By Lauren Deville
I used to get kicked out of Bible studies (or at least pulled aside for a private talking-to) on a semi-regular basis, and I was rather self-righteously proud of it, because I thought it evidence of the fact that I thought about what I believed, and I challenged others (particularly other Christians) to do the same.
My favorite question was, “If you don’t have a good reason for believing Christianity to be the truth, then what on earth makes your claim for the truth of your religion any better than anybody else’s?”
To be sure, I thought that there was a difference, but that it lay only in empirical fact: Jesus was a historical person; he was crucified and killed under the reign of Pontius Pilate, some 500 people professed to have seen him after his resurrection and were willing to die for the assertion of that fact; thousands of years’ worth of prophecy of the person of Jesus exist in the Old Testament, proven to have been written long before the man himself was born; the historical and archaeological account of ancient people in the Bible has so far been proven flawless where supporting evidence exists; the philosophical assertions of Christianity, where examined, hang together unlike those of any other religious tradition; other faiths show similar evidence only where correlations with the Bible exist, etc.
But I am not going to argue any of those things right now my point was that those were, at that time in my life, the only valid reasons that I believed anyone could possibly have for being a Christian (or for being anything else).
Once in high school, I invited a Mormon friend to my house to tell me about what she believed, because I was curious: all I’d ever heard before was the biased Christian perspective, and I wanted to be more objective. I promised her that I wouldn’t debate the matter, but I lied. I couldn’t help myself.
I can’t even now recall the content of that conversation, but I do know that she ended in frustration, telling me that I needed to go talk to some of the elders in her church because she knew that they had very good answers for all of my questions, and she could only tell me that if I were to honestly seek to know the truth in its entirety and pray that God would reveal that truth to me, then I would come to recognize Mormonism as the only way. I was satisfied. I had won.
Since then, I know, I’ve written a great deal on the evolution of my thinking to encompass “truth” in a multiplicity of forms, sometimes even of forms that appear on one level to be self-contradictory. It is a journey that was immensely necessary for the girl who would invite people over for ice cream only to nail them on their irrationality in the one area that mattered to them the most. Even if I had won the ostensible argument, I had certainly lost the person.
Sometime around my sophomore year of college I stopped being proud of the fact that people were afraid of me, and I began to pray for gentleness. Junior year I went to England, and senior year I moved to Mexico, and the combination began the several-year process of reorienting my world view. I found myself wholly disgusted with evangelical Christianity as I knew it, not because I thought they were essentially wrong (I’d put that question to rest some years before: I’d been convinced), but because I thought they were short-sighted, formulaic, cut-and-dry, and they left no room for opinions that differed from their own.
I wasn’t exactly sure what it was that I thought they should be open to, only that they weren’t doing it to my satisfaction. For part of my Creative Writing senior thesis, I wrote a satire on my experience in an evangelical Christian para-church ministry, because I was really that bitter.
At the same time, I didn’t know what to do with the fact that, as distasteful as I found these large congregations of Christians, I believed most of them to be sincere in their beliefs, to legitimately love Christ (as I professed to do myself), and to believe, at bottom, in the same basic principles that I also embraced.
When confronted with an alternative view, though, or an alternative faith, reason or consideration never seemed to enter the conversation. “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” they said, “and no one comes to the Father but through Him.”
Of course what this meant was (step one), all have fallen short of the glory of God, (step two), you are on the “throne” of your life and not God, (step three), what you really need to do is tell Jesus that you want Him to be on the throne of your life, and (step four) you need to tell everybody else that they need to do the same. Or something like that.
But how do you know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? “Because the Bible says so, and the Bible is the word of God… because the Bible says it’s the word of God.” Of course. Now, I believed that the bottom line conclusion happened to be correct, but why should it be that these irrational people should benefit from a happy coincidence, when the rest of the world, equally irrational and equally sincere, should suffer eternal separation from God simply by virtue of the location of their birth, or subsequent exposure to certain ideologies?
What I had begun to conclude on this was that, if God is perfect, then among all other qualities that go along with perfection, He must also be perfectly just. Jesus said that many who externally appear to be “Christians” will ultimately be told to “depart, for I never knew you,” while many whom the church does not count among their ranks will be saved, because “whatever you did for the least of these, you did unto me.”
So the whole salvation prayer thing apparently doesn’t (can’t!) cover it: God judges each man according to what he has done with the information he’s been given. Does that mean that sincerely seeking, purely-intentioned people of all faiths (though perhaps a minority) may end up being “saved” after all? Maybe. I’d even venture to say, probably but whatever turns out to be the case, I’m certain that a just God will judge more fairly than the best of us can comprehend.
To be continued…
If you liked this article, check out: Art and Reason: Total opposites?
Lauren holds a biochemistry degree from the University of Arizona, and she is currently studying naturopathic medicine in Tempe, Arizona. She also has a background in the arts, particularly theater and creative writing, and she hopes that (sometime prior to graduation) she will eventually stumble upon the perfect integration of her seemingly disparate interests.