In the Church of the Brethren, we have to talk a lot about how to reconcile our beliefs with those of our brothers and sisters who don’t feel the same way. Members of our denomination (my understanding is that Mennonites face the same questions) cover the political spectrum end to end, with varying stances on all the good “moral questions:” abortion, same-sex marriage, non-resistance, the military, salvation… the list goes on. And so we are faced with the sticky task of recognizing the validity of our brother’s faith while still affirming our own as true and right.
Hokay, so. Here’s the question. Is there one truth in the middle of the theological dartboard that we’re all throwing at, some getting closer than others? Or is there wiggle room? Is it possible that when I say homosexuality is A-OK and my dad has a problem with it, we’re both somehow equally right thanks to the logic-defying power of God? If I’m a Christian and my roommate is a Pagan, are we just on different roads heading in the same general direction?
Gandhi treated God, Truth and Love as interchangable synonyms. He believed that there was some Absolute Truth that, if we are lucky, we can catch a glimpse of once or twice in our life. Otherwise we must hold to our relative truths (e.g. our religious traditions), which are all pointed towards that same Absolute Truth. A very Gandhian, Hindu-related view of this is that Truth is a big mountain we’re all climbing, but we’re all on different sides of it following different trails. Of course our experiences along the way are going to be different, and of course we’re not going to agree about what the path looks like – but in the end we’re still heading for the peak.
So that’s a Hindu take, but what does Christianity have to say on the matter? The Bible does seem to state pretty clearly that Jesus is the way – or, at least, we’re all so used to reading it that way that it’s hard to comprehend a more open theology actually being expressed in the Holy Book (people – including me – argue a more open theology all the time, but I really don’t think it’s printed on those pages). But, at the risk of being a heretic, how credible a source is the Bible? We’re told by our parents and pastors that it’s legit, but – and maybe your experience is different – God never came to me and told me straight up that the Bible is word for word an accurate picture of the way things are. The only thing that makes the Bible my source, as opposed to the Qur’an, the Torah or All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek is the fact that I was raised a Christian.
Now, there is some stuff in the Bible that could suggest a more complicated reading of “Jesus is the only way.” Let me offer a slightly different interpretation of Matthew 25:37-39: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'” Here we have a parable about people who clearly did not think they had properly served Jesus, who find that through their service to others really had. Perhaps they had not been Christians. They had done good work, but not in Jesus’ name. But because all good things belong to God, in showing Godly values they were in fact serving Jesus.
Now, a lot of the above is quite outside common Christian theology, so I certainly wouldn’t express it in my work as a writer for Messenger magazine (COB equivalent of The Mennonite). But here’s an idea that came to me in the middle of the night some weeks ago:
My faith is a relationship that I have with God. It’s part me, and part God. Surely I can’t expect someone else’s relationship with God to be the same as mine, any more than I can expect someone else to have the same relationship with my partner as I do (I’d sure hope not!), or for my relationship with my brother to be the same as my relationship with Maggie who works at the coffee shop downtown. So in the same way that no two relationships are the same, no two faith journeys are. There. Is that a good, moderate way to hint at universalism?
I’ve shared a few of my thoughts on the nature of God and Truth, but I’d love to hear what some of the rest of you think about it. Because really, it’s behind most (or all) of the disagreements we have in the Church: the question of who, if anyone, is right.
Please share, and by all means contradict me fully.