Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Exclusiveness of Jesus

My friend and old compadre Ed recently asked if there was a good explanation for four different hurdles that Not-yet Believers of Jesus have difficulty with (see his Comment dated May 19, 2008). The purpose of this post is for me to address the last hurdle he mentioned – Why salvation through Christ is needed; why is it that Christians believe that the only way for people to come to Godand be saved from His anger is through Jesus of Nazareth?


Let me start with a Parable, the Parable of the 3 blind men and the elephant. 3 blind men are each touching a different part of an elephant and are asked to describe it. The first is holding the elephant's massive leg and says the elephant is like a great tree. The 2nd is holding its trunk and says the elephant is like a snake. While the 3rd is touching the elephant's side, and says the elephant is like a great wall. Is religion in the world like this metaphor? The world's religions are all merely seeing different parts or aspects of God (the elephant), and so one description cannot be better than the other descriptions, right?


There couldn't possibly be just one way to God, says Oprah on her enormously popular television show. What about the people who live in a part of the world where they have never heard of Jesus, she asks? And so she reasons from this that people through their actions are either moving toward the Light or to something called either darkness or fear. And her conclusion is that there are many ways to what she calls Light, which she also concludes is God. Now I am not bad-mouthing Oprah – she is doing more good than any single person in the today's world. But her comment is right on point for today's post. Here is a website which has her discussing this issue on her show:


Ed has raised a great question, and he has definitely hit on one of the major roadblocks for people becoming Christ-followers – can't people come to God and be "spiritual" without knowing about Jesus. A related question is the one raised by Oprah What about the good person living in a cave, who has never heard of Jesus? Isn't he entitled to go to heaven, if he is basically a good person? Let me try and help provide a more clear understanding of why Jesus is the only way for all people, nations, races, sexes, and ages to come to a saving relationship with God. First, let's take a look at whether the Bible really says that Jesus is the only way of salvation to God. Then I will take a look at whether Jesus being the only way to God makes any sense.


Does the Bible really teach that Jesus is the only way to God? When I first started studying the Bible in my 30's, I wrestled quite a long period of time with the famous verse in John 14:6 (where Jesus teaches "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.") I couldn't accept the plain meaning of this verse for a long time – I, like Oprah had a tough time accepting that Jesus was the only way to be saved from being punished by God. I just like Oprah believed there were good people who had not heard of Jesus that couldn't possibly be punished with hell. And so, here is how I rationalized John 14:6. I believed that Jesus was love, and so if you have love, you had Jesus. And voila! You were accepted by God, and anyone who loved others would go to heaven. Loving others was the magic ticket to get into heaven.


But the funny part about my life at this time was that I didn't really have love in my life. I was pretty normal during this point in my life - I was focused mostly on myself. I wanted to become a famous lawyer, my real drive was to argue a case in front of the US Supreme Court. I wanted fame, fortune, and for everyone to realize what a smart person I was (OK, maybe this one God is still working on me - J). Do you see anything missing? I didn't care about anyone else's feelings. Instead, I actually purposively tried to make everyone else's life miserable. And as an attorney, I did a pretty good job of it. I would always make sure to send out collection letters and lawsuits out on Fridays or right before holidays, so that their weekends and holidays were ruined. I had yelling matches with people calling in, including my law firm's office manager and secretary. I still have the file of letters written to me calling me every dirty name in the book. I once called someone who was a subordinate for my client, and who was supposed to provide me with some paperwork to help in a lawsuit every day for three weeks or so. And I meticulously kept a record of the time and date I left a message. And for some reason, he did not return my calls. Until I unloaded on his boss, having fun at how much trouble he was going to get into. And don't get me started on what my physical desires were like during this time of my life. I was a petty, mean selfish person, only focused on one thing in my life: meeting my own (the Bible calls this "fleshly") desires. Yet, I still thought that I had "love" in my life, and that I was in a good relationship with God. I believed that because I read the Bible, and went to Church, I was going to heaven. I was a good person I rationalized, and just doing my job. Only now do I understand what the Prophet Jeremiah said in 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;


