I love getting together with people and hearing their questions about faith and life. Very often, I can see myself reflected in others who are searching for answers, especially since that is what I am still doing now. And of all the possible questions of faith, there is one with which I still wrestle: Why is Jesus the only way to God?
Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve asked this before. Perhaps this has been the topic of a youth night or a vigorous debate among friends. Whatever the case, I am confident that any Christian who encounters people from a different religion or worldview has at some point asked this question. Let’s unpack it a bit.
First of all, I think it’s important to note that this question comes from a good place. Whoever told us that doubt is bad may have never realized the benefits it carries. Doubt may be uncomfortable, but doubt leads to searching, and Jesus tells us that if we truly search with open hearts, we will find the truth (Matthew 7:7-12). Doubt, when not ignored can actually lead to a stronger faith.
Secondly, this question often comes from our relationships with people of other faiths and religions. Usually, as we travel or encounter people who are different from us in our schools, families, and workplaces, we realize that there are good people out there who don’t call themselves followers of Jesus. There are non-Christians who are more virtuous, generous, and ethical than some Christians. So what makes the Christian way different?
The basic narrative of the Christian faith is that there is a disconnect between God, who created and sustains all things, and His creation, who walked away and rejected Him. Because of this, evil became prevalent in all of our lives which leads to selfish and destructive thoughts and actions, what Christians call sin. Evil and sin lead to death, but God does not want that to be our end. So in order to redeem His creation, He decided to display His power over death and give us a way out, a way to be in relationship with Him and to enter His kingdom, what we often call heaven.
It’s during Christmas that we remember the coming of Jesus, God’s son incarnate, who came to earth to show us the way to His kingdom. In His own teachings, Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Christians believe that through faith in Jesus, we are saved from ultimate death and are given new and eternal life. Jesus isn’t only our model for life, He is the way to eternal life. He is the source of all life.
But wait a minute. Don’t all religions believe in some way that we can get to God, reach eternal bliss, or find inner peace? Most religions have similar teachings of doing good and loving each other. So how is it that God would not allow good people to be welcomed into heaven or to be saved if they don’t believe in Jesus? Even more complex is how God could let this happen when people have never even heard of who Jesus is. Do we really believe now, in our time and with our current understanding of the world, that Jesus is the only way to get to God?
To be quite honest, if you push me hard enough, I don’t have clear answers to these questions. What happens to people who haven't heard of Jesus, or were faithful and spiritual in life but not towards Jesus? I don’t know the answer because I don’t claim to completely understand God and His plans. I’ve also never died and seen what the afterlife is really like. Yet I’m still convinced that Jesus is the way, but not the only way to get to God. Let me explain.
If we take world religions as an indicator, it’s safe to assume that there’s something in humanity, whether in our design or social conditioning, that makes us strive for something greater than ourselves. There’s something that makes us wonder about how we got here and what our purpose is. And moreover, we wonder about what happens to us when we die.
All religious systems (including those who don’t believe in a higher power) have come to answer this in one way or another. For many religions, there is something for us to do, commit to, or sacrifice for, by which we are enlightened or enter into eternal happiness or heaven. All religions and beliefs describe a way for all of us to achieve this. It is often assumed that Jesus is just another one of those ways. However, Christians believe that because Jesus claims to be the only way, that all other ways don’t lead to God.
But there is a big difference with Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t simply give us another way to get to God as if He’s just another page is a choose-your-own-adventure book to eternal life. Jesus changes the story and rewrites the narrative. While we’ve been trying to figure out exactly how to get to God, God decided that He was going to come to His own creation instead. God is not up in the clouds, indifferent to the world He created. He decided to come, to incarnate Himself in the form of a baby in the Middle East, over 2000 years ago.
Jesus is not the way to get to God. Jesus is God coming to us. He is the way because He is God. He is truth. He is love. He is the Word made flesh. No one gets to God except through Him. You don’t need any other way. And He didn’t come as many thought God should come. He didn’t come with parades or with parties. He wasn’t born to royalty or the religious elite. Jesus was born to the most humble of servants in the most humble of places.
This is what makes Christmas and Advent so amazing. It’s not about presents, food, songs, or even family. It’s about the birth of a baby in whom we experience the deepest, most full love of God imaginable.
When we ask the question, “Is Jesus really the only way to God?” we have already limited Jesus by placing Him in the same category of other teachings or faith systems that lead us to a higher power. The foundational difference with the Christian faith is that God came to us. He came for all of His creation, to show them and give us life. Jesus is the way because He is God. He is Emmanuel - God with us.