Finally, for those few of you who give a hoot, the promised “part 2.” It’s obviously been longer than a week since part 1. Do you know what caused the delay, primarily? I kid you not: my laptop died of heat stroke. I left it in my car on a hot day, and it never woke up from its slumber. That makes posting a bit more difficult. I now have the choice of using a hand-held device, or going to the office to use the office desktop computer. Who wants to go to the office on their time off? Ugh! These pesky “First World problems!” … Woe is me!
Now that I’m oriented to my new posting situation, let me set this next one up a bit: In the first part I spoke about the one, hidden, transcendent, all-knowing, sovereign, all-powerful God who created and sustains the universe, and loves us beyond our wildest imaginings, doing everything for the good of the universe He’s created. One of the most important things I wanted to get across was the universality of God. God is the God of all. There is one true God only, and He is not one being among many, but subsistent Being itself: He is truly ‘big enough’ to do the job of being God.
Let’s also repeat another important bit of it, though – God is not a pussycat. He is not to be trifled with. He is not to be toyed with or mocked. He cannot be controlled or objectified. He hides himself from those who try it. God is not an indulgent grandparent. He makes abundant use of corrective discipline in ways which we usually cannot fully understand. And in this way, His mysterious, loving will for us includes the depths of loss and suffering that we experience. Sometimes it is impossible to understand, let alone accept His will without taking, as I said, a “hard, steep, and treacherous path, as if climbing a mountain.” The vast majority of us (humans) do not ever get to understand this clearly; though we still may gain its benefits, because He is the one doing the real work.
As I continue this series on “the God I seek,” I will expand on these thoughts as I explain how this God has revealed Himself fully in Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth: that famous Jewish man who was born in relative poverty in first-century Palestine, worked as a carpenter, became an itinerant preacher and miracle worker at 30 years of age, and a few years later was crucified by the Roman authorities at the instigation of the leaders of his own people. This man brought something unknown into the world: the face of the hidden God; and he changed the world forever.
But many people are scandalized by the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is somehow unique among religious figures and necessary for every person who ever walked the earth. So I will address this question here in part 2 before moving on to discuss who Jesus is and what he brought to the world.
So, here we go!:
Many are offended by the Christian claim that Jesus Christ alone is the Way to true life. Less people, on the other hand, tend to blame Jesus himself for the claim – for it was he who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It can sound like something arrogant or bigoted, like, “We (the Christians) are right and everybody else is wrong.” Or it can seem like an impossibility, for how can the God of all limit Himself in this way? How can the Creator of all that exists be tribal or sectarian?
Well, it is not impossible, but it is a paradox. (By the way, if you decide to study Christianity, expect lots of paradox.) I don’t mean by this to say that God is sectarian, but I do mean to say that He has a people; God is not tribal, but He has a family. If you think about the Christian claim of exclusivity in the light of the Bible, you find a number of important things, all pointing to the same idea:
- When God first began to draw together a people for Himself – a family to follow Him – He called Abraham, promised him innumerable descendants, and vowed that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Later on, through the prophets (See Isaiah 49:6), God reminded His people of this very thing, by promising to incorporate the Gentiles (everybody else) into the people. Exclusivity for the purpose of inclusivity.
- Later on, in “the fullness of time,” Jesus’s earthly ministry began with “the lost sheep of Israel,” but extended also to Gentiles (See Matthew 15:21-28). Instructed by the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ, the early Christian church also began with the Jews but then extended beyond Jews to include Gentiles, and embarked upon a mission to expand God’s people to include the whole human race through preaching Jesus Christ as Lord (See Acts 10). Exclusivity for the purpose of inclusivity.
- Though the name of Jesus is the only name given for the salvation of men (Acts 4:12), the New Testament repeatedly states and in other ways implies that the coming of Jesus Christ has cosmic and hidden implications. Jesus is recorded as saying, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). The message of the Gospel, before it had reached even a quarter of the globe, according to the Apostle Paul had already been “preached to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). It is implied that those who “formerly did not obey,” not taking refuge in the arc (which prefigures baptism and the Church), are given ‘a second chance’ by the spirit of Christ (See 1 Peter 3:19-20). Those who have a certain expectant faith, though not knowing Christ, will be made perfect though the Church (See Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40). In other words, it seems that through hidden means God invites all human beings into His one family; He is “the savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32). Indeed in Christ, God has revealed a mysterious “plan to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10), to “reconcile to himself all things … by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). Again, exclusivity for the purpose of inclusivity.
You might ask, why “exclusivity for the sake of inclusivity”? Why not just inclusivity? Because true unity is unity in the truth. You need the exclusivity that draws the right lines between good and evil, that knows the difference between true life and its plausible counterfeits, before inclusivity becomes of value. From the time of the Fall at the beginning of history, until the end of time, from His own power and initiative, God is reconciling the world to Himself in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). In visible and hidden ways. The Scriptures Old and New Testament bear witness to this, and it is a work both with the exclusivity of drawing strong lines, and with the inclusivity of a universal invitation.
So as an (I think) generally honest and fair person, when I hear something like “Jesus Christ is the only Way,” I don’t think arrogance or bigotry (unless I think I detect it from the speaker’s tone of voice, non-verbals, etc.), and I certainly don’t think God is being limited and turned into some kind of sectarian deity.
Instead, I think thoughts of praise for the infinite wisdom of God who is bringing to fulfillment His mysterious plan for the unity of the human race, and of all creation, in one family with Himself, its Creator. This family begins now, among those who believe in Christ and follow him in the Church, but it also has a larger future, which we are awaiting.
Thank you for reading. Let me know if it has been helpful. Questions are welcomed. So are challenges. I realize that I have gone in uncommon directions interpreting one or two scripture passages, but I think that they are plausible and fit within the logic of the tradition. Part 3 is on the way, but I’ve got other posts in the works, and I don’t know what will come next. Hopefully I’ll post something in a week or so. Here’s hoping another computer doesn’t die on me.