As a pastor, there are a number of recurring questions that people ask me. I'm not going to lay them all out here - I'll save some for other blog posts in case I run out of things to say some day. (How likely is that?)
If I were to make a list of the top ten questions I get asked - in the top five would have to be this one that seems to be heavy on people's hearts these days:
"If Jesus is the only way to the Father, then what happens to all of those people from other religions? I just can't believe that God would create all of those people and then tell them He doesn't love them because they don't believe the right way!"
THAT, my friends, is a difficult question to answer - and one I have struggled with over and over throughout my life. Like all big questions, I believe the answers evolve for each of us in different ways over a lifetime of reflection. I'm going to weigh in on this question. Keep in mind, I am a pastor. It is my job to have a clear and well-thought-out understanding of theology and scripture - but I am by no means a scholar in either area. Please feel free to challenge my thoughts or weigh in with your own thoughts. But let's keep it civil. Some of you will think my theology is too careless, and some will think it is too rigid. Wherever you come down, please do so with respect and love for one another.
First, I will say this - I believe that Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE and the only way to the Father. (John 14:6) I also believe that God sent Jesus to us - all wrapped up in the skin of a baby - skin that would one day be broken because of sin - to show us just how wide and long and high and deep God's love is. (Ephesians 3:18) AND YET - I, too, have a hard time believing that God - who loves us THAT much could ever abandon us simply because we don't believe the right way.
So I have been asking that same question for as long as my mind could form questions. And I watch my daughters struggle with this question as they form deep friendships with people from other faith traditions.
When I was in seminary, I read a book in a class that talked about this very question. I don't remember what the book was called - heck, I don't even remember the name of the class. But I do remember the concept that stuck with me. It read something like this: "If we truly believe that Jesus is God, and that God is all-powerful and all-knowing - then wouldn't we believe that this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Jesus could work through other faiths? If we believe that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life and that God created and loves us all - then who are we to put boundaries on the way in which Jesus can penetrate the human heart?"
I let this idea percolate in my brain for several years - could it really be that God is THAT deep, high, wide and long?
Then - a couple of years ago, I read the book "The Shack". As controversial as this book became in some circles, I know many people whose hearts have been opened to Jesus for the first time through its pages. In the book, the main character is talking to Jesus - and he asks this question - "Are you saying that all paths lead to you?" And Jesus responds - "No, I'm saying that I will walk down any path to get to YOU." Do you see the very important distinction here? It's not about YOU. It's about GOD.
I think both of these books were saying the same thing! One through theology and one through story. "IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU". It's not about what you believe or how well you can articulate it. It's not your job to condemn people to hell or to give them a ticket to eternity.
It is GOD who walks the path to US - just as He walked the road to Calvary and the Cross. It is GOD who chooses US. To think that we could CHOOSE the one who created us in the first place puts the emphasis on human action - and that will always be flawed.
This doesn't make me exempt from responsibility. In fact, it makes me even more responsible. My job now isn't to tell people how it is. My job isn't to make eternal assignments or to scare people to heaven. That would be easy. In fact, I think that age-old tactic of evangelism is a cop out.
The way we share Jesus with the world is not by tongue-lashing and hell-threatening. The way we share Jesus is by people-loving and door-opening; It's by grace-giving and freedom-sharing. The way we share Jesus is reflected in how we live the love of God every day in our lives - opening our hearts, pouring out our very lives so that all people will know just how much they are loved by God.
"For God so loved THE WORLD"
Now Go! Share God's love in radical and life-changing ways. And don't be surprised if someone asks you where that love comes from. The answer? Jesus!