Monday, October 24, 2005


A missionary friend wrote me, in response to my newfound pluralistic tendencies, that he's saddened to see what's happening to my faith. This is what I wrote to him in reply. Sorry if it's overly preachy. I thought it came out rather theological-sounding. At least I had fun thinking about it, even if it's off-hand, not well thought out, needs more Scriptural evidence, and probably you could drive trucks through holes in it. But oh well. Here it is anyway:

Don't be sad about my faith. It's opening up to a really wonderful new world. As it broadens, I believe, God does also. I simply cannot have small god anymore. And I can't deal with absolutes. As much as we may feel life is nuanced, God must be infinitely more aware of gray areas, since God is perfectly just and merciful. The more one learns about justice, the more one realizes nothing in this world is simple.

But the point is that God meets me each place I go and usually I get the sense that I'm still on a good track. The more things open up, the more God is there. God is showing up in all of the world, yes, even in the other religions, and that is making God all the more amazing and huge (and just and merciful). God is truth, right, and any search for truth, including that of the other faiths, does lead to some part of God.

But since you brought up the Jesus being the only way thing, I will say that Scripture is right that Jesus is the fullest way to life and truth. Of course - he is God incarnate. But that doesn't mean he's the only way. It doesn't say he is the only way. Just says the way (or is the "the" even there? - I have to check my Greek). I think it's important not to take that verse out of context, but to recognize it in the whole of Jesus' teachings. (the verse has so much baggage, especially for us raised on tract-based, conversion-centric theology) Jesus came to preach that the Kingdom of God has come near, and salvation means participating in the Kingdom work. Because Jesus and the Father are one, the best way to participate is by following the teachings of Jesus. Thus, he's the way and the truth and the life.

But he never says that if you don't explicitly say he's God or ask him into your heart or make him Lord of your life (whatever that means), you're going to hell. If that were true, then millions of Jews who have worshipped Yahweh for 4,000 years are going to hell. Do you believe that? You can if you want to - a lot of people do. But I don't see that in Scripture and I don't think most Christians want to think that (it's a lot easier to think of devout Muslims or Hindus or others going to hell, but we like to make an exception for the Jews, even though according to our standards - ours, not God's, mind you - they fall into the same boat since they don't confess Jesus as Lord).

Anyway, I'm over worrying about who's in heaven or hell anyway - that's God's problem. I'd rather focus on how we live. We equate being "saved" with "going to heaven." That's why we think verses that say "believe in Jesus and you'll be saved" are talking about the afterlife. But what if they are not? What if being saved means something entirely different?

What if living Jesus' way leads not to some other life after death, but the best kind of life NOW. What if salvation is effective immediately - if being "saved" means being saved from ennui, from meaninglessness? I'm talking about finding The Good Life. Eudaimonia - happiness, blessedness, fulfillment. And I would add efficaciousness in repairing the brokenness of the world. Perhaps salvation for Christians (and everyone else) should really be about the opportunity to become the fullest human beings we can by living the best possible life and joining God's work in restoring all of creation back to Godself.

This would explain why, although he rejected Christianity, Ghandi was so effective and is, I believe, a saint. He lived Jesus' way. And many Buddhists today are effecting peace by following the way of compassion and of self-control. Anyone of any faith who works for peace and justice and a better world - these people are finding eudaimonia - the Good Life. They are finding what Jesus meant when he said "the way, the truth, the life." It's the fullest possible life.

As a Christian I believe that comes about most easily and effectively by knowing God, particularly by trusting in Jesus as my role model. But I no longer presume to say that is the only way to live the Good Life. It's just the easiest. :)

So none of this has anything to do with the afterlife. It's actually a totally different way of thinking about what Christianity may be about. And that probably doesn't fit most Christians, Churches, or Missions very well. But then again, it does. It's just a new way of thinking about it.

And it's so freeing!!! His yoke is EASY and his burden is LIGHT!!!

It's refreshing to be only one small part of a much greater whole, much richer and deeper and more influential in repairing the world than I could possibly be alone. That's what it means to join the communion of saints. And to me, that is salvation.

The peace of Christ be with you and his hand be in your work always. Live the Good Life, my brother.


Emily said...

Well said. Reminds me of a quotation in an Annie Lamott book (although I can't remember if it was her own or something she was quoting), "you know your God is too small when he hates all the same people you do."

I especially like your reflection on the difference between 'the way' and 'the only way.' I'm not a great Greek scholar by any means, but I think there is some nuance there that is missed.

Besides, what what the church has missed over the year is that through Jesus the original covenant with the Jews is expanded, not taken away.

And prayers for the relationship you were trying to sustain in the letter.

Anonymous said...

Hey Feminarian,

The theology you use there fits in well with the one I use. As I see it, salvation is the process of following Jesus. He is here with us to lead us, the present teacher and leader of our church (Quakers) in person. Salvation's not about a decision or a moment - it's about enrolling in the life of love in the service of God, helping to roll out the Divine rule of Love on earth.

Have you read much Quaker theology? The theological basis for Quakers puts us after the second coming - "Christ has come to teach his people himself"! We are being led by Christ in God's work of restoration. We anticipate heaven on earth - the Kingdom blooming amongst us in ever-expanding circles, through God's grace.

God bless, and thanks for your writing. I like your blog.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post. Thank you so much for this.

I simply cannot have small god anymore.

Word. :-)

What if living Jesus' way leads not to some other life after death, but the best kind of life NOW.

::blinks:: You know, from where I sit that's a startlingly Jewish construction. *g* The "Law" is intended to aid us in living a God-centered life here and now, in this incarnation, as we join in the work of healing creation.

So yeah. This resonates for me a ton.

Anonymous said...

I was caught up in your missionary freind's use of the term "Only Way." In my experience the Evangelical "Mafia" use John 14:6 as an "I gotcha" to bludgeon searchers into submission.

A better way to think of the verse is as two seperate clauses:
1. Jesus defines himself
2. Jesus tell what He means

To wit:

1. I am the truth, the life, and the way...


2. No man comes to the God except by the truth, the life, and the way.

Jesus is seldom exclusive, always inclusive. Using Jn 14:6 to prove that non christians are "lost" is a non-starter.