Processing Jesus: Pt III – Way, Truth, Life
I have been trying to put my faith into words. It’s been hard, because I often find that when talking about Jesus, my words carry meanings that I don’t want them to. Words like being “born again” or “saved” just don’t do it justice. But by carefully defining the words ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ I think I’ve started to make some progress.
I decided in the last couple of days that simply saying ‘I believe in Jesus’ is enough. That expresses my religious faith at the moment. If I had to explain why I believe in Jesus it would get harder, but for now I have a formulation that I like.
But I still have problems.
I have problems with Christianity. I think it makes too many exclusivist claims: ‘If you’re not in with Jesus, you’re not going to Heaven.’ ‘Jesus is the only way to God.’ ‘Either Jesus is the Son of God, or he isn’t – and as long as your religion doesn’t teach that, it doesn’t teach the truth.’
This is where I stand on this issue: Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word is eternal, transcendent, without dimension or time. Christianity does not have exclusive access to it.
The Word is God. Jesus is God revealing Himself in a body. But in the end, a revelation is an image, not the substance of the thing itself. And that one thing can reveal itself to people many ways. Who says that both the Qur’an and Jesus can’t both be manifestations of the same thing?
These are special revelations, because they extend into space and time. Anything that exists in space and time is imperfect and changeable. But even though they are imperfect, they point to the perfect. They are in space and time, but point to the transcendent and the permanent. They lead a follower to their own direct revelations – God showing His existence to individual people. But these direct revelations lack language and expression, which is what we need the special revelations for.
So why should we argue over whose way of talking about the inexpressible is better? How can we say that others’ ways of expressing the Divine are untrue?
I am not suggesting that all religions are equal or the same or even true. I still stand by what I wrote in Bad Religion. But I think that Christianity needs to eat a slice of humble pie and realise that a lot of what it says isn’t inherently meaningful, or even rational. It’s a symbol and it points beyond itself. Even ‘Jesus’ is a symbol. Jesus, as God, is known by inner experience – the Spirit. All of that is tied to the lived experience of a man on the earth with the name Jesus (actually ‘Yeshua’ – Jesus is the English version of the Greek Iesu from the Hebrew Yeshua, which in English is normally Joshua…). But the name points to so much more than that.
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.
– John 14:5-7. A tricky passage.
So how can we claim that the symbols Christianity uses to grasp and convey these meanings are exclusively true? How can we claim that all that is worth knowing is included in this faith? How can we say that we, as Christians, even begin to embody all that this faith teaches?