Rev’d Michael Smart
An adult person was asking for Baptism….the question for her was this…if accepting Jesus brings me God’s forgiveness and gift of eternal life, then I have to think my family who are not Christians and live in another country will be excluded. I don’t want to deny what I value in my family traditions and culture, so there is conflict for me in becoming a disciple of Jesus.
In seeking to help her with this heartfelt questioning (one faced by many of occurs in the “missionary situation”) I said the first question to ask is this :- “Is there One God or many gods.” The Hebrew people, along with others around them, at first, thought there were many gods. Gradually the Hebrew people came to understand that God had called them to be a light to other nations, precisely because, God was the God of all nations, because there is but One God, Creator of all humankind.
If there is only one God, Creator of all, then whatever name people might use, it can only be the same God who hears our prayers and knows the human heart. Because people have very different ideas about God, it doesn’t mean there are therefore many gods.
Now hear St John proclaim:- “ The true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into the world”…Ask yourself, if you think God only worked in the minds of the Hebrew people? Every step forward in the development of society, every virtue and goodness recognized by the human mind, owed such enlightenment to the one Light, now incarnate in Jesus.
There is only one sun that can warm people, regardless of where they might live on the face of the earth. There is likewise only One Source of Divine Light, that can enlighten the human mind, and St John tells us this Light was becoming incarnate in Jesus.
Any wisdom, any insight into what makes for a good person and a just society…where does this enlightenment come from?
Confucius, died 479 BC, A Chinese teacher of Wisdom.
I like his wisdom when he said:- “ Whoever knows all the answers has not yet faced all the questions.”
Having decided there is only One God…only one Source of Light for the human mind and heart, the next crucial question is this:
What is the character of this One God? The insight and understanding of the people of the Bible is that this One God has the nature and moral character that is like a parent’s love for their child, or a lover for their beloved. On the cross Jesus shows us that the nature of this love is self giving to the point of sacrificing itself for the other…this is the character of the One and Only God.
Given there is One God, whose moral character and purpose is to bring all God’s children to fulfillment, to live in mutual harmony and love, how then might we understand God’s judgement? This was a vital question for the woman seeking Baptism.
God has built his laws into the physical world…this means that if you jump out of a plane at 3000 meters, with no parachute, you will fall and be killed…the angels will not catch you. It is not that God reacts vindictively to each individual jumping from a great height and at that moment rushes to judge them…rather judgement is built into the nature of the universe and it is wisdom to understand this judgement or sadly reap the consequences.
Likewise, God has built into human nature, spiritual laws that reflect the nature of the God who has created us. We are Created by Love so we will only be fulfilled through loving. God is Just and Compassionate, therefore we will only find a god quality of life as an individual and as a society through justice and compassion.
It is not that God acts to punish each individual sin…rather we reap what we sow if we act contrary to the way we have been “designed” to best function as human beings. If I choose revenge rather than reconciliation, then I will personally be damaged in spirit (this is a built in case and effect) and if society as a whole opts for revenge then we know where that ends….Not God’s will, but human will.
Putting treacle into the fuel tank of your car will not take you very far and when the car stops don’t blame the Manufacturer….we have ignored the way the car is designed to work.
In terms of judgement, I sometimes hear it said that someone has rejected Christ and so they will be condemned. But for some people the experiences in their life have been so destructive they are unable to believe there is any compassion or love in the world, and I am sure God sees that affecting their freedom to choose for Christ. Some people’s experience of Christians has been so bad that they want nothing to do with a Christ who makes people like that. What they are rejecting is not the True Christ but a distortion as represented in such misguided Christians.
In her book “ Eyes in the Night”, Nomavenda Mathiane, herself a Christian, writes about her Zulu great grandmother’s journey to become a disciple of Jesus. At first her grandmother despised the Christian “god” for this god’s followers who came from England, killed her Zulu family and had by force taken their Zulu land, and claimed it as their own, then they made slaves of her people, and ordered them on fear of punishment to wear “ proper clothes”.…what her grandmother at first rejected was a human invention of the Christ, not the Risen, Glorious Compassionate Christ who I no way would support such violent disregard for those who lived in the land of their birth.
A woman asked me to meet with her husband, a Buddhist…he was having a problem accepting Christ as the revelation of the Divine…when I asked what he found difficult to accept, he said; “ I have been told I am not to worship my ancestors, this is demonic.” As we explored what this meant for him, he not so much worshiped them, but wanted to honour and respect his ancestors. I shared with him that part of our Great Thanksgiving Prayer in our Eucharist..” Therefore with angel and archangels and the whole company of heaven.” The Communion of saints we call this…respecting our ancestors….he became a disciple of Jesus.
A Buddhist and a Christian missionary were in conversation..the Christian had seen the Buddhist putting some food on a home altar…”You don’t expect your ancestors to actually eat the food do you” ?…..the Buddhist replied…”when you Christians put flowers on a grave, do you expect your ancestors to come and smell them?”
If we accept that Jesus is the Light that enlightens everyone, then we need to look for that measure of Light that is within others. This is not saying there is no darkness, nor that evil is not real, but it is to encouraged us to look beyond the externals, not focus on the language they people use or rituals they use, but instead look for their inner meaning, find what Light they may have already received knowing that there is only one source of Light in this world.
Come the final judgement, Christ will stand before us all… some will see for the first time the source of their enlightenment (I suggested this might be so for the woman’s family and the people of her village ) …they will meet the desire of their heart, even though they never knew it was Christ they desired, and they will respond with joy. Might some people be so blind to the Light that they will to choose darkness even then? God alone knows. Jesus is the only way, but his ways are various and not limited to card carrying Christians. The person considering Baptism, felt confident that her family would be among those to respond when they meet Christ in his Risen Glory, to such a Christ who loves with self sacrificing love and judges justly and knowingly the human heart, she could commit herself.. and she was baptized.