All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“We’re right and we’re the only ones!” shout the Pope, the Baptist preacher, and the cult leader in unison across the trenches.

Then, at Starbucks, in the classroom, in the locker room I hear, “All religions are equal.” Equally right, which means equally wrong, so live it up.

What if there is a third option? What if all of us are wrong, but some of us are less wrong than others?

What if only one person has ever had it 100% right: Jesus. The only human who has ever had a true understanding of reality, of God, or of anything else. Hold on, He was God. The rest of us are finite and screwed-up. But Jesus offered to bring to God any who would follow Him.

Christ saves, not any church, Roman Catholic or otherwise. For some of us, like my best philosopher friends, following Christ means becoming Roman Catholic. For others of us, it means becoming irreverent renegades. Or Baptists.

Different Christian groups, with their different emphases, offer different aspects of the truth about Christ and His teaching: love, grace, the awesomeness of God, the importance of His Word, loving the poor and the oppressed, community, tradition and history, and the reality of how messed-up we are all in this life, etc. If we only turn to our traditions, and not also to their Source, we’ll leave out important aspects of the Truth.

I see in other religions aspects of the truth about God also: the peacefulness of Buddhism; the discipline of Islam; the wild diversity of Hinduism; the restful rituals of Judaism. But I see also important differences. In every case, God is either less of a Person (Buddhism and Hinduism), or less personal (Judaism without Christ; Islam). But do other religions lead to heaven? That is the difficult question facing all Christians today.

I offer a strange possibility which should offend people on both sides of the debate. I think that we’re asking the wrong question. Does any religion lead to heaven? No.

No religion leads to heaven. God leads to heaven. He does so through Christ, but many times the -ianity (or the -ians) gets in the way. Religion — our beliefs, our practices — these are all means to an end: Him. There are many false ways, some in and some outside of Christianity, but only one Shepherd. Many who have correct beliefs, but who did not trust Christ, will be in hell (James 2:19). Is it possible that many who have incorrect beliefs, but who trust Christ, will end up in heaven? I think so, for who among us can claim a 100% understanding of God? I am saved by Who I know, not by what I know. But is it possible to trust Christ without knowing that it’s Christ? I don’t know. But I need to love, listen, speak, and pray as if every moment counts toward that end.

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Learning to Love the Opposition

What We Can Gain By Agreeing to Disagree

Most blog conversations, like most real-life conversations, represent like-minded individuals giving each other feedback.  I love it when a friend of mine posts a comment along the lines of “What you said was awesome!”  I can’t get enough of that.  In fact, the blogosphere might have even more affirmation than real life.  Maybe that’s why we love to be plugged in so much.

But what I really can’t get enough of: respectful disagreement expressed with clarity.  No matter what your religio-political-philosophical worldview, I hope you can agree: we can learn a lot from each other, especially when we disagree.

I want your atheism to help me be a better Christian, showing me the ways in which my faith and practice are lacking.  I want to see Buddhist Katy helping Mary Kay to be more Jewish.  I want Michael Moore to help W. to be a better Republican.  Why?  Because if we’re ultimately concerned with pursuing what is true and good, we help each other in that pursuit, even if our conceptions of truth and good differ as much as our ideas for how to live in light of them.

This is probably easier to show than to tell.  In the coming days I will be co-posting the first in a series of “Dialogs with an Atheist,” courtesy of Skeptigator.  I guess he and I got bored with limiting ourselves to in-depth discussion with those who are like-minded.

Every disagreement is a challenge.  Every challenge is an opportunity.  The bottom line: I don’t want to agree with you; I want to understand you.  If I can do that, I will have truly learned something and, I hope, gained a friend.

Sudden Death

“All death is sudden.” – anonymous

Life is precious. We forget so easily. Many movies, most video games, and all advertisements help us to forget. They tell us that our value is in how we look, in how many points (excitement, pleasure, accomplishment) we score, and in what we own. And most of us believe them most of the time. We act and speak as if scoring points was all that mattered. Whatever it is that you enjoy, do as much of that as possible, because today is the only day that matters.

But tomorrow is already here. Death is knocking at the door. He may have been knocking for a while, but you hadn’t been listening. I know I haven’t. Maybe he’s not here for you yet; you’ve got friends and family in the house, along with some random acquaintances you might not miss. Surely he’ll take one of them. Won’t he?

Hedonism’s response to death: ignore it. 

Is that really an option? Then you have no chance to prepare for what’s next, because you have refused to venture to guess that might be. The “great religions” are great because they have at least made an attempt. 

 (***What follows is a brief survey of my understanding of these religions’ views.  If I have misrepresented your view or need to be more specific, please let me know!)

Maybe there is nothing after death. That is atheists’ response. I respect their insistence on only claiming knowledge of that for which we have evidence. But my soul is incredulous before that great emptiness. There is too much purpose in life for there to be no purpose in death.

Maybe there is more life after death: many lives, the next better or worse, depending on how you behaved in this life. And if you are good enough for enough lives, you will enter Nirvana. Or maybe you will escape into Nothingness. That is the Hindu response, with its Buddhist variation. But my soul is too weary of day after day. Life after life would be too much to bear, unless I were utterly transformed.  Plus, I know my own heart too well. I would never think, feel, love, act rightly enough to “graduate” to the next step… and I’m not sure whether anyone else would either.

Death is the will of God. I must accept it and obey Him. If it is God’s will, I will enter Paradise, so I had be get on His good side. I love the simplicity of Islam’s response. But I ache against the thought of God wanting death.

The Jewish answer is in the form of a story: death is the enemy of God’s work and it has infected His creation because of us (Genesis 3).  We have hope of being reunited with each other and with Him after death (Psalm 23), but such hope is vague and fleeting, so theories abound in Judaism as to just what happens next.  The Tanakh (a.k.a. Old Testament) does not tell us how the story ends.

The New Testament finishes the Jewish story: God used death to return any of us who are willing to life by letting His Son die in our place (John 3).  And not just any death: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27).  God will destroy death itself when all of His dead have been made alive again. “Look!  I will tell you a mystery.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed….  For when this dying body puts on the undying, the sayings will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (Isaiah 25:8); ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (Hosea 13:14).  The sting of death is in the weight of our crimes, and the power of our crimes is in God’s law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives to us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; FIV).

That death is neither the end nor my friend may be the only answer that I can live with… whether I deserve to or not.

Sunset over the Al-Hambra

Into the wind

above the haze

to the top

of the highest hill

every green and red

stretched to silver grey

over the palace

where my grandfathers’ ghosts

still walk

vying

with each other

for

the light

 

Published in: on June 24, 2007 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment