Don’t All Paths Lead to God?

There’s a lot of conflict in our world right now. Disagreement over the pandemic and this year’s riots in America tell the story all too well. Despite the mess and division, I think most of us long for unity.

One of the ways we express this desire for peace in our times is to suggest that all paths lead to God. Many today say that that all religions are different ways of expressing the same ideas about God, the universe, and how we should treat each other.

This belief, known as pluralism, is accepted wisdom in the West. No one even feels the need to defend pluralism because it’s so widely assumed to be true. In our cultural moment, it’s scandalous to suggest, for example, that Jesus might be the only way. Pluralism seems to be a useful way to bypass the conflict and make sure we all get along.

“Most of us long for unity.”

There is a famous parable from India that conveys this idea of pluralism. You may have heard of it. It’s called ‘the tale of the blind men and the elephant’ and it goes like this:

Five blind men inspect an elephant. One feels the trunk and concludes it’s a snake. One touches its ear and decides it is a leaf. Another finds the leg and thinks it’s a tree. One puts his hand on the elephant’s side and believes it’s a wall. The final man holds the tail and says it is a rope.

The point of the parable, then, is that ultimate truth isn’t found in just one religion. Rather, by our combined insight we can arrive at an all-encompassing truth together. If we shared our wisdom, we’d realise that all paths lead to God.

But does it really work that way?

Let me first clarify that people of different faiths can get along fine without agreeing on everything. I have Muslim and Hindu friends, for example, and our friendship isn’t under threat because of our differences of opinion. If anything, when the topic of faith comes up, I find it easier talking with people from non-Western backgrounds about faith because it’s not a taboo topic for them like it is for so many Westerners.

I’m all for a society where we can talk openly and comfortably about our differences and live alongside each other in peace. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. The beauty of the West, after all, is that we don’t depend on ‘blood-and-soil’ nationalism to live in free and peaceful societies. What holds us together isn’t our skin colour or religion, but our shared values.

“People of different faiths can get along fine without agreeing on everything.”

The problem with pluralism is that it tries to force agreement where there can’t be. In doing so, pluralism insults everyone (except for pluralists, of course).

Pluralism does this by failing to understand the unique claims of each world faith. The founders of every religion—and most of their followers—believe that their path of salvation is needed, precisely because the other options don’t cut it.

Think about it.

For Buddhists, enlightenment became possible only because the Buddha discovered the eightfold path.

For Muslims, the five pillars of Islam are the true path of submission to Allah.

“What holds us together in the West is our shared values.”

For Hindus, the way of release is how people can have union with the ultimate life force.

For Jews, following God’s law is the only way to truly obey him.

And the list goes on.

According to pluralism, though, none of this is true. The central claim of each faith—that salvation is only possible through their specific path—is shot down in flames by pluralism.

According to pluralism, Buddha’s eightfold path, Muhammad’s five pillars, Hinduism’s way of release, the Jewish law, and Jesus’ death and resurrection weren’t really needed, because hope could have been found elsewhere.

“The problem with pluralism is that it tries to force agreement where there can’t be.”

Notice that the parable of the blind man and the elephant is hiding a secret. Pluralists don’t mention the most important fact in the story: there aren’t five men, but six. The sixth man is the narrator, the one telling the story. Only he has all the facts; only he perceives everything objectively.

Do you see it? Pluralism congratulates itself for its tolerance, but it actually makes the most arrogant claim of all. It paints itself as the only truly objective point of view—the one that all other religions failed to see.

The blind men and the elephant is a nice story, and surely it has use in other areas of life. But if we try to apply it to the world’s religions, we create a bigger mess than the one we started with. Pluralism becomes simply another ideology—and a bad one at that—for all of us to disagree on.

“Faith seems to find an echo in every human soul.”

So where does this leave us? If we can’t find a unity between the world’s religions, do we just reject them all?

That won’t work either, because faith seems to find an echo in every human soul. In the West, we have given the secular project a good run. We’ve tried to live like the universe just is—as though God is just an optional extra. But faith hasn’t gone away. The world, even in the West, is as religious as it’s ever been.

All of the world’s religions might be wrong. But one thing is for sure: they can’t all be right.

“The world, even in the West, is as religious as it’s ever been.”

I am a Christian. That means I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one can come to God except through him. That might offend the modern world, but that’s okay. There are lots of things about the modern world that offend me. Somehow, I still find a way to live in peace with those around me.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean closing my mind to other claims about the world.

In truth, I see the fingerprints of God in every worldview. I see people with eternity written across their hearts. I see people reaching out, not just for something greater than themselves, but for a way out of our human predicament—even if that predicament is framed in a thousand different ways.

“Being a Christian doesn’t mean closing my mind to other claims about the world.”

