Are you ready to get philosophical? I hope so. I mentioned yesterday in my sermon that this text makes me uncomfortable. Let me begin by saying that we should admit that more often than we do. The Gospel is scandalous and, in places, it should make us uncomfortable. Anyway, I made reference to interpretations of this verse (John 14: 6) being exclusionary and it has. Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me (or some version of that). It seems to exclude others from going to the Father. Only we get to go to the Father.
I’m not sure this is true for most of Christianity. Christians get it wrong more often than we get it right. True, I believe that the best way to live, the way that leads to eternal life in God is the way of Jesus. I believe that we should all follow Jesus, because it’s the closest to the Truth I have found. If I didn’t, you should all ask me, why I am following Jesus (trying my best, anyway)? Why would I give my life for something I didn’t believe in? But how do I, or we, reconcile this belief in a pluralistic society?
If I were to ask Br Scot (Bontraeger), I believe this would lead to a conversation about Truth, and whether or not Truth is zero-sum. Just because I am right does not mean that another is not also right. And I have to say, that surely our God is big enough that Truth does not have to be zero-sum. To say that I am right (in believing that following Jesus is the best way), does that necessarily mean that another way is not also right? Grammatically speaking, that is an illogical question – there can only be one best, but is God bounded by our grammar?
Shubert Ogden said that we can agree there is Truth (that’s a pretty big first step, philosophically speaking). We can agree that I believe I am following the Truth (or have the Truth, but not in a possessive way), and we can agree that another believes she is following the Truth (or has the Truth). Ogden would say that one of us is right. If that paragraph confused you, you should try reading On Theology. Dr. Ogden is a precise writer, and one must read him slowly, with a straight-edge, a pencil, and a dictionary nearby.
I don’t want to put words in his mouth, I believe that Br Scot (who is my constant theological arguing partner) would say that one or both of us is right (from the paragraph above), that Truth is not zero-sum. Just because I have stumbled on the truth, does not mean that another, taking an entirely different path, did not also do the same thing. Moreover, who is to say that the Truth onto which I have stumbled is the totality of Truth? Surely God is bigger than any one religion.
In seminary I studied (very briefly) with several Sikhs as part of my World Religions class. These Sikhs believed that the collected writings of the Five Gurus, including Guru Nanek, was the wisdom of God come down from heaven. They called this collection the Guru Granth Sahib. It was not God but the Wisdom of God. They believe that the Jesus was a prophet, like one of the five Gurus, who taught the Wisdom of God. I will tell you, in the brief time I studied with them, there was a lot of overlap in that wisdom; there was a lot of truth in their teachings.
But our faith traditions are not equal; they are not the same. And they are not even pointed toward the same horizon. These Sikhs believe that if they lived the right way, following the teachings of God, they would eventually escape the death-and-rebirth cycle. The Christian horizon is pointed toward full communion with God (which some call heaven). These are not the same, nor are they equal. But still isn’t possible there is Truth in Sikhism? Further, to put the question back within the frame of John’s Gospel, let me ask this. If the logos (the wisdom of God) was from the beginning, was with God and was God, and came to dwell among us in Jesus, and Jesus is the Way, wasn’t that Way from beginning? That particular dwelling of the wisdom is no longer dwelling with us (in the same way). So was it the historical Jesus, the one who walked on the earth, that is the Way, or is the Wisdom of God that was from the beginning, the Wisdom that is, and the Wisdom that is to come, is that Wisdom the Way?
I think I jumped around a bit here, so I hope you can follow my flow. I also made a lot of assumptions – like the assumption that there is Truth. That is an entirely different discussion – Is there one Truth, what is it, how do we know when we have found it? Maybe someday, I’ll post that blog.