Monday, July 21, 2008

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

The idea that "Jesus is the only way to heaven" is highly unpopular with the world at large--which admittedly is sometimes provoked by Christians who behave as if their interpretations of Jesus were the only way. Differences in modes of baptism, styles of music, and even the color of pastoral robes have all been the center of arguments over whether this or that church is really Christian. At its worst, the "I can tell a true believer from an infidel as surely as God can" attitude has written some pretty ugly chapters in history. Even mass murder has been rationalized as defending the Gospel.

Still, if we take the basic Scriptures seriously, we have to admit that Jesus Himself was the originator of the main idea. C. S. Lewis, among others, noted that anyone who talks the way Jesus is recorded as talking is either a megalomaniac, a sociopath--or considerably more than "merely human." Traditionally, the majority of humanity has not been too happy with any of those options, which is probably the reason for the popular theory that many of Jesus's claims came not in fact from Him, but from later editors of the Gospels. I once heard a non-Christian religious speaker say that Jesus's words in John 14:6--"I am the way"--could easily be a mistranslation of "I am a way." How she explained His follow-up comment, "No one comes to the Father except through me," I never did find out!

Actually, the idea that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, and the one door to Heaven is not as exclusivist as many people think. After all, everyone--regardless of income or education level, race, gender, or personal history--is invited, at no cost!

Well, it does cost something--something that human beings, like an alcoholic with a whiskey bottle, are better off without but hate to give up. That something is our pride and sense of self-sufficiency. What really makes Christianity unique is not so much the claim to be the best or the only true faith--virtually every religion in the world believes as much to one degree or another--but its emphasizing that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. The idea that "you're saved because of the good you've done--with perhaps a bit of divine generosity thrown in" has no place in true Christianity. Until we accept Christ's grace to turn us from sinners into saints, the "good" we do doesn't even count--it's too tainted by our own self-interests. And it hurts to admit that we're helpless on our own, and that we're pretty ugly, even evil, on close examination.

Once we manage to admit that, though, Christ will show us a better way of life than we ever dreamed of. Starting not on our entrance into Heaven, but right here and now.

Once I was just lost and going nowhere,
Until I met the One Who is the Way.
Now my path is straight and true and ever upward,
Side by side with He Who brings the endless Day.

Once I was deceived and trapped in darkness,
Until I met the One Who is the Truth.
Now I can see clearly where my path is leading,
Side by side with He Who ever renews youth.

Once I was weak, sick, and close to dying,
Until I met the One Who is the Life.
Now my path leads ever on to lands eternal,
Side by side with He Who conquers in all strife.

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