The God Squad: Many responses to whether there are many paths up the same mountain to God
Q: Many years ago my oldest son was attending confirmation class at our local Lutheran church in Seaford. Someone told him that Jews weren’t allowed in Heaven. This made him both very angry and very sad as his grandfather (my father) was Jewish. He went to the pastor’s office to ask if this was true. The Reverend had a very simple answer. He looked at my son, smiled and said, “In my father’s mansion there are many rooms. And there are many ways to reach them.” – (From T, Seaford, Long Island
A. Thank God you have a pastor with spiritual generosity. The passage in the Christian Testament that he was quoting to your son is John 14:2. This is most significant because that verse in John that clearly affirms a variety of ways to salvation precedes the famous verse in John (14:6) where Jesus speaks of himself as the way, the truth and the light which conveys a much more exclusivist teaching.
What we learn from this is that the sacred scriptures we have inherited contain verses that expand and verses that constrict the paths to salvation. It is impossible to resolve this conflict of texts since they are both holy and they contain very different beliefs.
My solution as I have tried to teach it to you, dear readers, over many years is two fold: first we should follow our heart and ask “Which texts are more inclusive and more loving?” and then secondly we should not quote the texts which are more exclusive and more limiting. Both texts speak to the truth of scripture in very different ways. I hope all of us believe that our path up the mountain is the best path, the truest path, the most reliable path, but we also acknowledge in humility and love that other paths are also informed by the truth of salvation and others paths get to the top of the mountain along with ours.
If some climbers are prevented from entering heaven. If some are kept from the summit then it will be God’s choice, not our choice and the God who would make such a limiting choice to bar righteous non-Christians from Heaven is not the God I worship. Count me as one of the climbers who is always encouraging other climbers and always appreciating their spiritual gifts. A poem from W.H. Auden:
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell.
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Note from MG:
Feb. 16 was the seventh anniversary of Fr. Tom Hartman’s death. We often say of the deceased that he/she died before their time. Except for the most aged among us, this saying is almost always true. There is always something more we could accomplish when death takes our breath away. However, that saying was more true about Tommy than any other person I have ever known.
At the age of 69, Tommy died of Parkinson’s disease too soon — way too soon. This was not only because 69 is 10 years short of normal life expectancy, but also because of the varied and deep record of his goodness.
Tommy’s main gift to the world was his loving presence. He was always present to everyone he met. He never looked beyond you or around you. He would look at you and listen to you and respond to you directly and deeply and without limit.
One night he drove from Long Island to Albany to stop a young man from killing himself. The man was a stranger who just called Tommy because he had seen the God Squad on television. That was enough of a reason for Tommy to drive to his side.
One day we were driving across the Triborough bridge during a winter sleet storm. Halfway across the bridge Tommy told me to stop the car in traffic. I reminded him not too gently about the difference between a parking lot and a bridge, but he was insistent. I stopped and he got out of the car and pulled a piece of jagged metal off the roadway in front of my car. He returned soaking wet and smiling. He said, “That could have punctured somebody’s tires.” I told him, “If you ever decide to walk on water, I am leaving you.”
God, I miss him. Tommy died too soon. May his soul rest with the angels.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)
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