• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Facebook FAQ - I am the way

Q: "If God created everyone, then why do Christians consider their ideology and Jesus to be “the way?” Isn’t it rather “one way” to grow in our relationship with our higher power? Would we be better to try to be a more spiritual nation, as opposed to a Christian nation? How can we say that Jesus is God’s “only son?” Are there not other highly-evolved spiritual beings (prophets, teachers), leading the way to God?"


Let's say for a minute you find yourself falling in love with someone. At some point, you and your love decide to commit to one another. At the ceremony, you vow this relationship will be one where you don't just FALL in love, FEEL love, or get the BENEFITS of love, but where you SACRIFICE and PRACTICE love, even when it hurts or is inconvenient, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.


In almost every culture, we understand the varying commitment levels in the word "love." Sure, we can love all people, and fall in love with many different people. We also understand the beauty of committing in love to one person. We hope and believe in our dedicated commitment of love to someone, we can experience a length, width, depth, and nuance of love we would miss without that commitment.


Does this unique commitment mean all other loves do not count? Does this unique, one-of-a-kind way of being and doing love mean no other love is equal or possible? If this attempt at love were to fail or fall apart, would that mean that another embodiment and iteration of love would be impossible? Of course not. Love at its greatest depth looks for this level of commitment and promise, but that doesn't mean all other loves are pointless or excluded.


Jesus is not, though, just one of many ways to know God. Jesus is THE way to know THE true God. Unfortunately, when Christians use Jesus' words about him being the way, truth, and life, we often hear them as exclusionary. We've heard these words preached as a threat or a fence against anyone who doesn't believe and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. This American distortion is not what Jesus said, meant, or embodied. It's a contorted American misunderstanding of faith. A teenager in Alabama expressed this distorted American understanding of faith and Jesus when he said to me in 1992, "If you don't believe Jesus Christ is your Lord and savior, you're going to hell."


In Greek, the translation is not "faith in Christ" but "faith of Christ". Salvation, wholeness, peace, fullness, and boundless abundant life do not depend on our decision to accept/believe/trust/have faith in Jesus as THE way. All those beautiful gifts of God's grace are applied to all those brushed with the colors of Jesus' faith, Jesus' faithfulness. Jesus' self-sacrifice in love gave him the authority to choose how wide and far God's grace shall extend.


When we read the gospel, the good news of God's reconciliation of all things this way, we don't have to hear Jesus being the way, truth, and life as a threat to those who make other choices of spirituality. We get to hear it as an amazing swath of grace that might just cover all people and all creation, because we know God best not through any other teacher, preacher, or prophet, but through Jesus of Nazareth.


Note, we don't call Jesus God's only son. We call Jesus God's only begotten son. That one word makes all the difference. Yes, all human beings are children of God, brought into being by the very imagination and breath of God, and sparked into life with fire from God's very Spirit. However, we do get to see in Jesus God's fullness of humanity that the rest of us have not yet realized.


Other children of God, sons and daughters of God, can and do point toward God and God's desired community of love, peace, and justice. But no one else embodied it like Jesus. If we want to know how to be more human, we can look at other humans that embody love, truth, justice, and peace. But when we want to know if those humans are on the path toward fullness of life, we compare them with the only one who was ever fully truly human, Jesus the Christ, the only child of God that was fully human, begotten not made.


In almost every human search for wholeness of mind, heart, body, and spirit, there are lessons where the disciples of that spirituality are invited to obey practices, practice disciplines. All of those may point to God. But those beliefs and practices cannot fully deliver shalom. Shalom... wholeness, peace, fullness... is a gift of God that cannot be earned but is given freely by God.


When I say Jesus is the way, truth, and life, I don't have to expect a Jewish friend, a Muslim friend, an Atheist fried to believe and accept Jesus. I get to look upon them with trust that Jesus' gift of love applies God's grace to them too, equally, now and forever, not because of who they are or what they've done or believed, but because of who Jesus is and what he did and believed on all our behalf.


I love this image of Jesus as the way, truth, and life. In him, I get to see and believe in a God is not a judgmental sorter of humanity as "in" or "out", but a benevolent lover who is so committed to this relationship with all humanity, there is nothing we could ever do that would cause God's love to separate or divorce us.


Blessings,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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