctrine and law rather than about relationship and grace.
All sides of the Da Vinci Code debate, as well as the novel itself, miss that point. They are all arguing about doctrine…who is right and who is wrong…while the person of Jesus sits twiddling his thumbs and waiting for us to remember he is there, ready to free us from slavish adherence to a law that cannot save us and the sins that keep us arguing with and killing each other. Just like everyone in the novel is bent on finding the documents while the heir of Jesus walks unknown among them, so we chase after the wind, while the Truth patiently waits for us to tire of our chase and lean our head upon his shoulder.
So…pass the popcorn and be careful not to mistake any set of facts for the Truth.
Dearest God, help us to know you…really know you. We don’t know with our minds how you can be fully God and fully human. But we experience your love, and in that light, Truth is known. Thank you. Amen.
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