Have you ever met someone and sensed that they are very suspicious of you? When my boys began their first year at school last term I made lots of new friends as I got to know the other parents. One mother seemed to take an immediate dislike to me and although I tried to be friendly, I struggled to make conversation.
At a children’s birthday party this week though, I was standing with other parents chatting about the economic downturn and the challenges of our different workplaces. That week I had invited all of the ladies to attend a pilates and prayer class at my church. The one woman who had seemed so closed began to talk to me really openly – she was disappointed not to be able to come along to my group. As we chatted she began to tell me about a faith healer that her extended family had contacted in a desperate effort to see some breakthrough for a terminally ill sister. As she spoke from the heart about her conviction that there is more to life than the material universe, I sensed that God might be doing something in that moment. How wrong I had been about this lady. She said: “I don’t mind whether my family go to Church or Temple as long as they pray”.
She was articulating what many people today feel. There is a dizzying array of options when it comes to religion, and the culture tells us that they are all equally valid.
In my experience the main motivation for dismissing the idea that Christ is the only way to God is that it sounds terribly arrogant. Often at this point the parable of the elephant is used to illustrate the point. It goes something like this…
Blind scribes touching different parts of the elephant. One is holding onto the tail and saying ‘this is a rope’. Another is holding the front leg and saying ‘No, you’re wrong, it’s not a rope – it’s a tree trunk’. Another scribe is holding the trunk and says, ‘You are both wrong. This is neither a rope nor a tree trunk, it is a snake!’
The moral of the story is that all of the world religions are like those men. They each touch a different part of ultimate reality and therefore Christians are arrogant to say that they have the truth. Take a step back and think about what is being said here. Think about the two main differences between the person telling us the story and the people inside the story. The first difference is that the people touching the elephant are blind and the narrator can see. The second difference is one of perspective – the people inside the story are close up to the elephant but the narrator is standing back and has the full picture.
Do you see the breathtaking claim that is being made here? Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses and Muhammad are all blind, but I can see! They all had a small perspective, but I can see the full picture – I can see that all of those ways actually lead to God. The question now is who is arrogant?
In the midst of a children’s party we couldn’t go into a huge amount of detail but I could ask a few simple questions to help my friend think about these issues a bit further. Could she imagine that God might want to make himself known in the world – how might he go about it? If there were evidence that God had come into human history as a human being would that interest her? Would she be open to exploring the person of Jesus Christ and his radical claims? Would she like to meet up and talk about it some more?
Sometimes it is the most unlikely people, people at the edges of our lives, who are intrigued by God. If only we could see past our own preconceptions and inadequacies we would find plenty of opportunities to speak honestly with spiritually open people. Jesus said: ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’ – this is a biblical perspective on speaking to those who don’t yet follow Christ. Plenty of people are interested, stirred, questioning and open – but are we prepared to go out and engage with those that cross our path even when they make us feel uncomfortable?
Source: Article originally published in March 2011 issue of Christianity Magazine