By Laurent Gagnebin
translation Louise Thunin
At a gathering of ministers, the question of the relationship between our faith and other religions came up. Each of us tried to express what the specific quality of Christianity was, in his or her opinion. However, emphasizing its singularity and its unique character carries the risk of isolating it in an attitude of superiority and even imperialism. We remembered, for example, that an entire theology, following Karl Barth (1886-1968), chose to oppose God’s Revelation in Jesus Christ to other religious or spiritual paths, necessarily considered as ignorant or illusory, because they are human.
If such a believer declares having met God thanks to Jesus Christ, does that mean that one can meet God thanks only to Jesus ? A personal experience cannot become the expression of a general and inclusive norm.
Albert Schweitzer writes in a letter dated August 5th, 1935 : ˝At my oral examination in theology, the professor of dogmatics, Paul Lobstein, asked me, ‘Sir, how do you prove that Christianity is the absolute religion ?’ ‘I prove nothing at all, Professor,’ I replied. This is not a thing that requires proof. There is no absolute religion. And we do Christianity no service when we attempt, at all costs, to pass it off as the absolute religion.’˝ (Albert Schweitzer notebooks, no. 144, 2006).
Indeed, it is not enough for a Christian to declare that he believes in God. We still need to specifiy that we do not believe in just any God, but in the God of Jesus Christ, who gives us the image of a God who ˝is love˝ (I John 4 : 8 and 16).
During the meeting with my fellow ministers that I spoke of earlier, we of course discussed among us Jesus’ declaration : ˝No one comes to the Father but by me˝ (John, 14 :6).
How are we to understand these apparently intolerant words ? Do they not confirm the exclusive character of Christianity and do they not reduce to silence the partisans of open-minded Christianity ? Does Jesus not disqualify here the claim that God can be encountered truly in the framework of other religions ? Christian mystics are convinced that, in faith, all religious experiences correspond ; are they unfaithful to Gospel truth or the victims of dream fantasies ? How must we understand those words that seem to confirm the attitude of the defenders of Christianity as the sole possessors of truth ? The Gospel of John expresses here a personal relationship in faith, that of Jesus with his Father and with his disciples. This is not a question of philosophical or objective truth, abstract and dogmatic. Jean Zumstein, the Protestant theologian, writes about John 14 in his Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint John (Labor et Fides, 2007) :˝The presence of God in the person of Christ escapes all objectification.˝
Yes, indeed, Jesus does not say that ˝no one comes to God but by me˝ but ˝no one comes to the Father but by me.˝ This is very different. As I pointed out earlier, Christianity leads to a relationship with a God whose image, in Christ, is that of a Father, of a loving Father, and not that of a God whose representation, even in Churches, is so often totalitarian and cruel.