But in Jesus, I see something unique. Instead of asking us to live better or strive harder or reach higher, I see a God who has come down to us, who has stepped into our situation, and done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

In Jesus, I see the enlightened one that even the Buddha needed. More than a prophet, I see the truest ‘Muslim’, the one who perfectly submitted to God and enables us to do likewise. I see Hinduism’s way of release in human form. I see the God that even atheists can’t seem to escape. I see the Messiah, the hope of Israel.

Maybe I’m just seeing things. Or maybe Jesus is the true God—the one we’ve all been searching for.

Be brave, don’t self-censor. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

* This article is an updated version of How Pluralism Points to Jesus.

Easter: God’s Vaccine for Humanity

It’s a strange time to be celebrating Easter. We would normally be enjoying the long weekend near water or sun; spending time with our friends extended families; perhaps gathering in our local churches.

Instead, for the most part we will be bunkered down inside our homes, seeking safety from a deadly virus that has spread around the globe.

And yet, even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.

See, what we are depending on to end this crisis is a vaccine. Social distancing has slowed the spread of COVID-19, especially here in Australia. But until and unless there is a vaccine, experts warn that most of us will likely be infected. That’s the bad news.

“Even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.”

The good news is that there are many vaccines being developed. You might have heard that Bill Gates has even pledged to build factories to mass produce seven candidate vaccines while they are still being trialled. He knows he will waste billions of dollars on the failed vaccines, but if just one works, his eccentric undertaking will save precious time and countless lives.

How does this relate to Easter? Humanity’s most pressing need right now might seem like a coronavirus vaccine. But in fact, our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.

The truth is that ten out of ten people die. There is no escaping this. After death, Romans 14:10-12 warns, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” and “each of us will give a personal account to God.”

“Our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.”

As descendants of the first human couple—Adam and Eve—we have inherited their fallen, sinful nature. Each of us who is born into the human family has a natural inclination to live selfishly, like we are our own God. This hurts others, but most of all it hurts and offends the God who created us.

Sin is like a disease; a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death. “The wages of sin is death,” declares Romans 6:23. This is why our only hope for life after death is a spiritual vaccine.

Easter is that event on the Christian calendar celebrating the arrival of our vaccine. On the cross, Hebrews 2:9 tells us, Jesus “suffered death for us” and “tasted death for everyone.” On Good Friday, he offered himself to be infected with humanity’s sin-disease.

“Sin is like a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death.”

To onlookers, Jesus death would have seemed like foolishness and defeat. But three days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus cheated death. To everyone’s surprise, he walked out of his tomb. Defeating sin, Jesus rose again with perfect immunity to pass on to us.

At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity. When we put our faith in him, we are vaccinated against sin and all of its shame and guilt. We become immune to judgment and death, allowing us to share eternal life with God.

Believing in Jesus won’t necessarily protect us from all of life’s troubles—even coronavirus. But Jesus sets us free from the fear of death; he fills our lives with new joy and eternal purpose, and he enables us to put our selfishness aside to live fully for God and for the benefit of others.

“At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity.”

Will you accept the vaccination that Jesus offers? If so, tell him now. Pray something like this from your heart:

Dear God, I realise that I have been sick with sin. I have turned away from you and lived for myself. I know that I deserve your judgment. But now I am turning back to you. I believe that Jesus has died for me and risen again. I trust that he has forgiven my sin and brought me new life. I give myself to you God, and I choose to live for you and others, instead of myself. Thank you for opening my eyes to the true meaning of Easter.

~

Let’s get the good news of Easter out while so many are in need of hope. Be bold—head back to the social media platform where you found this article and hit share.

Last Year I Was Engaged—Now My Wedding’s Cancelled

Today was going to be my wedding day.

Angie and I had everything planned. A ceremony by the beach; our reception at the winery across the road from where I grew up; thirty guests joining us from overseas.

But then corona came.

I first read of the strange Wuhan virus back in January. By February, I started to wonder if it might cause trouble for any of Angie’s family arriving from the United States. A month ago, I even asked our wedding venue if they had a cancellation policy for global pandemics. I was joking—but I was also kind of serious.

“Angie and I had everything planned. But then corona came.”

Last weekend, I went camping with friends for my bucks party. I checked my phone more often than I normally would—and for good reason. Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips as international flights became harder and harder to navigate.

With heavy hearts, we had already decided that our wedding would only go ahead if, at a minimum, her parents were able to make the trip. By the time my bucks weekend was over, it was only my future in-laws and Angie’s maid of honour who were still planning to board their flights.

When Scott Morrison announced that everyone arriving internationally had to self-isolate for 14 days, we knew it was all over. There just wasn’t time between their touch-down and our ceremony.

