On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the second part of the answer for the second question.
How Can You Claim there’s Only One True Religion?
The humble claim that Jesus is the only way
[Jesus said:] ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. ’Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’ (John 14:1-10)
What is religion? Religion is (1) human beings trying to know the ultimate reality (however that is defined); and (2) human beings trying to be saved (however that is defined). Religions are the stories of human quests to know God. They are the account of human religious longings, searching, efforts, rituals. They purport to tell us how we can reach up to God. But the message of Jesus is the exact opposite. It is the story of how God has reached down to us by sending his Son, Jesus.
1. Jesus is God showing us God
Philip asks: ‘Show us the Father.’ Show us God. Reveal God to us. And Jesus says: ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’ Jesus himself reveals God to us. He shows what God is like. Through Jesus God is near. Through Jesus God is with us. Later on John (who recorded these words) says he has written so that people who were not there to see Jesus could know Jesus and by knowing Jesus know God. Each one of us can know God through Jesus. The analogy of the blind men and the elephant is right to depict humanity as blind, unable to grasp to full picture. But it ignores the possibility that God can personally and graciously reveal himself.
2. Jesus is God reconciling us to God
Thomas asks: ‘Show us the way.’ Show how the way to God. Show us the way of salvation. Jesus says: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’ Jesus is the peace-maker who makes peace in the war between us and God. He spoke these words on the night before he was killed. Jesus makes peace by dying. He dies in our place. He makes things right with God by offering a sacrifice – and that sacrifice is himself. Religion is about us trying to be right with God. The message of Jesus is that God has made us right with God. And he has done it through Jesus. That’s why Jesus is the only way to God.
The point is not that the Christian religion is a better way to God or the best way or the only way. The point is that God himself has done what no religion could do. God himself has bridged the gulf between God and humanity. God himself took the initiative. God sent his son, Jesus. God made the sacrifice. Religion is all about what I do for God or what I do to find God. But the message of Jesus is that God has done it all. God has found us. God has provided the way. And that way is Jesus.
This claim is both exclusive and inclusive. It’s exclusive because Jesus is the only way. But it’s also inclusive. It’s not some narrow sectarianism. Jesus is the way for anyone who comes through him. He says that in his Father’s house there are ‘many rooms’. In other words, there’s plenty of room. There’s enough room for everyone who comes and all are invited.
This is a truth that humbles. It is not an arrogant claim that we and we alone have worked out the truth about God. It is not an arrogant claim that we and we alone have achieved goodness and perfection. It is the humble claim that we are ignorant people who have received God’s revelation in Jesus. It is the humble claim that we are bad people who have received God’s reconciliation in Jesus. The message of Jesus is not about what we do to earn our place in heaven. It is all about what God has done for us through Jesus. And so:
– we proclaim it confidently because it is from God
– we proclaim it humbly because it is not from us