In twenty-first century Britain, we live in a context of spiritual longing. Many people are searching for that which will satisfy an inner craving for meaning and significance. The artist Damian Hirst who puts animals in Perspex boxes recently said this:
“Why do I feel so important when I’m not? Nothing is important and everything is important. I do not know why I am here but I am glad that I am I’d rather be here than not. I am going to die and I want to live forever, I can’t escape that fact, and I can’t let go of that desire.”
But somehow this does not always translate into people finding Christ and starting to follow him. There is a dizzying array of options when it comes to religion and the culture around us says that they are all equally valid. It seems absolutely bizarre to people, that someone would say: “this one way is the truth and the only truth.” The poet Steve Turner describes what most of our friends think about this brilliantly:
“Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed and ourselves. We believe he was a good teacher of morals but we believe that his good morals are really bad. We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one we read was, they all believe in love and goodness, they only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation.”
In my experience there are usually two motivations in dismissing the idea that Christ is the only way to God and we need to be able to deal with them both. The first objection is that it is arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. How could we possibly be so arrogant as to say that all the other religions are wrong and Jesus is the only path to God?
Often at this point the parable of the elephant is used to illustrate how arrogant Christians are. It goes something like this: “There is an elephant and there are blind scribes touching different parts of the elephant. One is holding onto the tail and saying ‘this is a rope’ another is holding the front leg of the elephant and saying ‘no this is not a rope – you are wrong, it is a tree trunk’ another person is holding the trunk of the elephant and saying ‘you are both wrong this is neither a rope nor a tree trunk it is a snake!’” The moral of the story is that all of the religions are like those men. They each touch a different part of Ultimate Reality and therefore Christians are arrogant to say that they have the truth.
Let us take a step back and think about what is being said here. Think about the two main differences between the person telling us the story and the people inside the story. The first difference is that the people touching the elephant are blind and the narrator can see. The second difference is one of perspective – the people inside the story are close up to the elephant but the narrator is standing back and has the full picture. Do yo see the breathtaking claim that is being made here? Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses and Muhammad are all blind, but I can see! They all had a small perspective, but I can see the full picture – I can see that all of those ways actually lead to God. The question now is “Who is arrogant?” It is just as arrogant to say that ‘Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus were wrong in their exclusive claims,’ as it is to say ‘Jesus is the only way’ – the issue then is not about who is arrogant or not but what is actually true and real?
The second motivation or moral force behind this question is about exclusion. How can you exclude all of these religions? Jesus said that he was the way to the Father but I can’t follow him because I do not want to be an intolerant person who excludes others! Again we need to think carefully about this, because the reality is that whatever position we hold we exclude some views. Even the person who believes that all ways lead to God, including Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin and Osama bin Laden excludes the view that only some ways lead to God or only one way leads to God. In the same way the average person in Britain would probably want to exclude some of the extremists like Hitler or Milosovich and would believe that only some ways lead to God – perhaps the 5 main world religions. This excludes the view that all ways lead to God or that one way leads to God. And the Christian who wants to say I follow Jesus and he said that he was the only way to the Father excludes the view that all ways or some ways lead to God.
Every view excludes some – so the issue is not who is excluding people but what is actually true and real.
Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” There are a number of possibilities here. Perhaps he was a genuinely good person but he was deluded. In other words, he was sincere but wrong – he believed he was God and misled people about this but in reality he was mentally imbalanced. Or perhaps he knew he wasn’t God but still went around telling people he was the only way to God – in which case he was a sinister character. Or perhaps he was who he said he was.