Only One Way
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
April 20, 2008
Scripture: 1 Peter 2: 2-10; John 14: 1-14
“I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me.'” — John 14:16
There is hardly anything as annoying to certain tolerant, broad-minded, and up-to-date Christians as this claim by Jesus. I have spent my whole 40 year career as a preacher of Christ swimming against the stream of relativism on which that progressive politesse floats, and today the set readings give me one more opportunity to roil the waters in the hope of waking up nice Christians to the treason entailed in the rejection of the claim of this text, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”
If you reject this claim be sure to collect your 30 pieces of silver as you pass Go, that is “Go” not as in “Go to Jail” but as in “Go to Hell.” Hell in this case is not so much the fiery pit as the icy tundra of “no way, no truth and no life,” which is where so many of the human race find themselves because we have followed crooked ways, believed self-made truths, and lived a phony life. As we sink in “the slough of despond” we assure ourselves and anyone who will listen that Jesus is above all polite and would never claim to be the only one who offers a way out of the wilderness, an authentic view of where we should be headed, and a centered life, instead of the eccentric stumble in the dark on the plain “where ignorant armies clash by night.” Jesus would never breach civility in these most barbaric of times, this night of Matthew Arnold’s ignorant armies on a darkling plain.
The intrinsic logic of our faith demands that Jesus is the Only one, and not one among many equally satisfactory teachers of the way, speakers of the truth, and givers of life. In order to deny that Jesus is the only one must first have denied that he rose from the dead, for if he rose from the dead he is unique among the human race and last time I looked unique meant the only one, in a class of one, incomparable, without peer. You might reply that nothing in history can be called unique (excepting when we realize that every event is unique in an unimportant way) because there is the future in which identical things still might happen. Nevertheless as far as we have come, Jesus is the Only one who has risen bodily from death and for that reason alone is the unique guide to the way, the truth and the life.
The Resurrection is the external proof of Jesus’ uniqueness, and for that reason is of pivotal importance in the public sphere where we adjudicate things by reason. In the private sphere however, conviction is conclusive. Faith serves the sphere where we truly live, the sunny meadow, – as opposed to the icy tundra or the darkling plain, – where we live with God. The life of faith in God lives by following Jesus, walking in his way, believing his truth, and living his eternal life. When we follow Jesus like this, basking in the light of God’s meadow, drinking the water of life, eating the bread of life, led by the good shepherd, we know beyond question that we at the end of all things, that this is the non plus ultra, that this is the absolute, the one and only one.
So there are two witnesses to the fact that no one comes to the Father but by Jesus. The external one is the Resurrection and the internal one is the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Nothing more needs to be said, but I shall say something anyway. Its called, not quitting while you’re ahead.
In a memorable sermon at the funeral mass of John Paul II Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the tyranny of relativism, and in his two encyclicals as Benedict XVI he has written elegantly and effectively of the futility of a life that has no absolute commitment, no complete love for any other person. Relativism in love is of course self-contradictory. Who can say to another “I love you, but I do not need you to love me all the time; take a break from me with someone else whenever you wish?” Exclusion is the way it is with love, and with all the really important things of life. This is why the OT calls God “jealous.” God loves us perfectly and therefore exclusively, and will not tolerate the dilution of that relationship. God’s jealousy is the glory of God’s love, and those who wring their hands at the “so-called” violence of zeal understand nothing, have never been in love.
To claim truth is to proclaim untruth; light appears against a foil of darkness; opposites define posits. If you claim that propositions are equally true/false you simply deny the category of truth, and that is what current intellectuals in large numbers do. I remember some time ago now, so current incumbents are not in question, hearing from the chairs of the Religious Studies department at Stanford and of the Political Science department at Minnesota in the same year that the first thing to get rid of if one is to understand anything is the idea of truth. This point of view is very old, going back in the West to the skeptics of the centuries BC and continuing down the generations of skepticism to our present day. In Eastern thought skepticism is dominant, everything is nothing, desire is illusion and ego is a lie. My quick take on this tradition of nihilism is that decapitation is too high a price to pay for a dandruff cure. Sure, desire is corrupt and causes suffering, matter deludes us into thinking that having things is the same as having peace, but it is not necessary “to destroy the village in order to save it,” to quote the immortal justification of a US colonel in Vietnam (Remember that other fiasco from which we learnt nothing?).
If Jesus is the only way to God, what of other religions? Firstly, to claim that Jesus is the way is not the same as to say that Christianity, or Christendom is on the usual standards of historical and moral judgment supreme. That is a judgment that cannot be made. Secondly, it is not to show disrespect for other religions, which certainly have comparable exclusionary claims embedded in them whether they make them explicit or not. I have always advocated that we be strong and uncompromising about the center of the faith and relaxed about the periphery, that is don’t force people in nor drive them out. We need not make criticisms of others explicit, excepting in exceptional cases, while we pursue our own excellence. A great singer need not speak of the screamers and shouters that pass for singers in the pandemonium of popular music.
I believe that the vehement, unrelenting hostility to Christ on the part of every other religion and most secular intellectuals, and let’s not pretend otherwise, is because in their hearts all people know that he is the one and only, and that knowledge threatens them in their half-truths and half-falsehoods, like nothing else can. Consider Dawkins and Hitchens and the other “brights,” consider the European intellectuals who are terrified of Islam but too cowardly to name it and so attack religion in general and Christianity in particular as a surrogate for the real enemy. Everyone knows that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and those who find this terrifying are prepared to commit spiritual suicide rather than admit it, to deny that there is a way and a truth at all, and therefore, to affirm that only death is real.
Finally, I return to the 30 pieces of silver, the most pathetic case of all, the Christians who deny the Virgin birth and the Resurrection, the fact that he came into the world and left it again in a unique and unparalleled way. Of them I ask, “Why do you not simply leave the church? Why stay to confuse the simple and deny the power of Christ to save?” Doctrine is important because spiritual power flows when we get faith right, and the coming and going of Jesus, the Virgin birth and the Cross/Resurrection are the core of the doctrine, and this doctrinal core says that Jesus is unique, the one and only way to the Father.
So we say to all the world, to all the religions and to all without religion: “Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by him,” and we shall treat you all lovingly as Jesus requires, and we shall respect your beliefs in the sense that we shall not try to force you from them, but we shall pray for you, and whenever you allow it we shall tell you of Jesus and share the Good News. “O taste and see how good the Lord is!”