Monday, May 21, 2007

The Greater God - Conversations at C-543

“I want you to read a book and after you’ve finished with it we will discuss it,” Mr. J said to me one evening.

My old neighbor then hobbled into his bedroom and came out with a copy of Billy Graham’s book, Peace With God.

“This was given to my son before he died. I don’t know who this Graham person is, but I have a problem with his writings.”

I dutifully read portions of the book, noticing that on every page someone had underlined key phrases. Sometime later I asked Mr. J., “What is it that you want to discuss about in the book?”

“Well,” he began, “I have a problem with the writer elevating his religion above other religions. He seems to be saying his God is superior to my gods.”

Mr. J is a cultural Hindu who has probably been more of an agnostic throughout his life than a practicing follower of his religion. The argument against a superior Being is standard for the secularist whose philosophy is that there is not just one road to heaven but many. To suggest that Jesus is greater than Buddha, Shiva or Mohammed and that the path to salvation is limited to only one way is repugnant and ludicrous.

Though it was not easy to talk to Mr. J about Jesus being the only means of salvation for man, it’s not a new challenge. Throughout history, revealed through archeology as well as ancient documents, man has worshipped deities ranging from the animal kingdom to celestial bodies. Most religions have an animistic base with veneration to the sun, moon, stars, birds, rocks, trees, rivers as well as to ancestors and gods made of wood or stone. The first commandment Jehovah gave to Moses was, “Thou shall not have any other gods before me…You shall not make for yourself an image, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Our unbelieving forefathers resisted the exclusive claim of one true God as my old friend does today. He cannot accept a faith that is exclusive.

My discussion with Mr. J was two fold. One, all religions exclusive and, two, in spite of postmodern thought, there are absolutes.

Those who are opposed exclusive claims of Christ usually have their own exclusive claims. Whether it is Islam, Jainism or secularism, everyone claims his or her religion or theory of life is solely valid.

Those of us who are followers of Christ do so because we believe in the historical writings of the Bible, both Old and New Testament. For us there is an unfolding eternal plan for this world and mankind, which began at creation and culminates with end of time and the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. The people of the Book, which Islamists call Christians, recognize that throughout human history man has consistently followed lesser gods. We have been consistently exclusive throughout the chronicles of time and see that as positive, not negative.

While truth can, and is, often elusive, we maintain it takes more faith not to believe in absolutes. I weary with the endless arguments by some against the notion of intelligent design in creation, or the discussion what is or isn’t morality. Between the intelligentsia insisting that we must accept every scientific explanation of how we came into being and how we are genetically coded to be, to the suicide bomber who believes it is morally and religiously acceptable to destroy the innocent, there is a longing for a message that is not diluted with supposition and conjecture. Jesus was an absolutist in his claim that he was the Son of God. Those who accept his assertion, by default, must also embrace his absolute claim.

For Mr. J, and the millions who are like him, the thought of a greater God is too confining. My friend is not certain about his faith; he faces death with a hope that his cultural upbringing will sort things out for him. He may have another life, he may be ushered into heaven, he’s not sure. He’s willing to risk his eternal life on a cultural belief system, which, to me, is the greatest risk of all.