My family and I have been in India for a little over a month and one thing that stands out is the diversity of the society here. In the class I teach, my students all speak different languages, depending on what part of India they are from. In the food court at the IT Park where I work, you can get a sandwich from Subway or traditional Chicken Biryani (which is by far the better option!). On the streets of the city we see people going to churches, mosques and temples. Once, while riding in a taxi, the driver pointed out a church. I asked him if he went to a church, temple, or mosque. He said “All three. It’s the same God”.
I admire the apparent tolerance, if not harmony, we see here. And the idea that all spiritual paths lead to the same God is very appealing–I’d like to believe it. I’d like to believe that all will be well in the world. I’d like to believe that everyone is ultimately going to end up in a good place. I’d like there to be no deception, no lies, no hate- only love and truth. But, sadly, the world isn’t like that. It’s a very mixed bag.
One evening, a few weeks ago, my family and I were enjoying a stimulating conversation over a delicious Indian meal with an Indian colleague who is Hindu. He is a charming and passionate man; we like him a lot. He told us that some years ago he encountered a man on the street, proclaiming, “Jesus is the only way.”
My friend stopped and asked him, “Do you mean that Hanuman is not a way? Krishna is not a way?”
The man responded, “No, Jesus is the only way.”
My friend found this to be very offensive and went away sad. He felt that the real Jesus would be sad too. He had the idea that Jesus offers love, healing, and acceptance to all people.
I felt an inner tension when I heard this because I agreed with both my new friend and the street preacher that had so offended him. Jesus is all about love, acceptance and healing. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV). But he also said, ““I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:6, NIV). The exclusivity of that second statement does sound offensive- especially to someone who has grown up in a society where so many different gods and ways are accepted.
I am no expert on Hinduism, but I can imagine that the Hindu belief in many gods, plus the variety of spiritual practices that are accepted within Hinduism would make any exclusive claims sound rigid and narrow minded. For that matter, the idea that there is “only one way” is offensive in my own society. People in the United States, and especially the Pacific Northwest, where I live, place a high value on diversity and pluralism. Again I find myself torn. I value those things too. It is imperative that we all accept, respect, value, and even love each other, regardless of our politics, spirituality, ethnicity, or sexuality. But at the same time, I don’t think that all beliefs, or “ways,” lead to the same place. Some paths lead to good things, others to bad, but even the paths that lead to good things don’t necessarily lead to God. And if they do lead to God, do they all lead to the same one, or the same kind of relationship with him?
I’m not prepared to analyze Hinduism, or any new American spirituality, for that matter. But I have spent a lifetime following Jesus, so I will do my best to describe his path and where it leads. The best way to describe his path is from his own words and those of his first followers as recorded in the Bible.
In the next three posts, I will describe this path. I hope you will read with an open mind. I don’t know what path you are on or where it leads, but I hope these posts will help you evaluate that for yourself.
These posts are coming soon:
- The beginning of the path: forgiveness and transformation
- The way of the path: the kingdom of heaven
- The goal of the path: holiness and eternal life