Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
QUESTION: I'm an 87-year-old Protestant Christian woman. I've tried to live my life according to the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments and other precepts of my religion. However, my faith hits a major snag when I come to Christ's statement in John 14:6 ("No one comes to the Father except through me."). I believe in the divinity of Jesus, but cannot accept that you, my many Jewish friends, people of other beliefs and the millions who've had no exposure to any religion will be denied heaven by a loving God because they don't accept Christ as their savior. I believe we all have a soul. Can you offer some insight that might affirm my questioning of this passage?
-- E., Gainesville, Florida
ANSWER: Thank you, dear E., for sharing the theological snag that catches many Christians of good will and good hearts: How can you both affirm your love of your non-Christian friends while also affirming your own faith and its claim in John 14:6 that the only way to God is through belief in Jesus as the Christ.
There are several ways to break free of this snag and to sustain both your faith and your compassion.
The first way is to read the full passage from John 14 (verses 1-6): " 'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.' Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' "
My interpretation of this entire passage is that John is teaching that there are indeed many valid dwelling places (religions) in God's house. Jesus in this full passage is much more of a guide to salvation rather than an armed security guard at some checkpoint on the road to salvation.
Another reader wrote me about this same Bible verse and urged Christians to instead quote 1 John 4:7: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." "If only Christians emphasized 1 John 4:7, rather than John 14:6, the world might be a better place," the reader wrote.
Recently, a woman from Holy Cross Catholic Church in Nesconset sent me a prayer card given out by her priest, who asked parishioners to say the Prayer for Peace.
This prayer is not a refutation of John, but it offers another path up the same mountain to the Lord of Peace:
"Lord Jesus Christ, who are called the Prince of Peace, who are yourself our peace and reconciliation, who so often said, 'Peace to you,' grant us peace. Make all men and women witness of truth, justice and brotherly love. Banish from their hearts whatever might endanger peace. Enlighten our rulers that they may guarantee and defend the great gift of peace. May all peoples of the earth become as brothers and sisters. May longed-for peace blossom forth and reign always over us all. Amen."
May God help us to find one another.