When I was a seminary student, everyone was required to have a several semesters long internship at a ministry site. I knew I would never have a traditional church job, so I decided to do my internship with a local nonprofit, The InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington in Washington D.C. I learned a lot about the functioning of nonprofits and I learned even more about other religious traditions.
When I accepted the internship a mentor advised me not to fall prey to “many paths lead to God” theology. He thought that reduced God to a destination. In hindsight, I think it made him uncomfortable that his theology could be reduced to simply a “path to God.” His remonstrations always included a quote from John 14:6 “No one comes to the father except through me.” For him, this was conclusive, biblical proof that there was no way to God except through Christ.
In the first century context there was not a lot of awareness of world religions. The Johannine Jesus was almost certainly speaking to his particular community. His statement sets boundaries around who can be considered a member of this community. It is an identity marker. A Johannine Jesus was not concerned with the fate of Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists because the Johannine Jesus had not been confronted with this kind of diversity. He was addressing the particular group of people immediately before him.
As I grew in my understanding of theology, history, and doctrine, I diverged pretty starkly from the views of my mentor. But I think we actually agree that the “many paths lead to God” theology minimizes God. This line of thinking makes different religious traditions seem like the spokes on a wheel, all leading to the same center axis. That doesn’t bear out in real life, though. Different religious traditions lead to different interpretations and understandings of God. Each is like a turn of a kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope stays the same, but what you see inside is different.
Ramadan will start on April 12th. Close friends of mine are Muslim and I have witnessed how they observe Ramadan. My friend feels closer to her ancestors, and to God, when she participates in the fast. When I have heard her describe the experience, there are some things with which I can identify from my own religious experience. There are other things that I do not understand because they are not my experience of God.
Because I identify as Christian, Jesus is the way to God for me. I do not think this is any kind of pronouncement of fate on my Muslim friend. She simply has a different avenue toward God, and therefore a different understanding and view of God. Same kaleidoscope, different turn.
As you celebrate this Eastertide, remember that this is a sacred time of year for all three Abrahamic faiths. I hope you will relish the opportunity to pause and consider those experiences that make you uniquely Christian, but also marvel at the ways others experience God.