god is like… pt 2

For all of the supposed humility of negative theology (“We’re merely saying what God could not be like…”) or metaphor (“We’re only saying what God is like, not what God is…”), Christians make the audacious claim that we are right and all other religions are wrong… don’t we?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, on one hand. We do claim that Christianity is true and all other religions are false.  But not because we think that our beliefs are more reasonable (in the sense of us thinking more reasonably than others to work out what God is really like), but rather because we believe that God has actually revealed himself fully and finally in a startlingly particular (male, Jewish, bearded, 1st century prophet and rabbi from Nazareth) and shockingly embarrassing (mocked, criminalised, dying, suffering, and a failure of a Messiah) human being.  It’s not that we are ‘right’ in that we figured out who God was with all of our theology, but that God is revealed in Jesus.  We didn’t find truth about God – the Truth showed himself to us.  Get Jesus wrong and you get God wrong.

On the other hand, no. Believing that non-Christian religions are false is not the same as saying that everything they believe is wrong.  Sticking to the so-called ‘Abrahamic’ faiths for a moment, they all share a form of monotheism ((but not that Jesus-shaped variety of trinitarian monotheism, of course.)).  In polytheistic Hinduism, there is a recognition of Brahman as unknowable and transcendent ((though, not, of course, incarnate at the same time)).  Traditional Maori spirituality has the “parentless” ultimate creator, Io Matua Kore – similar to the notion of God as a First Cause (or uncaused cause – or unmoved mover, etc.).  In fact, any religion that has any concept of God at all has (in one sense) at least something in common with Christianity – namely (as broadly speaking as possible) that there is a spiritual dimension to reality.

Allow me to quickly refer to a passage of the Bible in which we see both this ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in tension.

Acts 17 tells of when Paul, himself having moved from a militant form of Judaism ((possibly of the ‘house of Shammai’?)) to Christian faith, went to Athens.  While waiting for some of his co-workers, he observed the pervasive worship of pagan/Greek gods/goddesses, and (as a good ‘atheistic’ monotheist should) was ‘provoked’ by what he saw.  People were interested in the new gods ((“Iesous/Jesus” & “Anastasis/Resurrection”)) they thought he was talking about with some of the Stoic & Epicurean philosophers, so they let him speak.

What he does not say is, “Well, you guys are members of false religions, and my religion is the truth.”  Instead, his response begins with points of agreement and works from there to the God revealed in Jesus.

“Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. For as I was walking around and looking closely at the objects you worship, I even found an altar with this written on it: ‘To the unknown god.’ So I am telling you about the unknown object you worship.”

He even draws upon their own pagan worship songs and poems to tell them about the God revealed in Jesus.

“For ‘in Him we live and move and have our being‘, as also certain of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.‘”

Lest it be thought that Paul only affirms their beliefs, he also critiques their pagan worship.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in shrines made by human hands, and he isn’t served by hands as if he needed anything. He himself gives everyone life, breath, and everything.”

And

“So if we are God’s children, we shouldn’t think that the divine being is like gold, silver, or stone, or is an image carved by human imagination and skill. Though God has overlooked those times of ignorance, he now commands everyone everywhere to repent, for he has set a day when he is going to judge the world with justice through a man he has appointed, and he has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

So, to sum up this longer-than-necessary post, for Christians believe that they ‘know’ ((not in the omniscient, list-of-facts sense, but in the relational sense)) the Truth about God, because they ‘know’ Jesus who is the Truth.  For the Christian, getting to know God equals getting to know Jesus, and you can start getting to know Him right where you are, as a pantheist, polytheist, pagan, Muslim, Jew, etc.