I kept this attitude only for a while though. First, I abandoned my mis-reading of John 14:6 one weekend in Chicago at a retreat, when I accepted the "Light" of God's Word. I began to realize that there were A LOT of Bible verses that say that Jesus is the only way to God, the only way of salvation, and the only way to eternal life. Here are just a few of these verses:


Acts 4:12 - Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

1 John 2:23 - No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

Col. 1:15 – He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Hebrews 1:3 - The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

And of course, John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


And so, my irrational interpretation of John 14:6 (where I believed that all people who 'loved' would be able to come to the Father, and so get to heaven) was destroyed. Acts 4:12 (above) especially helped me to see that the Bible is very clear that John 14:6 means what it says - Jesus is the only way to God The Father. And He is the only way of salvation. So yes, the Bible really does teach that Jesus is the only way to God, and the only way of salvation.


Does it make any sense that Jesus is the only way to God? So why does God's Word teach that salvation through Jesus Christ alone is needed. I like to repeat as a mantra that mankind's major problem is sin. Sin is an entangling distraction from living a life with character. Sin is consuming, and often hurts others as well as ourselves. And God's response to Mankind's sin problem was to send His Son, the Son of God Jesus. Through Jesus' death on the Cross, God Himself offered His Son in payment of mankind's sins. Jesus offered Himself to pay what justice required for all of our sins: our sins require the death penalty before God. And God paid this price Himself, with Jesus who had no sin, giving up His life to pay for the world's sins. And here is the important part – it is only Jesus' sacrifice that can pay for the punishment required when we commit sins. Nothing else can make up for our sins, except the Blood of Jesus.


So yes, Oprah because everyone has made mistakes, hurt others, and offended God, one day when we die we must face the Judge who we offended with our actions, God Himself. And we may try and squirm out of responsibility for the crimes we committed during our lives, by saying that we also did good things during our life. The reason why someone's attempted good actions don't help is because if we were before a Judge for say, bank robbery, we would be laughed at for trying to argue that we used the money to help someone else. It doesn't matter if we do try to do good while also committing a serious crime / sin. The penalty for the sin still has to be paid. And when we commit a sin against God, the penalty required is always death. Think of it this way – if you hit your cat with a stick, you may not have to pay any penalty. But if you hit your wife with a stick, you likely will spend some time in jail And if you hit the President with a stick, if you aren't shot by the Secret Service, you will spend a great deal of time in jail. The penalty goes up as the importance of the person you hurt increases. And in a similar way, if you commit any offense against God, like ignoring Him, using His precious name as a cuss-word (this is a serious crime called Blasphemy), or ignoring His Sabbath, you have committed a serious sin that requires the payment of everything you have, even your life.


Ed, you also mention that people are only doing what their nature drives them to do. I don't agree. For now, let me merely point out why such great classics as The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and even The Matrix strike such a chord with us. I believe this is what God has placed in us to yearn for something more in our lives. That we want to be heroic, to stand up and fight against evil, even to fight against impossible odds, if our death would have meaning. To be people of character, and to stop those who hurt those around us. But instead we settle for quick fixes, quick moments of happiness to make us forget about the pains of our lives.


And so, is there any hope for us? Yes, this is the Good News – the Righteous One paid the penalty for all the crimes of the unrighteous. Ed, if you were sitting in a jail cell for a crime you committed, and someone came and opened the cell for you and said you were free to go, would you continue to sit in the cell? Well, this is the position that you are in today. You aren't good enough to pay for the sins you have committed during your life - no one is. But there is one Who is good enough to pay for my sins AND yours. Jesus was sinless during His life, yet the authorities put Him to death on the Cross. This death on the Cross paid the full penalty for all of our sins, and so we both have received a pardon for the crimes we have committed during our lives, and bridged the separation our sin causes with God. I accepted the pardon, and you apparently have not. I walked out of the jail cell, and you apparently refuse the pardon and continue to sit in the jail cell. Why would you neglect such a Great salvation that is provided by Jesus? I apologize for the length of this post, but I thought the topic merited it. Thank you Ed for bringing it up, and God bless you.

1 comment:

Edward Oleander said...

Wow... my own post! Like Asia said a couple weeks ago... Awesome!

