Q: I believe that Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIGHT. How do other world religions fit into this? My daughter recently asked me why some Christians believe that Christianity is the only “true” religion. I had a heck of a time trying to answer this. — Shona, Port Hope, Canada
A: Dear Shona,
Thank you — and your daughter! — for this excellent question. Sadly, not only do some Christians believe that their creed is the only true religion: people of any religious tradition can veer into exclusive thinking. The results are usually tragic.
When i was younger, perhaps your daughter’s age, this question perplexed me greatly, and it was in a children’s book – C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle — that i found the clearest explanation. Near the end of the book, one devout character, Emeth, finds out he has made a terrible mistake. All his life he has offered his prayers and service to a violent, greedy creature named Tash, because he knew of no other God.
When Emeth meets the true God — in the story, a magnificent lion named Aslan — he is sure he’s doomed to die for his misplaced worship. Instead, he is astonished to find himself most warmly welcomed. Aslan tells him, “All the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”
Trying to understand, Emeth asks if Tash and Aslan are then one and the same. Aslan replies with fierce denial, explaining, “Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him…Beloved, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”
In this extreme example, C.S. Lewis shows that the genuine, loving offerings of our hearts to God are always received, even when we misunderstand Whom we are seeking. How much more true it is, then, that people in the world’s great spiritual traditions – who hold in common such values as gratefulness, reverence, and compassionate service – bring their offerings to the same Altar. It is in this spirit that Jesus’ words, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” become congruent with the empathy he offered even to people whose backgrounds and traditions were different from his own. The Way and the Truth and the Life are eternal and immutable. Jesus perfectly embodies them. Anyone who genuinely seeks that loving Presence who goes by many names (among them, “God”) follows Jesus’ Way, reflects the Truth, and receives the divine gift of Life.
As the Sufis pray, “Thy Light is in all forms, Thy Love in all beings: in a loving mother, in a kind father, in an innocent child, in a helpful friend, in an inspiring teacher. Allow us to recognize Thee in all Thy holy names and forms.” Jesus himself recognized this holiness everywhere present. When we set our feet upon this Way he has shown us, we are all true worshippers no matter what our creed.