I mentioned before that we’re going through a “big questions” series at church, and today – thanks to 2 well-behaved children – I heard the whole thing. This is its own cause of celebratory activities. And I can now tell you exactly how big of a handful of raisins this feat requires. But I digress.
Today was “Is Jesus the only way?” which is a difficult question for some, even seminary grads (I’d argue that these folk are more inclined to feel troubled by giving a hard answer. Normal people get to answer the question without writing a 10 page exegesis on it). One particular thing the pastor said caught my attention and I’ve been a bit stuck on it for a few hours.
He mentioned that we (Christians) are oft hesitant to agree with Jesus’ “I am the way… no one comes to the Father except through me” verbiage for fear of being exclusive. Thanks to a less-than-flattering history, the Christian heritage hasn’t proven to be the all-aboard invitation we’d like for it to be. So by putting it to a Jesus-only discussion, those “exclusive” labels can again be employed.
I don’t really feel the need to apologize for Jesus’ own exclusive claims. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with exclusivity when it comes to deities. But thanks to our “your way, right away” culture, such exclamations are seen as elitist and unfair. (I can hear the cries of woe… “why does He get to be savior of the universe? I wasn’t even given a chance! It’s not fair the role was picked 2000 years before my existence!”) When it doesn’t fit into our handy framework of how we like our world to work, then let the finger-pointing again.
However. Oh, don’t be shocked, you knew it was coming. However… though I believe strongly in Jesus’ exclusive rights on the “way”, I do think we have to be a bit careful when it comes to application. Jesus is the way (road, path), but our experience walking that road may look very different from someone else. I’m down with an exclusive Jesus; I’m not much for an exclusive experience of Jesus.
How God fits into my life, what it looks like to walk the path with him, the conversations involved, the concerns and cares along the way… all of these things are different for travelers. Some prefer to cut costs and stay at the Motel 6. Others glam it up for good cinnamon rolls at the Holiday Inn Express. A good friend of mine tends to pitch a tent in strangers’ yards. Some travelers move at a snails’ pace and in short spurts. Others treat it like a 100-yard dash. And who doesn’t veer off the path to pick daisies once in a while? But none of this yields an invalid path.
I think the shudders to the “Jesus is the only way” conversation have a lot less to do with Jesus and more to do with the messenger. When we say “Jesus is the only way” perhaps the message is heard “my way of life is the only way” or “my way of worship/patterns of devotion/beliefs about social issues are the only way.” And that’s simply not true.
Perhaps we should follow the series with another series called “the questions behind the questions”. It’s not always about what’s being asked, but what is implied in the answers.