Seriously, thank you for taking the time to do this one, and I REALLY hope your other readers chime in, because this is a long way from settled...

I just proof-read this hog, and it went WAY longer than it should have... sorry...

There are still three or four issues that need addressed... The first is the one who lives a "godly" life, but without having ever heard of God or Jesus. Maybe he has an indigenous religion, and maybe not. The "Oprah Exception" as I will call it still stands. You described it well in your Oprah example, but then dropped it without addressing it at all...

The same thing holds with babies and the mentally retarded. What happens to them? Is there a good scriptural basis for something like the Purgatory of the Catholics, or do you believe something different? I have never yet heard a satisfactory reply to this one...

Case number two: A younger Tom Wolff is in his early 30s and just beginning to make the first steps towards becoming the fervent believer he is today. Today, we can all see that you are an asset to your religion, and to the human race in general (Yes, I know that you will refuse credit as such, but that is part of what makes it a true statement nonetheless).

BUT... what if the Free Will of some other human being had cut your life short before you made the final "seeing the Light" kind of decision, or reached whatever final epiphany turned you into a Saved person? Gods knows the future, so would He have credited you with what WOULD HAVE BEEN your future choices? Would you have gone to Heaven, even though you were not yet technically Saved? I want a YES or NO, although feel free to elaborate afterwards. THIS IS A HUGE ITEM FOR ME, so please give it careful thought.

Scenario number three: The Perfect Jew... This is a man who from his earliest days has not only acted in a "godly" fashion, but whose EVERY THOUGHT is in accordance with God's wishes, except one. He firmly BELIEVES in every principle God would have us learn, love and live by, except that he doesn't believe Jesus was the son of God. He takes NO CREDIT himself, is perfectly humble... a model Boy Scout, Paladin, what-have-you, prays to his G-d everyday, keeps all Laws, yada, yada, yada... and yet, he will NOT go to Heaven. Gandhi didn't, and the Dali Lama won't, go to Heaven either. This is a true game killer for me. It more than puzzles me, it angers me.

Finally, answer me this question: Did Jesus know he would wind up in Heaven with God? Because if he did, it pretty much cancels out the bulk of the value of his sacrifice. In fact, one couldn't really say he DIED for our sins... You could say he was TORTURED for our sins, and had a few REALLY bad days for our sins, but the death part must be discounted because he knew it was only a temporary inconvenience.

Now, since I'm being a little sacrilegious here, let's take it one step further. If the REAL sacrifice was torture, then it was not all that impressive. Remember, I've studied torture during my more macabre periods. I have NEVER advocated it, and will hate our current Administration forever because of it, but I've studied enough of it to make your skin crawl. The torture underwent by Jesus, while significant, was nothing compared to what happened to hundreds of thousands during the persecutions of the Inquisition, the experiments of the Nazis, or even the horrors visited on our troops in Viet Nam.

To us non-believers, Jesus got off pretty easily.

So what would impress us enough to think that Jesus' suffering was really enough to expiate all sin?

If he had been documented as suffering more and longer than ANY human before or since, I would appreciate the magnitude of his sacrifice.

If he had been sentenced to eternal punishment in Hell, that would have REALLY been taking one for the home team. It seems to me that if he really was sent to redeem mankind, he should have suffered the same fate every unredeemed sinner will have to.

A lot of people won't ask these questions, or make these statements, because they are afraid of mortally offending someone. I will, because I know you will understand that I don't mean them to be offensive. I hope your other readers will too. Without the tone and non-verbal cues of face-to-face meetings, word usage has to convey more meaning than usual, and it doesn't always come off as planned. These really are the questions and opinions of a great many non-believers, and account for a lot of the resistance you encounter when trying to convert people.

Tom, I would love to see more traffic on this blog. I mean from your camp, not mine. John and I are quite happy without others around to muddle up the issues. Have you ever invited your Bible Study groups to check in? Bryan, the same to you... Let's get some more discussion going! We will all benefit from more viewpoints.

Belief without constant challenge and re-examination is hallow. Skepticism and cynicism without constant re-exposure to ideas from committed believers is even more so...