Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14.6.
Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted a full-color, well-designed version of a diagram familiar to many of us from little “four spiritual laws” type tracts. It depicts two cliffs on either side of a chasm and the chasm is bridged by a cross. The right-hand cliff is marked God, the left-hand cliff is marked Man and the cross is marked Jesus. Underneath it is set out the text From John 14 with which I started this post.
“So?” I hear you saying. “What’s wrong with that?”
Well, once, I would have said “nothing” but now I would have to say “almost everything.”
Let’s note, first of all, that the text and the diagram are actually saying two different things. To match the diagram, the text would have to read: “The cross is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through it.”
Let’s deal with the second difference first—the switch from “Father” to “God”—and let’s begin by asking a couple of very simple questions? 1, Did Abraham ever have a meaningful relationship with God? (Remember the description of him as “friend of God” in 2 Chronicles 20.7.) 2. Did David ever have a meaningful relationship with God? (Remember the 23rd Psalm.) And the point I’m making is that the Old Testament for a start is full of people who “came to God” without making the journey “through” Jesus or the Cross.* But I would go further. So also do thousands of present-day Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and people of all manner of religions and of none. We need to remember what Peter said to Cornelius in Acts 10:34: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Is it not a quite appalling arrogance (and blindness) for us Christians to suggest that all the millions of faith-full seekers after God throughout the world and throughout all the generations have been deluded in their belief that they have actually made contact with him?
What I believe we are right in asserting, however, is that only through Jesus can anyone know God as Father—Abba, Dad. That particular intimacy of relationship with God comes only when the Spirit of Sonship, which is the Spirit of Jesus himself (Galations 4.6), dwells in our hearts and bears witness with our spirit that we are indeed children of God (Romans 8.16). There is a book entitled “I Dared To Call Him Father” which tells the story of how Bilquis Sheikh—a Pakistani woman who was a devout Muslim and who knew God as Allah—came through Jesus to know him as Abba. And that is, of course, a journey into intimacy that God wants all those who know him by other names to make. But just don’t let’s try to tell the Bilquis Sheikhs of this world that their faith before meeting Jesus was unreal or that their knowledge of God was delusional.
Finally, to the other difference between the text and the diagram—the substitution in the diagram of an object (the Cross) for a person (Jesus). “Oh, come on.” I hear you say. “Isn’t that just splitting hairs? After all, the Cross is the most important thing about Jesus, isn’t it? Well, no, I don’t believe it is. The most important thing about Jesus is Jesus! Of course the cross is of major significance—I would not even begin to deny it—but to suggest (as the diagram does) that our reconciliation with God depends on it rather than on Jesus himself is the first step on the slippery slope that has people “getting saved” by signing on dotted lines, saying little set prayers, responding to altar calls, and all such procedural, formulaic things. No. People get saved by letting Jesus take them to the Father. Simple as that. It’s relationship, relationship, relationship. As the hymn says: “O come to the Father through Jesus the Son, and give him the glory: great things he hath done.”
If we could only take these truths on board, we might, I feel, be far better prepared to enter into loving dialogue with those of other faiths (or none) so that Jesus can bring them home to Abba.
* You may want to argue, of course, that Abraham, David etc all came to God through the pre-incarnate Jesus without being aware of the fact, but if so you would surely need to allow that Muslims, Buddhists etc may be truly coming to God through an as-yet-hidden-to-them-Jesus too?