This seemingly innocent question has probably caused more unrest in the last 2000 years than any other. It is, in fact, an echo of the concern of the ancient Jews to determine whether or not Israel was God’s only people on earth. It also represents the echo of history that has witnessed wars born of the desire to legitimise a supreme deity.
Cultures and peoples, even history itself, have been divided by the different positions taken in the debate over the supremacy of a certain deity. The tradition of conflict has inevitably extended to encompass issues related to Jesus. Is He the only, exclusive way to God and salvation? Thus, Jesus has become a sword that separates and antagonises.
Was this Jesus’ plan and intention? He prayed, “…that all of them may be one” and acted to remove barriers between people. He also advocated for women’s dignity (“Why are you bothering this woman?”) and against the tradition that led to the neglect of one’s parents (“Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”). He also spoke in defense of the children: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Far be it from Him to think of division.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 5, concerning the love towards enemies and haters, prove beyond doubt that He never planned or desired division. When He declares: “I did not come to bring peace, but the sword”, Jesus spoke prophetically not of what He was going to do, but of what people would do in His name. He said that, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” On another occasion he said, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me”—that is, He, who stumbles over no one, becomes, by one’s choice, a stumbling block. We must not attribute to Jesus what people do in His name.
A meaningful question
What then about the question: is Jesus the only way to God? Many respond in the affirmative and exclusively: “Jesus is the only way; either you receive Jesus or you perish.” They have lost sight of the fact that, throughout history, billions of people have never heard of Jesus’ name, or they have been denied the right to choose. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”, argues Paul. Jesus Himself asked the blind man who had been healed: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”, And the answer was logical and mature: “Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” In other words, the blind man said to Jesus, “You ask me to believe in what I do not know. You said of the Samaritans that they worship what they do not know.” Then Jesus revealed Himself to the man and he believed in Him.
The fact that this blind man did not know his Healer did not prevent Jesus from healing him. His soul was full of gratitude for “an unknown god.” In other words, Jesus was the Way to the light for him, regardless of whether the blind man knew Him or not, whether He believed or not. This is the initiative of God, who chooses on behalf of a man what He knows that man himself would choose if he had the same knowledge as the Lord.
So the question in the title of this article makes sense and now I can give a direct answer. I can freely say, facing my own conscience and in the light of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, a sincere “yes”. Jesus is the only and exclusive way to God. I say that there is not and cannot be another way and that any person or institution, any philosophical system or any ideology that would take on this role, commits, consciously or unconsciously, a huge fraud. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The same testimony was given by the apostles of Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
How about those who have not heard of Jesus?
Some people live in deliberate ignorance: “They deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” Or, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Another category of people display carelessness or indifference to God. According to the Bible, God will reveal himself to them and meet them where they are and how they are: “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” In this context, Paul concludes in Romans 1: “They are without excuse.” What risk, then, does an attitude of willful ignorance or indifference entail? “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. ‘Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.’”
But what about all those who have not had the opportunity to know the only Way to God? The answer is that Jesus was, is, and remains the only way to God, with or without human knowledge or will. Whoever gets to see the face of God will do so by the only way, which is Jesus Christ, I repeat, with or without his knowledge. If you lose consciousness and are taken to the hospital and operated on in an emergency, you do not know who is operating on you and, although you do not know it, you might be dying. The doctor is not prevented from saving you by the fact that you do not know him. Whether you know him before or after your operation, you will finally know who your saviour is and find out the history of your salvation. Only after you wake up—that is, after you rise in a way—only then do you find out who operated on you, who is your saviour.
Salvation does not depend, in the absolute sense, on the fact that you know God, but it depends entirely on the fact that God knows you. Our knowledge is deficient even in our own person, yet all the more so in regard to God. Due to its imperfection, therefore, knowledge cannot be a means of salvation. There is much grace in the fact that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Paul corrects himself, at one point, for a better expression of the truth: “But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” Moreover, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Even the most repulsive initiative of mankind—the crucifixion of Jesus—benefits from this clause: “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.”
