Australia is a multi-faith society. We live in harmony with each other. But recent events in other places in the world have disturbed this harmony. This has especially affected the way we view Muslims who live among us.
Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life.' How does that affect our view other religions?
In the book of Acts Luke tells us about the crippled beggar who lay outside the temple in Jerusalem. Peter commanded him in the name of Jesus to get up and walk. Peter and John were arrested and put in gaol overnight; when they were brought before the ruling council the next day, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said, ‘Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone.’ And there are other places in the New Testament where the uniqueness of Jesus is proclaimed.
Jesus said, 'I am the way.' The claims for Jesus are different from the claims made for the leaders of the other great world religions. Muslims do not worship Muhammad – they would reject such an idea as blasphemy. They believe Muhammad was a prophet of God, but not God himself. Buddha was a teacher and is never thought of as a saviour as Jesus is. The New Testament tells us that Jesus came for our salvation, to bring us deliverance from sin, and to lead us into eternal life. He is the Son of God.
Jesus is unique in his resurrection – from being simply a good teacher who died the death of a common criminal, he became the head of the world’s largest religion. We can only know Buddha or Muhammad today through their writings and the words of their followers. But we can know Jesus personally today, because he lives.
What then about other religions of the world? Jesus said, ‘I am the truth.’ In him ultimate truth is to be found. He is the standard by which all claims of truth are to be tested. But this does not mean that parts of the truth cannot be found in other religions. Truth can be found in them for at least three reasons:
1st, although God’s revelation of himself in Jesus is unique and final, God has also revealed himself in creation. St Paul writes: ‘Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.’
Sir Isaac Newton was the scientist who watched an apple fall from a tree as he thought about gravity. One of the things he said was, ‘In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.’ (Do you find your thumbs amazing?) The wonder of the universe speaks of the magnificence of the Creator. So it is no wonder that most of the world’s religions have something partial to say about God.
2nd, we expect to find some truth in other religions because we believe that all human beings are made in the image of God. St Paul says that gentiles do by nature what the law requires because it is written on their hearts. Every religion since that of Confucius in the 6th century BC contains the Golden Rule, 'Do to others what you would have them do to you.' It is there because God has written it on human hearts.
3rd, we expect to find some truth in other religions because in every heart there is a hunger for God. Deep down, no one is satisfied by materialism: we know there is more to life; we know, as St Augustine said, that our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.
So it is no wonder that we find some good in other religions. We may also be challenged by the good lives of many of their followers, their commitment, their devotion, their dedication to what they believe. This also explains why those who have converted to Christianity from other faiths often have the experience of coming home. They have moved on with the same God, whom they knew partially before, but now know in fullness through Jesus.
What about those who have never known Jesus; will they get to heaven? Jesus says in our reading ‘in my Father’s house are many rooms.’ In another place Jesus says, ‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’ Only God knows the secrets of the human heart. If we as human beings can do what justice and mercy require, how much more is God just and merciful towards all his children.
So what should we do? Our task, given us by Jesus, is to make disciples of all nations. Jesus is not only the way and the truth, he is also life. His life is forgiveness and humility in all their fulness, as well as intimacy with the Father. This is something we should desire for everyone, especially for those in darkness without hope.
The 1st Christians were unashamed witnesses to Jesus in the 1st century when there were even more religions than we know today, and they got into much trouble for their witness. Today we enjoy a world of tolerance here in Australia that they did not. The opportunities lie before us. We have a good message of real hope to share with the world: Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.