[Excerpt from Chapter Sixteen of Buddha & Jesus:
Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?]
By R. E. Sherman
At the end of our last blog posting, we noted that there are two types of religion that include belief in some kind of heaven:
- Those that claim that each person must earn his or her way to heaven by being a good person; and
- Christianity, which claims that no person, except Jesus, has ever been good enough to go to heaven. The Christian path is to admit that we are incapable of being good enough, and that, to be saved, we must put our faith in Jesus, his divinity and perfect goodness, and his sacrifice on the cross as the basis for entrance into heaven.
If it is true that no person can be good enough to go to heaven on their own merits, then none of the religions in the first category provide a way to God. This then leaves Christianity as the only way to God, and its claim makes clear sense.
Too many people, if pressed, might say that they are good because they obey the Ten Commandments. In other words, they don’t steal, murder, or commit adultery. And they may honor their mother and father, in general, not counting their teenage years. But while there’s a good chance they haven’t specifically violated some commandments, are these people aware of the other commandments? Most “good” people tell the truth, most of the time, except for white lies, fudging on tax returns, and so forth. But have they never “coveted,” or desired someone else’s spouse or possessions? Have they never sworn? Have they always kept the Sabbath as a holy day? Have they never sought some idol (i.e., some person or thing other than God that they look to as their hope for happiness and satisfaction)? Everyone today pursues some kind of idol, whether it is money, prosperity, power, fame, or a comfortable retirement. These are all idols. Very few “good” people have kept more than three or four of the Ten Commandments.
The other problem many people have with Christianity’s claim to be the only way to God is the perceived behavior of Christians. If Christianity brings people into relationship with the one true God, it should make Christians very humble and compassionate toward people with different beliefs. Many Christians are like that, yet they are not the ones who are highlighted in the media. Instead, so-called Christians who judge people with other beliefs and treat them with disrespect are showcased by the media. A Mother Teresa might also be showcased, but the media rarely draws attention to common, humble Christians.
To be sure, Christianity is anything but immune from problems, weaknesses, and divisions. But this is also the case for every other religion. Could the difficulty here be that all religions are filled with highly fallible, wayward people? Could it be that the real problem is that people tend to believe their own religion provides the one true way while also having an attitude of judging people of other faiths?
How could the humble Jesus be so arrogant as to claim to be the only way to God? This is a very troubling question, unless Jesus was God himself and was just stating the truth succinctly. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus claimed to be one with God many times.[i] This precludes the option that he was just a great teacher or prophet. He could not have been a great teacher or prophet if he repeatedly blasphemed God by falsely claiming oneness with him. As numerous Christian thinkers have pointed out, we are left with two choices: Jesus was either who he said he was, or he was out of his mind. There is, actually, one other possibility: that early Christians conspired to put words into the mouth of Jesus as the New Testament was being written and when the canon was finalized at church councils. According to this view, he did not really say that he was one with God. However, those who wrote the gospel accounts were eye-witnesses of the events described. If they became co-conspirators after Jesus’ death to claim he said things he did not say—and that they saw the resurrected Christ—they would not have been willing to die for their faith in the divinity of Christ. Nearly all of them were martyred.[ii] And so, each person is confronted with the necessity of deciding which of these options is true.[iii]
[i] Sample quotes appear at Matthew 11:27, John 3:16, John 5:17–23, John 8:19, John 10:30, 36–38 and John 14:1, 7–11.
[ii] Steven Gertz, “How Do We Know 10 of the Disciples Were Martyred?” ChristianHistory.net,August 8, 2008, www.christianitytoday.com/ch/asktheexpert/sep23.html, retrieved May 25, 2011.
[iii] C. S. Lewis popularized this argument in his BBC radio talks in the early 1940s, which were later adapted for his book Mere Christianity, first published in 1952. The argument is sometimes called “Lewis’s trilemma.” Other Christian thinkers often go back to this same argument, saying that Jesus must be “liar, lunatic, or lord.” If Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, he could not have been a good teacher; furthermore, he did not seem to be a liar or a lunatic. The only option left is that he was telling the truth and is Lord. Either way, the option of calling him a good teacher is untenable. See C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 3d ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001).