“Today was going to be my wedding day.”

Months of dreaming and planning came to a sudden, sobering, sickening end. It felt like a practical joke; like a twisted movie script; like someone else’s tragic life. But it was ours.

After tears and many phone calls to family, we decided that it was only right for us to still get married. But we would keep the affair low-key and only celebrate properly in a year or so, when all the current craziness was over.

Angie and I were very blessed by loved ones who reached out with words of encouragement and practical help. A very generous friend offered us her homestead as the setting for a humble garden party.

“Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips.”

We had our solution: Angie and I would marry in a private ceremony at the beach with just my family in attendance. Afterwards, we would take up our friend’s offer and host our Australian guests—including those from interstate—for an outdoor party with braziers and wood-fired pizza.

We only had a week to plan it. But with social distancing rules changing every day, the stress grew increasingly unbearable. Who knew if tomorrow, gathering sizes would be limited to ten like the USA, state borders closed, or backyard parties banned altogether?

It was all too much. On wise advice from my sister, we decided to shift our wedding forward again, and get married the day after next.

Only in my nightmares have I planned my wedding in 24 hours—but that’s exactly what we did. 

On the Sunday just passed, before love itself was outlawed, I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley. It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Afterwards at my sister’s place, we celebrated with just twenty of our nearest and dearest. It was the most lavish backyard shindig you’ve ever seen, and we are indebted to those who made it happen.

“I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley.”

Just days into our honeymoon—yesterday in fact—we checked the news. Weddings are now limited to an attendance of five. Even events hosted in homes and backyards are taboo, according to the PM’s latest advice.

Good thing we got in early.

As I look back over the last few months, it is overwhelming to think of all that has happened. Just before we returned here from the USA, Angie’s Australian visa was bungled. Had we not chased down the Department of Home Affairs in sheer desperation, she’d still be stuck at home in America.

“It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Then the Australian bushfires came. A day before boarding our flight to Australia, we heard unbelievable news from my family that the Adelaide Hills were on fire. The first news headline we saw told of our wedding venue almost burning to the ground, and heavily damaged vines in every direction.

It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen. But it has happened—and it yet will. When our thirty long-lost loved ones can finally join us, we will be throwing a very, very big party.

For now, there are a few lessons I’ve learnt from all that has unfolded.

This situation is far bigger than us. Before our wedding, I only scanned the news for how it would affect Angie and I. For days, our hopes and dreams and absurd amounts of money were all hanging on the whimsical dictates of world leaders.

We still hope for most of our money and dreams to be redeemed at a future date. But now that the stress of a cancelled wedding is behind us, it is easier to see how this situation is affecting everyone.

“We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you.”

India has just begun a 3-week lockdown. Spare a thought for the countless millions who are “locking down” in tin and tarpaulin slums.

In Ireland, laws now prevent people from attending their own family members’ funerals. Here in Australia, 35,000 people have already lost their jobs.

I don’t mean to downplay your suffering. But keep in mind that you are not alone. We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you. They need your prayers, and probably your practical support, too.

I have a phenomenal wife. I have heard of bridezillas, but Angie isn’t one of them. She has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.

On hearing that every relative and childhood friend was blocked from witnessing her marriage, Angie dried her tears and planned a second wedding. And then a third. And like me, she enjoyed the day with all of her heart.

“Angie has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.”

She understands what more people need to: a wedding does not a marriage make. All the celebrations in the world can’t outweigh the joy of a union forged by God, and inspired by the selfless example of Christ.

We’re less than a week in to marriage and clearly we have lots to learn, but I can’t imagine a bride of better character to begin this brand new life with.

God is always in control. During countless moments this week, it felt very much like God was not in control. But feelings don’t trump facts. God always has a plan. And often, his hand is seen best in hindsight.

Just before we planned our makeshift wedding, Angie and I prayed with my family. Down on our knees, we asked God to open a door. He did. Only days after walking through it, that door shut. Had we not heard God and obeyed, both of our families would have missed our marriage.

God’s timing was perfect in other ways too. Just as Angie and I were about to recite our vows to each other, all of us turned towards the ocean to watch a pod of dolphins pass us in the shimmering sun. It sounds too good to be true—and it was.

God’s hand was also seen in the generosity of others. My sister Carli dropped everything to make our day—small as it was—the most memorable day ever. She made a hundred phone calls and hosted us and cooked pizzas and took photos and did it all with a beaming smile. Our friend Donna who offered us her garden was just as caring and selfless.

“It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

During dark days, we were carried by the prayers of God’s people and their many messages of support and love.

We have too many blessings to count.

One day we will celebrate our wedding, and we can’t wait. But for the time being, we’re just enjoying being married.