As an Army Chaplain, I spend a great deal of time hanging with my soldiers and this often creates opportunities for them to ask spiritual questions. We deal with the silly, the fun, the serious, and the hot-button issues of the day. I always try to present truth in love and these get to be some of the greatest ministry opportunities I have ever had. One day, a soldier asked me a great question. He asked, “If God is so limitless, then why did He limit the ways we can get to Him?” He did not understand a God who could create so much variety would only create one way to know Him. Why is Jesus the only way?
These are all fair questions and they deserve an answer. Entire books have been written about this topic but, to try to keep it short, I try to limit my response to three answers: the definition of truth, the problem of exclusivity, and the balance of love & justice. Each of these are pivotal in comprehending why God put the world the way it is, why morality is the way it is, and why salvation must come from Jesus Christ alone.
After all, our culture cries out for variety; we want variety in our foods, in our entertainment, in our relationships, and in our morality. We say crazy things like, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody” and “You do you and I’ll do me” and my least favorite, “You Only Live Once (YOLO)”. Each of these captures the zeitgeist of our current generation. We want so badly to get along that we bend the rules until they break and we don’t care that these philosophies don’t make sense. The greatest issue with this mentality is that it does not stand up to the test of truth. Which leads us to point #1…
- The Definition of Truth
The idea of truth is an age-old topic. Many great philosophers have pondered on this question and tried to answer it. Pilate even asked this of Jesus during his examination of Jesus and the accusations the Jews leveled against him. Pilate asked Jesus outright, “What is truth?” (cf. John 18:38) in response to Jesus telling him, “…I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” (cf. John 18:37b) God is interested in the truth and we can find a clear definition of truth in the Bible.
What we see, when we look at truth, is that it is not subjective. We can fabricate examples where we can try and twist it to be so but these are not examples of truth but rather examples of preference. I can go to a restaurant and say that the food was excellent. Then, another person can eat the same food and say it was terrible. Can we both be right? Sure, in reference to perspective. However, the deep truths of life are not a matter of perspective. Perspective deals with preference and not truth. Opinions can be debated but truth is always factual. It is either raining or it isn’t. I am either 72 inches tall or I am not. These things are statements of truth because they can be proven.
However, Jesus takes this a step further by saying that He is the truth (cf. John 14:6). He is not just a truthful person or doesn’t just have true sayings; he claims to be truth itself. This means that when Jesus speaks it must be true. As part of the Godhead, Jesus is not just displaying the character of God, but rather, He is God. When we read His words we can place confidence in them. In other words, if He rose from the dead we can trust what He said.
- The Problem of Exclusivity
This idea leads us to point number two; if Jesus is truth then why is He the only truth? Our culture does not like the idea of absolute truth because it means that one person is right and the other is wrong. Our culture wants everyone to get along and to live in harmony (consider the religious bumper sticker that uses a variety of religious symbols to spell out ‘coexist’). Yet, truth by its very definition is exclusive. Don’t believe me? Try asking a woman if she is ‘kind-of’ pregnant? She will look at you very oddly. This is because she is either pregnant or not pregnant. Truth knows no in-between.
- Christianity claims Jesus to be the only way to God and salvation (cf. John 14:6)
- Hinduism claims that Karma is the only way to moksha (or release) – (Harold Coward (2003), Encyclopedia of Science of Religion, Karma)
- Buddhism claims that salvation is found in the caste system through the cycles of reincarnation (Collins, Steven (2010), Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative, Cambridge University Press)
- Islam claims that by following a strict set of rules (The 5 Pillars of Faith) that they can present their good works to Allah and be accepted into his presence (The Facts On Islam, By John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Dillon Burroughs, p.37)
- Judaism claims that only by following the Law of Moses a devout person can enter Heaven (Malekar, Ezekiel Isaac. “THE SPEAKING TREE: Concept of Salvation In Judaism”.)
I could keep going and going because the fact is that every religious belief system contains exclusivity. Even the Baha’i faith system breaks this by saying that all religions are equal, which is an exclusivist statement. If all faiths are equal then the claims that the systems make of exclusivity are unequal which makes them wrong in themselves.
The reality is that our culture wants everyone to be right so badly that they are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces. Truth is always exclusive. I cannot tell my wife I love her only and another woman I love her only (when dealing with romantic love). Those statements are contradictory. If I love only my wife (romantically) then I cannot love anyone else. Truth is, by its very nature, exclusive. Of the options for truth presented, Jesus proves to have the greatest answer (because He is truth).
- The Balance of Love & Justice
The last part of this ‘three-legged stool’ we are fashioning is the idea that love and justice must have balance. Since these two things are part of the nature of God then He must present a scenario where both are applicable. Consider a loving father who has a disobedient child. To truly love to the child, the father must discipline the child. Otherwise, the child would go on in disobedience and have a poor life. The father loves the child and therefore will discipline them to put them on a right path once again.
This is a snapshot of what God has done. Since God is a just God, He must enforce the consequence for the disobedience we have done (aka sin). The penalty for sin is death (cf. Romans 6:23). However, since God is also love, He has presented away to have both justice and love in the world. He, Himself, paid the price and made the way for us to be right with God again. No other faith system finds balance between love and justice because they put the onus on humanity to accomplish their own salvation.
When we boil it down, no amount of right we do can ever pay for a wrong. Can a murderer spend their entire life doing good deeds and bring back the person they killed? Can a person spend a lifetime of charity in order to make up for a lie that destroys a life? No way; there is no amount of good that can make up for an evil we do. Only God could do that by restoring love and justice by living a perfect human life and still taking the punishment we deserved.
Consider this, every other faith system besides Christianity requires its followers to work their way to their salvation. With Hinduism and Buddhism you must live upright lives through many lives to pay off your karma or attain Nirvana. You must present your good deeds to God in Judaism and Islam if you hope for Heaven. The only way to God where God pays for humanity and makes the way is through Jesus.
Is salvation subjective? No way. There is only one way to God. Yet, rather than complaining that there is only one way to God, we should be rejoicing that there is a way at all! Let me paint one more illustration; if you had a sick child and the doctor told you that there was only one medicine that would save them, would you complain at there being only one option or would you rejoice that there was an option at all? We would rejoice! So too, should we rejoice that God has made a way for us to be right with him again through the life, death, and resurrection of Chris Jesus.