Remember that game they used to play on Sesame Street, where they would show the audience four items and sing a little song that went like this:
One of these things is not like the others
One of these things doesn’t belong
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish this song?
(My apologies if the tune is now stuck in your head.)
I feel like we often play a “spiritual” version of that game in our culture—with a lot of people stumped as to how to find the answer. Because, so often when the topic of religion comes up in conversation, I’ll hear people say something to this effect:
“Didn’t all the founders of the various religions of the world ultimately just teach us to love one another?”
Yet, as someone who has studied world religions for years (including for my bachelor’s degree), that type of statement very quickly reveals to me that the statement-maker hasn’t spent much time doing any study of their own on the topic. Because the reality is—world religions couldn’t be more different from one another in a number of ways.
For example: take the beliefs the world’s major religions hold about who—or what—we should worship: Hinduism believes in millions of gods, Buddhism believes in no gods, Judaism believes in One God named Yahweh, Christianity believes in One God Who is a Trinity, and Islam believes in One God, named Allah. Those are pretty different right off the bat.
Then there’s what those religions say about how to properly connect with those deities and/or end up in a “good” afterlife: Hinduism says “follow the rules of your position in life” and you’ll reincarnate to a better spot next time, Buddhism says meditation is the way to realize everything you experience in life is actually an illusion, Judaism says to obey God’s Old Testament Laws, Christianity says to put your faith in Jesus, and Islam says to follow their “Five Pillars.”
“Well, ‘timeout’ right there, Matt,” a person may respond; “look at what you just wrote: most of those ‘goals’ all boil down to ‘just be nice and love people and you’ll be okay in the afterlife,’ right?”
Most. Except, if you notice, Jesus.
Jesus’ whole point was that we can’t work out way to God on our own; our hearts and motives are broken and sinful to our core, which causes us to repeatedly fall short of His standards to love Him and others 100% of the time, perfectly. And, as a result of breaking His laws and offending Him along those lines (repeatedly!), we’ve gotten ourselves the spiritual death penalty in God’s legal system: hell.
Yet, God loves us so much He can’t bear to send us there. Yet He also can’t throw His justice away—He must uphold both His loving nature and His just nature. So He sends the perfect solution: His Son, Jesus, Who lives a perfect life and then dies on the cross in our place, taking the responsibility and hell that we deserved on Himself, so the punishment is taken and we can go free instead.
And, with our offenses out of the way, Jesus bridges the relational gap between us and God, enabling us to not only have the personal relationship with Him that we were created for, but also enabling us to be able to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit to supernaturally change our hearts and help us live as He intended in the first place.
No one else from any other religion did that for us. Jesus alone stands out.
“But what about the claims of the other religions, Matt?” someone may ask. “Why should we trust what Jesus has to say over the others?”
Well, consider this:
While, yes, many (if not all) of the other leaders of the world’s religions will claim that they have the “right” way—and more than one have claimed historically that an angel from God Himself told them the info they have to share—notice something important about them:
Notice how many of those founders were “alone” when their claimed revelations occurred.
Buddha is claimed to have found nirvana when he was alone.
Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) claims and angel spoke to him when he was alone.
Even L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) claims his revelation about aliens came during a personal near-death experience in the Navy.
And the list goes on, all with the same premise: “I’ve had a personal revelation while I was alone in some way; so just trust me and follow what I tell you about it.” (You tell me: doesn’t a statement like that sound even the least bit suspicious to you?)
But, see, that’s where Jesus stands drastically apart from other religious founders, too: Christianity is founded upon public events rather than personal revelation. Jesus’ historically-attested* earthly ministry was public from start to finish!
Even a quick reading of the New Testament shows that His birth was public (shepherds visited the just-born Christ and immediately spread the word about Him). His baptism was public. His teaching was public. His travels were public. His trial and crucifixion were (very much!) public. Even the earliest writing we have about the resurrection says that it was witnessed by over 500 people at the same time (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
But here’s the ultimate kicker for me in terms of what sets Jesus apart: unlike any other religion founder in history, Jesus didn’t just claim to represent God. He claimed to be God, and the only correct Way to God as a result (see John 14:6)**—and He actually backed it up with the evidence to prove it (from historically-attested miracles to the resurrection itself).
That’s why, if you were to line up the leaders of the world’s religions and sing that song from Sesame Street asking which one was “not like the others”—in a very good and important way in this case, I’d add—the answer would be an easy one for me:
(That’s also one reason among many that I recommend any good spiritual search for truth begins with Him, as I wrote about back in blog 3 at bigquestions411.wordpress.com)
Next Time and Beyond
“Okay Matt,” someone may say, “but does that mean that God never speaks through or uses other religions? Because it sure seems to me like He does at times. So how do you reconcile that?”
“And what about that ‘Trinity’ idea you mentioned—how can God be Three and One at the same time? How does that make sense?”
“Besides—isn’t history ultimately shaped by the ‘winners’? So, isn’t Christianity so popular historically just because Christians were the powerful ‘winners’?”
“Didn’t the Apostle Paul ultimately ‘invent’ Christianity anyway?”
“And even if it is true—what about people who die without ever having the chance to hear about Jesus? What happens to them?”
Those are some important questions. I hope you’ll join us over the next five Wednesdays for the answers.
*For more on that, see blog 29 at bigquestions411.wordpress.com
**For more on that topic, see blog 30 at bigquestions411.wordpress.com