After a series of mechanical issues, my flight from Grand Rapids, Mich., arrived in Denver late, just as my connecting flight to Edmonton departed. I soon discovered that I had two options: wait in Denver for more than 11 hours for the next direct flight, or fly to Houston and catch a flight from there that would arrive in Edmonton in 10 hours. I chose to fly to Houston.
On that flight, I figured I’d spend my time reading and napping. As I was reading, the man next to me leaned over and asked, “Is that book religious?” He quickly added, “Are you a Christian?” In the conversation that followed, Carlos* talked freely about his life story. I mostly listened, but shared some of my story as well.
After one pause, he stated this: “I believe God is love, and as long as we live with love we’re all following the same God.” I said a quick prayer of “Holy Spirit, lead us,” and then asked him how he came to believe that. Our conversation meandered through more life stories. At a few different points, he asked me what I thought.
Though not in a linear fashion, I shared three responses as we talked that afternoon. One was to affirm that, indeed, God is love and that we come to know something of God through experiencing and witnessing love. In fact, it is hopeful and encouraging that Carlos could see love in other people and say, “This way of life must be connected to God.”
The Belgic Confession’s second article teaches us that God reveals something of his own character through the fabric of the universe, including in healthy human relationships. So when we see love in action, we are glimpsing God inviting us to come and get to know God.
Another response was that his statement fits with a long history of humanity trying to seek God’s face. Carlos’ longing for all of us to end up at the same God through our own efforts to love each other is a contemporary spin on an older question: “Do all religions point to the same God?” Essentially, if the end result is that we love others, does it really matter which religion helped us get there?
Our track record, however, presents a challenge here. We haven’t actually loved each other all that well. In fact, we have gone to war in the name of our religions, religious leaders have abused others in horrific ways, and ordinary religious folks still cling to patterns of racism, classism, and misogyny on a daily basis. For all our striving to love one another, and even though God’s self-revelation is so evident that we are “left without excuse,” we all fall short of God’s character and glory (Rom. 3:23). None of our religious efforts can save us.
My third response to Carlos was that I believe the Bible points to a different way, one in which God reaches out to save us. The second article of the Belgic Confession explains that there is another way we come to know God—a way that provides all we need “for God’s glory and for our salvation.” While creation tells us in general that there is a God, God’s fullest self-revelation is found in Jesus Christ, whom the Holy Spirit continues to make known to us through the Bible.
From this perspective, while we can affirm God’s self-revelation in creation, including through our relationships, as followers of Jesus Christ we recognize that all our religious efforts, even our attempts to love one another, are insufficient. Ultimately, it’s not about whether we humans can take different paths to find our way to the same God, but about the one God taking a singular way in Jesus Christ to come and find us.
* Name changed because I do not have a way of contacting him for his permission to share this story.