Tag Archives: resurrection

Engaging Religious Pluralism – Is Jesus the only way? – Part 1

I grew up with the belief that Christianity is an exclusive religion. We have the “one, true, and only way to get out of hell card.” Come to us you can experience God’s blessings.

This raised many questions:

What about those who lived before Jesus? How could they possibly be “saved”?

What about those who died and have never heard about Jesus?

What about those of other faiths?

Here are the simple steps I took in my own journey.

Step 1 – If God exists, then all truth comes from God. This is true not only of all religions, but of science as well. Thus, if science reveals a long evolutionary process of creation then I need to figure out how to read and interpret the Bible in light of this evidence.

Step 2 – I saw truth, goodness, and compassion in people of other religions (and no religions at all) that I believed came from God. If Jesus was the only way, why do I find so much to celebrate in others who don’t claim to have Jesus?

Step 3 – Do I have to believe that Jesus is the only way? I began to wrestle with the Bible, my experience, and my upbringing to see if there was a way to be a Christian without being exclusive.

Two One Way roadsigns indicating opposite directions over blue sky - confusion concept

So first the Bible.

The go to text is John 14:6, Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” 

Plain, simple, straightforward, right?

Only pulling one text (or several) out of context and putting it into another context is not good interpretation.

The way or the path of Jesus is the way to God correct? Then what is that path?

I believe that path is the path of death and resurrection, which, interestingly enough, is a path found in most religious traditions. Paradoxically, the path of Jesus is a path to life, yet one must go through death in order to experience this life (resurrection). Isn’t this what all the major wisdom traditions tell us?

When Jesus talks about death, I used to think he meant that I couldn’t act on any impulses because they were all selfish. I should resist buying nice clothes, food, etc for if I denied these things that was “dying to self.” I no longer find this true or helpful, actually it is quite destructive.

The way of death and resurrection is the way to die to our own ego, our sense of superiority, our need to be right or correct, our need to see the world in black and white, our need to have clear boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out.” What I thought was “dying to self” was actually only bolstering up and feeding my ego and sense of superiority…wow!

This is also the great temptation of all religious people at the immature levels.

Interestingly enough, it was the religious leaders during the life of Jesus who seem to struggle with this the most. They did not want to die to these things for it is ultimately a death of the ego. We learn from them that one can use religion to feed the ego and go against this path.

I find it very fascinating that a religion that claims to follow the way of Jesus-  the way of death and resurrection – has a strong tendency to walk a different path and to create more exclusion, bigotry, racism, sexism etc.

Marcus Borg wrote that there are three ways of seeing one’s religion:

1 – The absolutist understanding – one’s own religion is the absolute and only truth

2- the reductionist understanding – all religion is a human invention

3- the sacramental understanding – “religions are human constructions in response to the experiences of the sacred.”

Eventually, through a long and difficult journey, I have come to the third understanding and would agree with Borg when he wrote, “Each of the enduring religions is a mediator of ‘the absolute,’ but not ‘absolute’ itself.”

If God exists, then God cannot be fully known or captured in any one religion.

The question then becomes, “why be a Christian?”

For me personally, I am a Christian because this is the tradition most familiar to me. It is the tradition I was raised in and it is one I continue to find beautiful and compelling. It is “in my bones” so to speak and is very much a part of who I am. It has and continues to be the way I find a deep connection to God.

That being said, I have little interest in converting someone else. If someone is seeking a tradition, or they are wanting to go deeper, I enjoy walking with them. If they are walking along another path or tradition, I don’t feel it is my job to convince them to “change sides.” Rather, I see my job as reflecting the image of God to them and helping them along their path.

I love the story of a Christian who came to the Dalai Lama wanting to convert to Buddhism. His response was to encourage the Christian to follow his tradition (Christianity) in a deeper way.

What a beautiful story!

 

 

Easter

Where will you go when you die?

This is the question isn’t it? I mean, this is the singular question I was raised with and if I’m honest I preached on many occasions and in many situations.

Isn’t this what Easter is all about?

Jesus died to pay for our sins so that we can go to heaven instead of hell when we die. So the question then becomes, “if you were to die today, where would you go?”

Sound familiar?

Now, I have come to see the death and resurrection in a very different light, but I still think that what happens after you die really matters. What we think about when we think about the life after death will shape us in powerful ways. So, those who are religious and think that the majority of people will spend the rest of their lives in eternal conscious torment, have a very compelling message – it’s just that it is actually not really good news…at least not to the majority of people.

As I mentioned, what happens when you die is important, but if we are honest, we really know little about it. This is a topic for another time (maybe next week). I just wanted to be clear that this is important, but also that much of it is very unclear.

That being said, to boil the biblical narrative down to this one simple question is to oversimplify everything and loose so much in the process. In fact, when we focus on this question alone we miss the most important parts of the story!

In Genesis we get a poem where God creates and calls it good. Animals, plants, the solar system, sex, water, dirt, – it’s all good – including humanity.

In Revelation we get a vision of a city coming down and God creating things new. This is about reconciliation and not about destruction.

What about the resurrection of Jesus?

Dallas Willard writes, “Salvation then becomes not something about the afterlife, but about the life that comes into us now – enters us by the Spirit of God from above. Above is right here. It is resurrection life. That is salvation.”

Rob Bell writes, “Resurrection affirms the goodness of creation, reminding us of our sacred responsibility to care for it well.”