Jesus’ response to Christian radicalism
Christian radicalism, which is a caricature of consistency and faithfulness, condemns to destruction those whom Jesus came to save. The humility of Jesus moves me deeply. He receives every man who comes to Him, and at the same time He goes to seek and to find each one where he is. Some call Him a prophet, others a good man, others a deceiver, others Beelzebub, others Elijah or John the Baptist, and some Christ, the Son of God. Jesus does not reject any of them, whether they come to curse Him or to worship Him, because, He says, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away”.
Beyond what we sometimes imagine, Jesus asks a strange thing of those who believe in Him: “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'” “Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” Why? Jesus knows how much a human being can carry and does not ask people to believe, at some point, what is beyond their power to believe. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” He considers how much a man may or may not grasp: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…”
My niece, Haven, calls me by a name that is not mine, but was invented by her. But the name she gave me goes straight to my heart and I’m not going to give her a lecture on my name or how to pronounce my name. I would always like to be called by this name, because I know how pure and loving her intention is. I know how she feels when she sees me, when she shows me the prayer sign with her hands and then she points her finger at the TV to tell me that she saw me there praying. Somehow, inexplicably, the true Name of God was lost in history and was replaced by other names, given by us humans, according to different criteria. But that did not change God: “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
There is a man in the history of Christianity who persecuted the Name of Jesus to death, but ended up saying, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” What would have happened if that man had been sentenced to death while persecuting? He would have been killed for his ignorance, not for his persecution, because him persecuting others was a product of ignorance and of a bad faith. He persecuted the church to death, believing that he was doing a service to God. Here is what Paul says about himself, for it is him we are talking about: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” God knew that a day would come when even the man who was persecuting God’s church to death would write 1 Corinthians 13—the ode to love. Just as God rains on both the good and the wicked, in the same way He makes Himself known to both the good and the wicked: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”
God does not speak only in my or your language, He speaks sometimes in one way, sometimes in another. The problem is that man does not take heed. Only He knows how to address each soul and what is the best way to make Himself known to each. With some people He will work directly, with others He will work from the shadows, but there will be no one left for whom God has not worked in one way or another. God spoke to Job in a certain way and used a different way to speak to Jonah. He talked to David about his sin in a different way to the way He used when talking to Ahab. With God, everything is personalised and completely appropriate.
When complicated questions have simple answers
Is Jesus the only way to God? Yes. Will He be revealed by the same method and means to all? No. Will people who worship and serve Jesus without knowing it is Hum whom they serve be saved? Yes. Will there be any among them whom Jesus did not know? No. Salvation is accomplished not on the basis of what we know about God, but on the basis of what He knows about us.
After all, what does it mean to be known by God who knows all things? “But whoever loves God is known by God.” So, to be known by God means to love God no matter to what extent someone knows God at any point. He who does not love God does not want to be known by God, but wants to stay away and remain unknown. Tragically, their choice is respected.
Today, being known by God can be a nuisance for someone, a kind of invasion. God’s inquiry of their soul is associated by some with a criminal investigation, or interrogation. But God does not need to search anyone and anything to know everything about us. Therefore, the “research” He is doing on us should rather be compared to an investigation of the health of the body and soul by the greatest physician: “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”
It is not so much the understanding or knowledge of God that divides people, as the relationship they have with Him. To know or believe in God does not imply the imposition of personal faith or the condemnation of the one who is different, but it presupposes the incarnation of the One you witness about: “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” Just as we love Him because He first loved us, likewise we know Him because He first knew us. We know Him from yesterday, or from the day before yesterday, but He knows us from eternity and in the light of eternity. We know Him in part and prophesy about Him in part, He knows us fully. He is not a way, but the Way. He is not a truth, but the Truth. Not just a lifestyle, but Life itself. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”