Like many other people, I have learned a great deal from the world’s great religions. I have been challenged by the simplicity, focus, and gentleness of many followers of the Buddha, impressed by the devotion and passion of many adherents of Islam, and, of course, enriched and deepened in my understanding of Jesus by our elder brothers and sisters in faith, the Jews. No sensitive person could deny that the world’s great religions have discerned truth about God, and there is, in fact, no need for Christians to deny that they have. In John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Since Jesus is truth, any truth we discover anywhere ultimately has its origin and finds its completion in him.
Christians believe that the saving truth about God is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ: we come to the God by him. Late in his life, in 1963, the great theologian Karl Barth gave a series of lectures at Princeton. After one of them, a student asked him, “Sir, don’t you think God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?” Barth’s answer was “like a shock of bright lightning.” He answered, “No. God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son.”
Even the view of God we get from the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, is unfinished without Jesus. Think of the Old Testament as background for the full drama enacted in him; think of the events described there as preparation and of Jesus as completion; and think of the Old Testament as promise and Jesus as fulfillment. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. . . He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being . . . ” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
There are texts in the Old Testament which attribute actions and attitudes to God which leave me puzzled and confused. There are places where God’s wrath threatens to overtake God’s mercy, and vengefulness nearly overwhelms patience. What I read there leaves me scratching my head, wondering if there were some struggle between grace and judgment in the heart of God that was finally resolved only on the cross of Christ, or if God’s people projected some of their own bloodlust for revenge against their enemies onto God and believed that the echo of their collective rage was instead the voice of God. Those dark passages about God in the Old Testament led the great nineteenth century English Baptist Charles Spurgeon to advise preachers who tried to interpret them: “Make your way quickly cross country to Christ.” The Old Testament, like John the Baptist, points to Jesus and says: “I must decrease and he must increase. In Jesus I see and hear and feel more about God that I see and hear and feel anywhere else, even in the Old Testament. As former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey put it: “In God, there is no unChristlikeness at all.”