Donuts are identified by the holes in their middles. But wise counsel says, “Watch the donut, not the hole.” As a Christian, I’ve noticed that many annoyed non-Christians strain so hard to see the hole that they completely miss the donut. For instance, we hear this a lot: “You say I’m going to hell just because I don’t believe in Jesus?” They’re looking at the hole and seeing nothing. Christians are accused of being exclusive, holier than thou, narrow, intolerant, and judgmental on the basis that their religion teaches them there is only one way to God.
I’d like to examine this issue for the purpose of understanding. There’s more than one issue at stake here. Let me break it down. First of all, Christianity is not fully described by simply calling it a religion. Sure it’s a religion, like any other religion. Except that within Christianity there are many religions. Not all Catholics are the same; Catholics aren’t the same as Protestants, who also aren’t all the same; Greek Orthodox isn’t the same as Quakers; and I’m not even going to think about Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and the like. ‘Christianity’ is a big tent and there are many different ‘religions’ under it, including Messianic Judaism. But when we talk about Jesus, we really aren’t talking about religion at all; we’re talking about a person — Jesus Christ. Christianity, in its truest sense, is all about who he is. That’s the donut.
Secondly, who says there are many ways to God? That’s nothing more than a feel-good assumption designed to justify our own uniqueness. We want to feel we can do things our own way. We don’t like hearing that God has authority over us or that he can dictate his terms to us. We want to feel we can earn his respect through our own efforts. We want to think we can find him on our own. But if there is only one true God, then there can only be one way to reach him. There can only be one way, if it’s going to be open to everyone equally. God must ask the same thing from each of us, not make up different rules for different people.
The ‘message’ that Christians wish to share is not about condemning people. It’s not about telling people they’re going to hell if they don’t adopt our ‘religion’. What Christians have been trying to say for the last two millennia (and I grant that we’ve often botched the job) is that everyone — all of us — were already destined to go to hell because of sin. But God has given us all the means to avoid that fate and go to heaven. We believe that the Bible reveals God’s plan; that he sent his only begotten son, the Jewish Messiah, first to save the Jews, then to save everybody else from the consequences of sin. There is nothing exclusive about that. Rejecting Christ because you are offended by the choice he offers is like refusing to let someone save your life because they will get the credit for it.
I have previously said that one must be open to God in order to have contact with him. But what does that mean? Psalm 39:12 describes the attitude we need to draw near to God: “Examine me, God, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is in me any hurtful way, and lead me along the eternal way.” (Complete Jewish Bible) And in Psalm 46:10 we read, “Be still and know that I am God.” Part of being open to God is being still, quiet, attuned to your spirit. Oh yes, you are a spirit. You are more than flesh and blood. Unfortunately, our flesh and blood often keeps us so occupied that we are not paying attention to the gentle urgings of the Spirit of God.
We busy our minds with relentless thoughts that keep us stirred up and unaware of God. Jesus called that straining out gnats while swallowing camels. “What about people who’ve never read a Bible or heard about Jesus?” “What about all the people who lived before he was born?” But the Bible has already addressed such questions. God is just and his judgement takes into account all possibilities. There are no magic, religious formulas. “For whenever Gentiles, who have no Torah, do naturally what the Torah requires, then these, even though they don’t have Torah, for themselves, are Torah! For their lives show that the conduct the Torah dictates is written in their hearts.” (Romans 2:14,15. CJB) (‘Torah’ literally means teachings or law and generally points to the five books of Moses, the Writings and the Prophets, which comprise the bulk of the Hebrew Bible. The letter to the Romans was written before the New Testament had been canonized.)
Complaining that Christians say you are going to hell if you don’t accept their religion is just a way to remain distracted from the truth, which is that Jesus cares for you right now and is knocking on the door of your heart right now, hoping you invite him into your life. He is offering you salvation right now. But if your spirit isn’t quiet, you’ll never hear him knocking. You’ll be too busy arguing about questions that have already been answered.
Listen, you can hear him at your doorway, opening to the totality of your being — your heart, soul, mind, spirit — and invite the Messiah in. See who he is. Feel his love. Acknowledge that he died for your sin. Ask him to forgive you. Know him as he knows you. Receive him. This all happens in the briefest of moments. Suddenly you are changed. You have a relationship with the living God. This is not religion. Oh, you can add that later if you want. But my prayer is for everyone to experience this salvation from sin, this eternal life, this peace and love of God.