Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Convince Me..."

A short while back someone left a comment on my blog that went like this:

Eric, do you believe that any other religious expressions are valid? I ask because I believe that God is God no matter what you call him and that there are many paths to Him. Therefore, I can't believe that "No one comes to the Father except through Me" because then I have to believe that all other faiths are wrong. Feel free to convince me otherwise.

And since then I have been debating whether or not to respond to it. I don’t really feel that anything I say can ‘convince’ someone of faith in Jesus Christ. I know that I firmly believe that when Jesus says in John, “I am the Way…No one comes to the Father through Me” that this is the truth. We all at some time have had to try and reason out why we believe what we believe and yet there is something about logic that is incompatible with faith; as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, we all come to a time when we have to use faith to leap into an unknown. He believed that there were simply too many paradoxes in Christianity that reason could not fully comprehend.

And yet I do believe that there are reasonable, logical answers to many questions that interaction with Jesus brings up. I am often frustrated with the ‘blind faith’ of unquestioning Christians and firmly believe in “testing and approving” as it says in Romans.

So can I convince anyone of faith? Not likely. Convincing usually comes off as bullying and Christians are notoriously bad convincers. Kind of like bulls in a china shop. So I am not out to convince anyone in this blog but feel the need to present some of the reasons why I believe that Jesus is the one true way to salvation and heaven. They are to be taken as personal ramblings rather than an academic dissertation and are meant in the humblest of expressions. I don’t have all the answers. Like others, I am continually wandering/searching/seeking, as the title of my blog suggests.

First, a couple of clarifications. God is God no matter what you call Him. He doesn’t change and still IS, regardless of what we believe. There is more than one path to Him but only one path to salvation and it goes through Him. We all make our way there in various fashions and speeds but, like I said earlier, I do believe He is the only way to salvation. I understand the gist of the question though.

My first question is this: What name do you call God? This does seem to matter because if you call him Allah you will want to follow what Allah says. If you call him Jesus you will want to follow what Jesus says. If you call him Brahman you will try and make him happy. The issue then becomes how to reconcile the vast differences and oppositions found in the texts and sayings of these gods. That is not to say that there are not similarities within religions. Many have similar ethical boundaries but they vary widely and conversely on key issues, even most scholars recognize the conflicting truth claims of differing religions. Similarly, what are we striving for by following God? Is it the heaven of Christianity? Is it to be reincarnated at a higher level? The Nirvana of Buddhism? Or do I get to choose which reward I get depending on what I choose to call God? Again, there seem to be some logical contradictions.

The question becomes: why would the same God give such varying and contradicting answers to salvation?

This is not to say that I believe Christianity has a monopoly on truth or salvation. I believe Christ has the monopoly. We go through Christ and not through a religious system or special incantations. So are other religious expressions valid? You don’t have to adhere to Christianity to be saved, certain parts of Buddhist worship rituals might aid in bringing you closer to Christ, or Taoism might have some good principles to follow in aiding you in living a just life . There may be different kinds of worship but there can’t be different types of Jesus. He IS. Christianity has morphed over times but God cannot. It is in Christ we find the Truth.

So are there many paths? For sure. Is Allah the same person as Jesus? No. Are we just worshipping a “higher being” that we Westerners call Jesus and people in the East call Allah/Buddha/Brahman/etc…? And yet these religions recognize the historical Jesus and all speak differently on him. Islam denies that God could have a son. Judaism denies the divinity of Christ. Christians believe Jesus is Christ, part of the Trinity incarnate. These simply cannot gel. As my favorite author G.K. Chesterton said in his book Orthodoxy about people who believe that the beliefs and God are the same among religions, it's just the worship that is different:

"So the truth is that the difficulty of all the creeds of the earth is not as alleged in this cheap maxim: that they agree in meaning, but differ in machinery. It is exactly the opposite. They agree in machinery; almost every great religion on earth works with the same external methods, with priests, scriptures, altars, sworn brotherhoods, special feasts. They agree in the mode of teaching; what they differ about is the thing to be taught. Pagan optimists and Eastern pessimists would both have temples, just as Liberals and Tories would both have newspapers. Creeds that exist to destroy each other both have scriptures, just as armies that exist to destroy each other both have guns"

While I feel my argument is slightly superficial in scope I feel it highlights the main problem with religious pluralism: the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit with each other. If we try and put the major religions of the world together to find a coherent ‘god’ or ‘higher being’ we only highlight the contradictions. Hopefully I haven’t confused anyone even more than they were before.

Again, let me put it out there to any reader that made it this far: I say this all with a sense of knowing that words and reason are inadequate for the task. The Bible says the knowledge of man is confounded by the knowledge of God and when we try to completely wrap our minds around who God is - we fall short. Faith can be the only complete guide to Christ and through Him, to salvation.


Jen said...

I was hoping you'd answer this question Eric! Thanks for doing so. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the matter as this is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately.

Jen said...

Oh, and Eric, I know my mom will appreciate that you answered her question. She's away for a few days but I know she'll be eager to respond when she gets back.

Michelle said...

Yes Eric, I am back. Thank you also for answering. You are a smart man. If all Christians were like you, what a better world this would be.