Remember yesterday, when I said that today I’d write about my thrilling foray into the wonderfully wacky world of straw bale gardening?
I did that because to me every day now is Wedmontuefrisathursunday.
To my wife, Cat, however, yesterday was an Actual Friday. Because she is now working from home. (And I do mean working. Cat’s weekdays all go like this: Wake, coffee, work, breakfast, work, lunch, work, 5 p.m. walk around the block, work, dinner, work, sleep. Whereas my days go: Wake, coffee, eat, watch TV, sleep, wake, eat, do stuff in the yard, drink beer, eat, sleep, wake, walk around the block with Cat, eat, watch TV, have a drink, wonder when Cat will divorce me. So our days are the same, give or take.)
Anyway, today the two of us are out in the yard, mainly building a giant new garden box. So I can’t do the post about the straw bales, because right now Cat is outside holding a shovel with my name on it.
What I can do, though, is share with you this “Ask John” column I wrote for our local newspaper. If, back in the day, you read my stuff, you might recognize my reasoning here.
Thanks for the love some of you have shown my return to blogging. That encouragement–the shares, the comments, the cash I presume you’ll soon be sending me–mean (jokes aside) a great deal to me.
I hope that you’re having a great Wedmontuefrisathursunday.
Here’s the letter I got in, followed by (duh) my answer to it:
I know that these days it’s a bit like saying, “I stomp puppies,” but I’m a Christian (of the Methodist persuasion, to be precise).
Like many Christians today, I’ve lately been questioning some key aspects of my faith that, having been raised a Christian, I always just assumed were true. I’m writing in the hopes of getting your input on one of those questions.
At John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Might you advise me on how those words could be understood to mean anything other than that Christians, and only Christians, are admitted into heaven?
Believe me, I hate the idea that no one but Christians can go to heaven. But without ignoring or dismissing Jesus’ words here, how can I possibly believe anything else?
Hoping to learn
First off, let me just say: Yikes. For verily is writing about religion in a newspaper read equally by liberals and conservatives like playing hopscotch on a minefield.
But whatever. It could have been worse. You could have asked me about politics.
So, the quote in question is: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now, I am no theologian. But I can read English. And nowhere in those words does Jesus say anything about who does or doesn’t qualify to come to “the Father” — that is, to get into heaven.
Saying “No one comes to the Father except through me” is a long way from saying, “Only Christians can come to the Father.”
To be sure, Jesus, like a bouncer outside of a nightclub, is being clear about the fact that you have to go through him to get inside. What he’s not saying, though, is by what criteria he’s determining who gets in, and who has to wait outside in the cold (or, you know: the heat).
Maybe to gain entrance you “only” have to be a good person. Maybe you have to like dogs. Maybe you have to be wearing red sensible shoes. We just don’t know. We can’t know. Mum’s the word.
Perhaps elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus does explicitly state that only those who believe in him get into heaven. I’m going to guess not, though. Because, as I’m sure you know, John 14:6 is the go-to quote for evangelizing Christians. It’s their strongest, as it were, closer. If Christians had a clearer, more explicit quote to use about the exclusivity of heaven, I am sure they would use it. I would.
But you see my point about this quote. My saying, “No one gets into this Moose Lodge except through me,” isn’t the same as my saying, “No one gets into this Moose Lodge who isn’t a Moose.”
Because maybe I’m letting in Elks. Maybe I’m letting in Elks who are dating Moose. (Mooses? Moosi? Mice? Curse you, English!) Maybe I secretly favor straight-up Rotarians. Who knows? Virtually no one: no priest, no pastor, no Pope. Because I’m keeping that to myself.
It definitely seems to me that, insofar as your conviction that only Christians get into heaven is based upon John 14:6, you can worry not a whit about letting that conviction go.
If your thing is fidelity to Jesus’ words, then, for my money, you can’t go wrong with something he was explicit about, which was loving your neighbor as much as you do yourself. If you’re going to hang your hat on something Jesus said, make it that.