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Pathways to God - one or many ? spiritual wisdom logo

mountain pathIt is a characteristic of our human nature that we often think that only we have the right view about something and everyone else is wrong. This happens with all sorts of everyday issues. We form an opinion and remain unprepared to listen to any alternative views even when it seems obvious that we may be wrong. But this narrow minded and blinkered view of life can also be present in our religious thinking as well. We tend to hold on to our particular religious views of life so strongly that we put little value on what others believe or in the worst case become openly hostile to their way of thinking and living.

History is full of the awful effects of such short sightedness. There has been and continues to be war and violence and hatred between people of different faiths and indeed within the major faith groupings. So we have seen Christian fighting Christian and Muslim fighting Muslim as well as fighting each other, just because each group is adamant that their way is the only way. Salvation, it seems, is limited to just one very narrow pathway to God. But is this a correct view of the spiritual life we all share?

All religions are concerned with enabling and encouraging their followers to come closer to their God through living according to what their faith teaches. The result is an abundance of pathways to God, from the prayerful and contemplative life of a solitary monk in the mountains of Tibet, to a life dedicated to caring for others whatever their circumstances in the streets of a Latin American city. And this concept is not limited to those who believe in God. Many other people adopt ways of living where they are enabled and encouraged to live in a particular way to the benefit of others and themselves. So is one belief system right and another wrong? Is there only one set of teachings that form the pathway to God and every other way will come to a dead end? Well for centuries Christians have acted as though the answer to these questions was yes! Different doctrines have been supported by different interpretations of what the Bible says and the “I am right but you are wrong” mentality has been adopted on every side. Let’s take a look at how this can arise.

In the Bible we can find these words from the gospel of John:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. 

Many Christians have clearly taken the words “No one comes to the Father except through me” as meaning exactly what they literally say – that the only pathway to God (the Father) is through faith in Jesus Christ. This then implies that there are no other valid pathways to God, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or whatever. Presumably this is one factor that has driven Christians over the centuries to seek to convert people away from their traditional beliefs to Christianity because it was seen as the only path to salvation. Can this really be what loving and compassionate Jesus meant?

Picture for a moment a wonderful mountain towering in front of you with its peak in the clouds. There are many pathways to the top all starting from different directions. Some of the pathways are very steep and rugged but are really the shorter routes to the top. Other pathways take slow meandering routes back and forth making the climb an easy one but very long. Some pathways take you by steep rocky precipices others take you past mountain lakes. But whichever pathway you are able to take it can lead you eventually to the top. Could this be a perfect picture of the many pathways to God? Faith takes many forms and leads us from many different directions but true pathways to God all have one thing in common, they are on the same mountain. And what is this mountain – surely it is the love we have for others that binds us together and ultimately brings us closer to God, whatever the pathway we may tread. Is this not true spiritual wisdom?

Should we not begin to see Jesus’ words “No one comes to the Father except through me” in a different light. What characterises Jesus is his unconditional love for others and his compassion for those in need. Whatever our faith, or indeed if we have no faith, it is through building a character of loving compassion for others that we come to the Father(God) and in no other way.

Our world is a world of immense variety where even with billions of people no two are completely the same. How we think about life and what pathway of faith we follow will vary enormously but in seeking to grow spiritually towards the source of our life and love we all have one thing in common – the need to climb the mountain of love for others.

It is very common for those who have adopted an opinion regarding any truth of faith to sit in judgement on others and to say that they cannot be saved unless their beliefs coincide with their own - a judgement which the Lord has forbidden, in Matthew 7: 1-2. Yet from much experience I have been led to know that members of every religion are saved provided that they have received through a life of love for others remnants of good and appearances of truth.

Emanuel Swedenborg in Arcana Caelestia 2284

 

In any way that men love me, in that same way they find my love: for many are the paths of men, but they all in the end come to me.

Krsihna, Bhagavad Gita 4:11

 

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