It's Easter Saturday and we are getting ready for tomorrow. This is the last in the series on God. I think this is a good day for it. Happy Easter everyone!
6. The Question of God: The Answer is Christ
In what we have been saying about God so far, the assumption has been that it is within the Christian faith that the answer to the question of God is to be found. This seems to rule out any contribution that other religions may want to make. In these relativist days, however, to suggest that there might be only one way, one truth, and one life to follow, if you are to come to God is considered arrogant and bigoted. In what follows, I will attempt to explain what I think our attitude to other religions should be and, at the same time, bring our series on the question of God to a close.
Firstly, we need to acknowledge that individual members of other religions are often good, kind people whose commitment to their faith is every bit as sincere as is that of Christians to theirs. Indeed, the commitment of some members of other religions puts Christians to shame. Furthermore, the contribution that some people of other faiths make to the general well-being of human beings leaves many Christians far behind.
Secondly, we also need to acknowledge that Christians, past and present, have, on many occasions, got things horribly wrong. On an individual level, we have not followed the example and teachings of Christ; our lives have not witnessed to him; and we have frequently been guilty of hypocrisy and sin. On a corporate level, the Church has much of which to repent. The Church has to accept guilt for its instigation of, involvement in, and complicity with injustice, exploitation, violence, and a general inhumanity. Our behaviour, at times, towards those of a different religious belief to our own cannot be defended. And should not be.
Thirdly, though, we ought, perhaps, to make a distinction between the Christian religion and the revelation of God in Christ. Religion is what we human beings do. Sometimes, we will get it right and our religion will be a faithful enactment of the teaching of Christ. It will express our obedience to and worship of our Lord. On other occasions, it will be entirely neutral, neither good or bad in itself, but capable of becoming either. On still other occasions, we will get it entirely wrong, and rather than the Christian religion being something good or even just neutral, it will become something bad, even demonic, reflecting our continuing sinfulness, rather than our obedience to God. On most occasions, it will be a blend of all three.
So, as an example of the good, we might cite the bravery and sacrifice of the early Christian martyrs, who stood firm against paganism and persecution at the cost of their lives as they proclaimed the Gospel of Christ. As an example of something neutral, we might cite synodical government (or any form of Church government for that matter). There is nothing wrong with it in itself. At times, it might be a useful way to enable the Church to serve God. At others, it might prove a complete waste of time and a barrier to the Holy Spirit. As an example of something wrong, we might cite the systematic persecution and torture of one group of Christians by another at the time of the reformation.
To say that the truth is to be found in Christ is not the same as saying that the truth is to be found in Christ’s disciples. It should be. Sometimes it is. Often it is not.
Fourthly, however, no matter how much we may recognize and acknowledge our failure and sinfulness, both individually and corporately, as Christians, we cannot compromise on what God himself has revealed to us in Christ. For the Christian, what God has spoken to us in Christ is an absolute standard and completely normative in matters of faith and practice. No matter how much we may go wrong in the process, our aim as Christians must be to be faithful to Christ both in what we believe and in how we live.
God is to be found in Christ and in Christ alone. This was a central tenet in the preaching of the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers. The Apostle Peter, when speaking to the Jewish authorities, says:
‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:12)
It follows, then, that because God has revealed certain things to us in Christ, we cannot believe other things that contradict this revelation. For example, we cannot believe that Christ rose from the dead and agree with Muslims, who do not. We cannot believe in a God who is personal with whom we can communicate and agree with Buddhists, who do not. We cannot believe in one God who alone is worthy of worship and agree with Hindus, who do not.
Some of the most basic Christian beliefs are absolutely incompatible with the beliefs of other religions. We might agree on some things, but that does not alter the fact that we disagree on much more. We might be able to work together in some areas, but that must not be at the cost of revealed truth. If we claim to be Christians and recite the creed each Sunday, then, for good or ill, we are also saying, like it or not, that the other religions cannot be right, no matter how good or nice individual members of them may be. In this respect, we need, humbly, to have the confidence to believe what our faith teaches us to believe.
When we declare our faith every Sunday in the Creed, we are declaring faith in one God and one Lord. It is an inevitable consequence of this that there is one truth and that that truth is to be found in Christ.
But why all this emphasis on Christ? It is because the question of God is ultimately not solved primarily by argument, debate, and discussion, necessary though they are. And we do not find God by a consideration of the evidence, important though it is to examine it. The answer to the question of whether there is a God is to be found in Christ. Personally, we come to know this God for ourselves as we encounter him in and through Christ. This is an encounter that everyone can have, and which everyone must have, if they are to answer the question of God for themselves.
We are about to celebrate Easter. Easter tells us that God took pity on us, that he had mercy on our ignorance and our inability to find him on our own by our own efforts, and that he came instead to find us and show himself to us. When we look at Christ, we are looking at God. Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, said to him:
‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’
Jesus reply to him says everything that needs to be said:
‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’ (John 14:8-9)
May each one of us find for ourselves the answer to the question of God in the only place that it can be found - in Christ.