Other Faiths & Christ, Part 2

A follow-up to the You Choose Sermon from last week (Other Faiths & Christ). This week's meditation is based on the questions, what do other faiths call God and what do they claim leads to God?

In God, Christ, and Holy Spirit we have three avenues that lead to connection with God.

We’ve heard it said, God has many names. And that’s absolutely true. The Christian notion of the Trinity alone proves that!

Within these three avenues with different names that lead to connection with God, we can place various world religions. Let’s go through them, shall we?

First, there is the first person of the trinity, God as in God the Father, God of Abraham. We might call this the strict monotheist avenue.

We would include in this avenue Judaism and Islam.

Now, I’d like to say a word about these two faith traditions. Of course, historically, adherents of these faiths have been on the other sides of a long, continual battle. This historic conflict is mostly related to geo-politics, specifically, a battle over Jerusalem and the lands surrounding it. I don’t have time to go into all of that history. But if we stay focused on the theology of these two faith traditions, they are remarkably similar.

Islam and Judaism are both strict-monotheists, strongly rejecting the Christian notion of the Trinity.

They share many of the same prophets Abraham, Elisha, Moses, Dave, for example.

Judaism and Islam also share the same stories – Adam and Eve; Noah and the floor; Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac; Moses and Freedom from Enslavement, etc. are all shared stories found in both the Quran and Torah.

As the last similarity suggests, Judaism and Islam are both considered people of the book.

They both practice dietary restrictions. Jews call it eating Kosher. Islam calls it eating Halal. In fact, in small towns where there is only one kind of shop, either a Kosher shop or a Halal shop, peoples of both faiths will shop there – a Muslim at a Kosher shop; a Jew at a Halal shop - because of the similarities.

Islam and Judaism both place importance on a pilgrimage, Muslims to Mecca, Jews to Jerusalem.

Even the word for God in the two traditions are linked. In Judaism, the basic word for God in Hebrew is El. In Arabic, Allah. Notice the similarity?

Abraham birthed three sibling faith traditions. The oldest is Judaism. The middle child is Christianity. And the youngest in Islam. Judaism and Islam, the oldest and youngest, as is known to happen, have a sibling rivalry that has been going on for centuries. It is a rivalry centered on land inheritance, also not uncommon.

Nonetheless, they are still siblings. They share a history. They share DNA. They share One God. And hopefully, these sibling traditions find some harmony, lasting and soon!

Okay, before we move onto the 2nd avenue of the trinity, I’d like to add other faith traditions to the strict-monotheist avenue. There are rather large Christian denominations that are, like Judaism and Islam, not trinitarian. There is a branch of the Pentecostal tradition that claims 30 million faithful members. It is known as the Oneness Pentecostal church. They reject the traditional doctrine of the Trinity and are stricter monotheists. The same for the Church of Latter Days Saints which has 17 million members and the Jehovah Witnesses which has around 9 million members. Finally, Unitarian Christianity still has adherents worldwide, especially in Hungary, Romania, and the U.S.

Now, we come to the Trinity’s 2nd name for and 2nd avenue to full connection with God, Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity.

I won’t spend much time on the 2nd because, well, we are that 2nd avenue.  In Christ, we have trinitarian Christian churches, from the Church of the East, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches. Even if you take away the non-trinitarian Christian churches I just mentioned, trinitarian Christianity is the largest religion in the world.  

Let’s move on to the 3rd name of and avenue to full connection with God, the Holy Spirit.  On the Holy Spirit avenue we have religions outside the Abrahamic traditions. I’m talking about religions like Hinduism, the 3rd most populous religion, Buddhism, the 4th, and Taoism. 

How does these religions relate to the Holy Spirit? Well, among the godheads of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the least personal.

What do I mean? Well, Christ being personal is easiest to understand. Christ became a human person, as the gospels tell us and remains personal, relating to us on a personal level. And God – El, Allah, the Father – God is understood as a personal being in the Abrahamic sibling traditions. This personal being God created the universe and relates to us on a personal level.

While the Holy Spirit is traditionally deemed as personal by orthodox Christianity, the Holy Spirit, even in the traditional understanding, has non-personal aspects.

Spirit can be translated as breath or even wind, implying that the spirit pervades reality in a different way than a personal being would. The Spirit in this way can be seen as an impersonal force or reality.

 In fact, those non-trinitarian Christian churches I mentioned above, Oneness Pentecostals and the Mormons see the Holy Spirit as more impersonal, as a reality that emanates and moves in the world sort of like wind does.

Well, this approach to the divine is similar to religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism and the way they see ultimate truth, the ultimate reality. They see what we call God as an impersonal reality, a force beyond the individual self that pervades, emanates, and defines the universe.

Hinduism calls that ultimate reality Brahman. Buddhism calls it Sunyata. Taoism calls it Tao. Remembering May the 4th not too long, Star Wars call is it the Force! Christians call it Holy Spirit.

The last point, how do each of these get the faithful to full connection with God? How does each avenue of the Trinity lead us to God and to salvation found in God? Or simply, what is salvation for each?

Well, the 1st avenue, that of strict-monotheism exemplified by Islam and Judaism, Muslims and Jews look to and take in what is laid out in their specific, divinely inspired holy book. Follow the mandates of Torah or the Quran respectively, follow the way of God laid out in those holy books, and you’ll know and be connected to God.

As for Christianity, the 2nd avenue, the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, we follow not simply words of a book. We follow the Word that is Christ. To follow like this means first taking into ourselves the one being followed. So, we look to Christ. We love Christ with our whole selves.  And then naturally, almost without trying, we follow Christ who we look to and love.

As for the faith traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, the 3rd avenue, the faithful seek to experience the ultimate reality, contemplating its truths, meditating, internalizing that ultimate reality, until they become at-one with that ultimate reality and with all things as a result. This is called enlightenment.  

I close by saying this: I’ve been talking about avenues that lead to full connection to God. As a Christian, I believe all avenues to connection with God in the end somehow first go through the reality of Christ. Many paths lead to God, but those paths go through Christ in the process.

I envision a funnel. World religions live in that open-ended, large, circular space, the funnel mouth. Those religious faiths will all eventually end in God. But they first are funneled through the the funnel stem and spout, the conduit that is Christ. The conduit of Christ then empties into full connection with God. 

But here’s the thing. Christ is not merely a person, but a way, a truth, a life  lived. That is what Jesus meant when he said, I am the way, the truth, the life. The way of Christ, which is the way of love, the truth of love, the life of love, we must all walk that way. Without the walking of this way, we can only go so far in our journey toward and connection with God.

Christ as the lived-out way of selfless love is the conduit that gets us there, that gets us home, that gets us to the everlasting embrace of God.


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