Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Way, the Truth and the Life

Yesterday, I posted an article to the Archdiocese blog telling about a video which showed the decapitation of an Orthodox bishop and two of his companions. To say that I was horrified is an understatement. Once I got through the video the first time and dealt with my initial horror, I watched it several more times. Each time I was still horrified but I could also feel outrage, disgust and sadness rising within me. I felt outrage because these people could get away with such a thing and that it seemed so “normal” to them. I was disgusted because of the very joy and excitement with which they reveled in such a deed. I felt sadness in the knowledge that human beings, beings created in the image and likeness of God could do such things, and in His Name at that!
I questioned in my post what kind of God would condone or approve of such behavior. I know the God I worship and love wouldn’t.  The God that I worship is a God of love and compassion; of mercy and charity. He would not condone such behavior or look upon it as acceptable or pleasing.
Remember the outrage over the address given by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in Regensberg, Germany in September 2006? What personal words or thoughts did His Holiness utter that created the firestorm that followed his speech? Absolutely none! In speaking about faith and reason, all the Pope did was recount an encounter between a Byzantine Emperor and a Persian man which related to the subject themes of his address. Yet, within days, there ensued an outrage among the worldwide Muslim community because certain groups of Muslims believed that the Pope was defaming and insulting the Prophet. Certainly, this was not the case! Yet, there was tremendous outrage at the Pope’s remarks, and violence erupted throughout the world. Several churches were burned and there were even calls by some extremist Muslim groups for the Pope’s death.
The God that Christians worship is a Triune God of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not the God worshipped or known by the Muslims. Further, if Jesus is not the Way, the Truth and the Life then to what end or purpose is the faith we confess and proclaim? If we do not stand firmly in what we believe, and proclaim it with all confidence and certainty to all people, then we are nothing more than hypocrites and frauds.
While we should always respect the religious beliefs of others, we would not be true disciples of Christ if we did not profess Christianity to be the only way to salvation. If we say that all religions are equal then where does that place Scripture as the divinely revealed word of God and the person of Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world? We should always respect our fellow human beings, but we would be unfaithful to Christ if we did not do what we could, in charity and love, to point out to our fellow human beings that there is, indeed, a better way of living - a way of life that leads to redemption, salvation and theosis. The fullness of God’s revealed truth is found in Christianity and it is the Church which is the sole guardian of that truth.
Now, that does not mean that those who are not Christian or who are not members of the Church will not be saved. On the contrary, Christ died for all people, even those who do not know Him or who have rejected Him. For example, some people, because of their cultural and political circumstances have not been able to receive the Gospel or to come to know Christ. Yet, the Holy Spirit will guide their lives to righteousness and salvation in ways that are known only to God. Even without their knowing it, their salvation will come about because of the saving work of Christ. This is true also of Muslims. In their rejection of Christ as the Son of God, it will be Christ who will be their redemption and salvation.
In the Gospel of St. John, we hear Jesus say: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7) Because Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, then Christianity, the faith we profess, must also be the way, the truth, and the life.
Either Christianity is either all true or it is not. Either Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary or He was not. Either Jesus performed miracles or He did not. Either Jesus was crucified or He was not. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He did not. If but one of the things we believe about Jesus is not true, then none of it is true. Based solely and completely on who Jesus is and what He did, Christianity is the truth and by necessity all other religions that disagree with Christianity are wrong.
If Christianity is not true, then Jesus is not God. And if He is not God, then He did not heal the sick, He did not multiply the loaves and fishes, He did not raise the dead, He did not walk on water, He did not open the eyes of the blind, and He did not die and rise from the dead after three days. But, if He did do all these things, then Christianity alone is true since of all the religions in the world, only Christianity has the person of Jesus Christ and it is Him who said that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we read of Peter’s and John’s appearance before the Council of Elders. Having been questioned by the elders as to where they got their authority to heal a cripple, Peter replied, saying: “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple and by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man standing before you is well. This is the stone which has been rejected by you builders, but which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-12)
“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Does this not say it all? Is this not the very basic foundation of our Christian faith? If we do not believe that Christ alone saves all people and if we profess that all religions are equal, then what hope is there for humanity and its transfiguration, redemption and salvation? Without Christ there is no hope. Without Christ there is no life. In the absence of Christ, God remains an unknown and unknowable entity.
Muslims do not believe that Christ is God, they recognize Him only as a prophet, and even then as one being of lessor stature than Mohammed for Mohammed is ‘the seal of all prophets” according to Islamic teaching. They do not believe in the Holy Spirit. Nor do they believe in a triune God, which we know as the Holy Trinity.
The Holy Trinity is the perfection of love and community. The three persons of the Trinity share a perfect unity and love. What the Father wills, so do the Son and Holy Spirit will. What God the Father does, the Son and the Spirit do the same. Since love abides perfectly in the Holy Trinity, we can say with certainty that God is love. God so loved the world that He gave His only-Begotten Son to the world to redeem the world and the Son so loved us that He gave His life as a ransom for our sins. This concept of such a loving and self-sacrificing God is unknown to the Muslims.
The fullness of God resides in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are able to know God better. In Christ, we see the face of God and are able to know Him personally. We are able to experience His love on a more personal and intimate level. For the Muslim, God is unapproachable and to be feared. For the Christian, God is knowable and accessible in the person of Jesus Christ. He loves us and wants us to love Him. God wants us to be in an active and loving relationship with Him. By becoming human, God enabled us to participate in the divine life. In the words of St. Athanasius, “God became human so that man could become God.” This does not mean that we become God in the literal sense, but rather we become partakers in the divine nature. This concept is unknowable to Muslims.
Jesus once said that He came to fulfill the law and the Prophets. If Christ is the fulfillment of the prophets, then how can Christianity acknowledge Mohammed as a prophet of God? After the coming of Christ and His revelation as the Messiah, there would be no further need of prophets. If we are to accept Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world it would stand to reason then that the Prophet Mohammed would be unnecessary.
Muslims believe in Christ’s virgin birth, but not His resurrection; in His prophetic function (teaching) but not His priestly function (salvation) or His kingly function (ruling); in His moral authority but not His supernatural authority. To Muslims, as with Jews, Christ is, as St. Paul tells us, the stumbling block.
Muslims believe that Mohammed completed what the prophets of the Old Testament and Christ started. For Christians, Christ is the fulfillment of the prophets. For Muslims, Mohammed is the completion of the prophets. For them, Jesus is nothing more than one of the prophets, of whom Mohammed is greatest.
Islam traces its origins to Ishmael, the first born son of Abraham. Ishmael’s descendants became the Arab people while those of Isaac, Abraham’s other son, became the Jews, among whom was born Jesus Christ. As one can easily see, Jews, Christians and Muslims all have a common lineage in Abraham. Yet, Islam presents us with nothing new. In fact, Islam only reinterprets Judaism and Christianity whereas Christianity fulfills Judaism. Christianity does not abrogate, detract or subtract anything from Judaism but only fulfills and completes it.
So, in light of all this, where are we to go in our relations with Islam and the Muslim people? The answer is we continue in our dialogue with them and work to live in peace with each other. At the same time, we must never waver in our Christian faith and we must work just as diligently in bringing all non-believers to Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.