Even Jesus prayed for God’s hope and dream (kingdom) to come to earth – I think we should see the life of Jesus as a movement of heaven to earth not the other way around.

So, when we celebrate and remember the resurrection of Jesus we are reminded that life is breaking in right here, right now. This world matters. Your life, your health, your job, your friendships, your family…all of it is good…all of it is sacred…all of it matters!

lifematters-by-laura

I’m thankful to be part of a church that holds as one of its core values that following Jesus is just as much about this world as the next.

This world matters!

But also within that statement is not the denial that the age to come doesn’t matter. Following Jesus is about this life AND the life to come, but when we understand that God is for the flourishing of this life, then why would we not  believe God would want that to continue into the next life?

 

Lent – the death of the old and the rebirth of the new

So this Lent season I have been thinking about what Lent means to me and what it says to the world we live in today.

I was not raised to pay much attention to the church calender. Of course Christmas and Easter were always a big deal, but following the church calender through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and ordinary time where never on my radar.

images

Lent is that time of year where Christians prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Often times this comes with giving up something in observance of this season.

I have specifically been thinking about the time between Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter.

What happened in this time is one major faith shift.

I have gone through some pretty major faith shifts, but the biggest faith shift has been my picture of God.

I still remember very clearly not long ago someone on pastoral staff at a church who was suggesting that God brought about a recent hurricane to judge the “wicked”. This person quoted texts in the Hebrew Scriptures (Christian Old Testament) to prove that God had done this before and that God was doing it again.

I also remember during this time wrestling through different texts, their interpretations, and who God was when an old friend firmly tried to “rebuke” me (that’s a Christian way of saying your wrong) and declared that we should not wrestle with the Bible or God but we are to accept both as it is. Really? What this person was actually saying is that I needed to accept their interpretation of Scripture and their picture of God.

I also remember during this time hearing from an influential lay leader at a church that not only are Muslims wrong, but that they are evil and Christians need to be aware and stand against them or else they will take over our nation. This person had a very clear picture that America is a “Christian” nation and that any other religion is our enemy to be fought against.

I also remember during this time hearing from several about the importance of getting people to say a “sinner’s prayer” so that they do not go to hell and burn throughout eternity.

I remember thinking through these four examples (and many others) and realizing that I just don’t see things the same way. Each of these examples could be argued (and were) using the Bible. I didn’t have the words, or the theology, but I was going through a season of Lent. The old way of seeing and understanding God had died – I just hadn’t made it to Easter yet!

Jesus was suppose to be the Messiah (anointed one) and the Savior who was suppose to free Israel from the Roman Empire. Palm Sunday is a clear example of this as the people shouted Hosanna which means “Lord save us” – literally they were anticipating salvation from the Roman Empire just as God had saved them from the Egyptians in the book of Exodus and from the Babylonians during the Exile (587-539 BCE). So to them Hosanna clearly meant Lord save us from the Roman empire.

This makes perfect sense. As they understood God was a mighty warrior who conquered and defeated their [Israel’s] enemies. Yahweh was a God who brought about calamity, commanded genocide, and fought for Israel and would send people to hell in a moments notice.

Here comes Jesus, the one who was suppose to represent all of the descriptions above. Jesus would to be a mighty warrior who would conquer and defeat Israel’s enemies, the Romans. Jesus would bring peace to Israel through violence and the sword and would condemn to death those who oppose him.

  • Palm Sunday – people celebrated and expected this Jesus.
  • Good Friday – this Jesus was put to death.
  • Easter – Jesus was resurrected and shows a new way of seeing God.

I have recently heard that each serious Christian has one primary text that acts like a lens through which they read the rest of the Scriptures through.

During this time, and today, one of the biggest texts that I use is found in Colossians which says, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God”. Also a similar text found in Hebrews 1v3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”.

I understand not everyone believes that Jesus is divine, but it’s difficult to argue for a more beautiful way of seeing God. The one thing, above all others, that makes Christianity unique, is this idea that God entered into our humanity and showed us who God is and how to be fully human.

Now, I realize a lot of violence, destruction, oppression, and hatred have been used in the name of Jesus (much like it has been used by a few Muslim extremist today), but when one reads the life and teaching of Jesus it is very difficult to get a picture of a God who is violent, vengeful, angry, full of hate, and ready to torture people throughout eternity.

In fact, it seems to me that one gets the exact opposite picture of God. In my experience there are many people who do not believe in God, and when they talk about the God they do not believe in, I realize that often I do not  believe in that God either.

What does this mean for today?

I wonder if we need a season of Lent in our culture. I think that there are some very horrible and destructive ways of seeing God that should be put to death.

I have a feeling, that there is a growing number of people, like myself, for whom the old ways of seeing God no longer work. These people have entered into a Good Friday, and similar to the first followers of Jesus, it is easy to experience a disequilibrium of sorts.

During this time it is tempting to through the whole thing out the window (this is what the first followers of Jesus did and what we often do as well). While some are atheist because this seems to be the most rational way of understanding the world, I think some people are atheist because they have been presented with a god that doesn’t make sense and that is actually not worth worshiping and have rejected this god.

I think the invitation during this season of Lent for today is to hold on and continue the journey. While you may have gone through a Friday, the promise is that Friday does not have the last answer – Easter is just around the corner!