A good question: Do all faiths lead to God?
One question, four answers
‘Being a Jew is not about ultimate truth but about spiritual intimacy’
How do we balance God’s universal love and his relationship with particular people? In Judaism this question is crucial because both pluralism (‘all paths lead to God’) and chosenness (‘we express our relationship with God through our unique covenant’) are equally important. How do we respond to the values of our own religious tradition? Claims of absolute truth should make us feel tetchy. But they can also prompt us to think deeply about our place in the world and our sense of mission.
We are called upon in Exodus to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’, even though we are ‘the smallest of peoples’ (Deuteronomy 7:7) and likewise, we are enjoined not to be self-congratulatory. Part of this is the realisation that God’s covenant with Israel does not preclude divine covenants with other peoples (‘To Me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians – declares the Eternal’, according to Amos). This powerful idea of God’s multiple covenants and relationships with all peoples is reflected in the Rabbinic tradition through the famous statement ‘the righteous of all the nations have a share in the world to come’ (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13). Being a Jew is not about superiority or ultimate truth but about spiritual intimacy, obligation and relationship. …
Esther Hugenholtz is Assistant Rabbi at Sinai Synagogue in Leeds
‘The Christian solution is completely different’
How can I get to know God intimately, and know that he cares for me? How can I shake off the sense of guilt and shame I feel, and know that I am forgiven for all the things I’ve done? These are universal cries of the human heart, and most religions echo the same heart cry. Most people want to be able to please God so that, if there is a hell, they will be rescued from it. And most want to know how they can pay off their debt of sin and know they can be forgiven. We see this in all religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and even in nominal religious Christianity! The truth is, we all mess up and sin. That is the human condition which the Bible makes so clear – we’re all in the same boat, all guilty in some way.
The Christian solution however is completely different from other religions and has in fact got nothing to do with religion, which is just man’s attempt to be accepted by God. We know that our sins are already totally forgiven, not because we are good people or have been able to earn forgiveness. Our sins are forgiven, not through a religion, but through a relationship with God through Jesus, because we believe and trust that Jesus himself has paid for all our sins.
In Mahabba, the organisation I run, we focus on Muslims who, we find, feel distant from God, and are seeking the right way to get to God. As Christians we believe that Jesus is the only way to know God as Father, and he’s the truth and the life as well. …
Gordon Hickson is Director of the Mahabba Network
‘The path to God is multiple but everything leads to a centre’
I believe at heart all faiths do lead to God, as in my own faith, Islam. Islam is not a monolith: Muslims are diverse. The path to God is multiple but everything leads to a centre – the Creator of the universes, who is neither of the east nor of the west (Surah 24:35). Embodying God’s qualities of compassion and mercy allow us to embrace people in other faiths.
The ideal faith that leads to God is that of the middle path (2:143): humankind is created in the best of shapes (95:4) so that each person with knowledge and piety is an earthly representative of God and is responsible for promoting harmony, not bloodshed, on earth. Cultivating human intelligence and compassion can disseminate seeds of peace. In Islam, all other religions are accepted and included (49:13). In the covenant granted to the monks of St Catherine’s, Sinai, the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) says: ‘No compulsion is to be on them. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey his Prophet. Verily, they are my allies.’ …
Amineh Hoti is Executive Director of the Centre for Dialogue and Action in Islamabad, Lahore and Cambridge
‘We are not denying the uniqueness of Christ when we recognise his Spirit in other faiths’
I am inclined to say ‘yes, but’ rather than ‘no, but’ – however, the ‘but’ is vital either way. The question is not about cooperation between religious communities and their leaders, which is surely a given, a necessity for so many reasons. There are still too few opportunities, however, for real spiritual exchange, those occasions when I cannot deny that the God whom I am trying to trust through Jesus is present within someone of another faith tradition.
It is over 50 years since I first engaged theologically with non-Christians. My gain then, as it has been for many, was to appreciate my own faith more deeply, and indeed to change as a believer. Rowan Williams rightly says we should ask of such an other: ‘What can you see from there?’ He also comments: ‘God does not depend on our winning the doctrinal argument.’
When it comes to recognising or respecting other faiths I am attracted to the affirmation of Norman Pittenger: ‘Jesus defines but does not confine the Logos of God.’ So we are not denying the uniqueness of Christ when we recognise his Spirit in other faiths. Our own personal faith may change and evolve in encounters with non-Christians – thank God! – especially when we are confident enough in our own core belief. After all, fundamentalism is, contrary to appearances, too often the bolthole of those who lack confidence in a living God. …
Peter Brain is a retired minister and was convenor of the United Reformed Church-Methodist interfaith group
This is an extract from the October 2016 edition of Reform.