Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Common Quest?

I've started reading a book called St Benedict on the Freeway this past week. Not sure what I think of it yet. It is intended to be a book on adapting the Benedictine pattern for life and prayer for 21st century people. An interesting read so far, but the author at one point began talking about how all religions seem to have a common goal, and includes in that the classic "all paths lead to God" illustration. I've yet to determine if this is the author's own viewpoint, or if there is some other point she is trying to make.

But it raises the question: Is there a common goal for all religions? In a sense, I would say yes, that all faiths are trying to fulfill the needs of the human soul. What are these needs? As best as I understand them, relationship with something/One beyond us, with the Divine if you will, and a way to deal with any distance between ourselves and that.

But the real question is, are all faiths able to provide a complete path to this goal? Yes, we're all trying to get to the same...or at least a similar...place, but do all roads really lead to Rome?

While our goals and methods may be similar, from Christian to Hindu to Muslim to Taoist, one thing I have learned is that no human effort can bridge that gap between us and the Divine. Which is why God 1st revealed Himself to the Jews, and then completed what work by bridging the gap (in Christian terms known as sin) in Jesus. Others may copy Christian methods, and we may borrow theres, but without Christ there is no possibility of bridging the gap or finding the Divine.

I don't think you can have a true Christianity without the atonement. Jesus was not just one more Rabbi. If He was, why is the Cross, according to the day a sign of His "defeat," the symbol for our faith? If we loose sight of the significance of the cross and the empty tomb, and what His death and resurrection did for us that no other could, then we are just adding one more religious text to the collected writings of humanity. Nice reading, but is we ignore the Cross, we might as well do our morning devotions with the Qur'an or the Upanishads.

Richard Niebhur once summed up this kind of faith in these terms: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross."

Many have used the illustration of multiple roads leading to the top of the same mountain to talk about religious "paths." And if we ignore the Cross, and what is distinctive about Christian faith and teaching, then we might come to that conclusion. But why would Jesus wrestle in the garden with His mission if there was an easier way?

The necessity of the Cross to His life tells us that humans aren't capable of reaching God without help. It's as if there is a lava filled canyon running through those mountain paths, one that is too wide for us to cross. Other faiths, and even some Cross-less versions of my own, try to jump the chasm, or perhaps even believe their quest is to fall into it. Christ says "I can make the jump with you on my back, if you're willing to leave your baggage behind and trust Me. You won't need that stuff, I've got better gear on the other side for the rest of the climb. Just trust me, and we'll go see Dad together."

All those who try to make the jump on their own, no matter how good their intentions or strong their legs, or pure their heart, will fall.

Yes, all religions probably have a common goal, one of seeking connection with the Divine. And maybe that's something we should celebrate at some level, rather than writing each other off as enemies. But all others are human attempts to jump the chasm, and no amount of cross-training can make us strong enough to succeed. Only a human savior could carry us like that, and only a divine savior could make the jump with all of us on His back.

The question is, will you continue the path on your own strength, your own wisdom, or trust in His? That choice s up to each of us. Will you accept?