“You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”. Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”. (John 14:4-7 NIV version)
When Jesus says the words, “…no one comes to the Father except through me”, questions arise in my mind: are only those who are baptized Christians going to get to Heaven? What about those verses in Matthew’s Gospel (25:31-46) where “the Son of Man” – Jesus, “the King” – passes judgement on “the nations gathered before him”? Isn’t it clear that he is using loving actions in this life as the basis for eternal reward or punishment? Doesn’t that perhaps indicate that those good people who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, ministered to refugees, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned might also get to Heaven, even if they’re not Christians?
I have spent some time meditating and praying about this. I’m certainly not a trained theologian, but I have some thoughts which I can share here…
Religious Jews know God as Creator and Ruler of his creation. They have ever since the calling of Abraham some 4,000 years ago. They have reverenced God, tried to obey his commands, loved his words in the Law and the Prophets, and hoped for his blessings in their lives. Some have believed in an afterlife; some have not. Other faiths – Islam in particular, but other faiths as well – have similarly believed in a divine Creator, and have strived sincerely to live ethically in this life. Adherents may also believe in an afterlife, even perhaps some version of a Heaven, and have longed for the joys of that.
However, no other religion has an awareness of God as “Father” except our Christian faith. Jesus alone has revealed Him, which is why he can say that no one can come to the Father except through him, for he alone is the Son, so he alone can introduce humankind to the One whom he knows intimately. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus says, “…No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Hence, no one can come into a real relationship with God except through their connection with Jesus.
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he responds by teaching them to address their prayers to “Our Father” – i.e., to his Father and theirs, too. He has shown that we, as his disciples, can have a standing with God that is new and revolutionary, a standing that allows us to address Almighty God in this way. No one, not Abraham nor even Moses in the Old Covenant, addressed God this way, yet this is our incredible privilege as Christians, even “baby” Christians.
Jesus came to reveal the deepest identity of God as a loving Trinitarian “communion of Persons”. Only the Beloved Son could reveal God not only as Creator and Lord of his creation, but also as loving Father who longs to grant his followers a share in divine Life through the Holy Spirit whom he promised to them. Only Jesus allows us to “see” the face of God; to know God intimately in a loving relationship of vulnerability and acceptance, and to develop a true familial kinship with Divinity.
St Paul’s view of our “standing” with God as Christians is that we are “in Christ”. Our baptisms have joined us to the Only Begotten Son as “sons and daughters in the Son”, intimate parts of Him joined in his Body, the Church. We can experience the joy of being fully “adopted” and integrated into the very family of God. And as such, we have become “new creations”, with a new spiritual DNA which allows us to address Almighty God, the Creator of the whole Universe as “Father”!
So how to make sense of the Matthew passage? What feels quite helpful and satisfying to me is a passage from C.S.Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” book series. In the last volume, “The Last Battle”, it is the end of the world of Narnia, and the final battle between good and evil is transpiring. One of the warriors of the wrong side (the false god Tash) finds himself nonetheless in the heaven of Aslan’s country. He is baffled; how can Aslan (the Christ figure) be welcoming him, a servant of Aslan’s enemy? The warrior explains to the children his encounter with Aslan and their conversation:
But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…I take to me the service 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… And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves… Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek…
Our merciful Savior Jesus, who is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”(2 Peter 3:9) sees each heart. He is merciful in his justice and just in his mercy. Does this mean that all will be saved, as some wrongly believe? Clearly not. Jesus himself said that the road that leads to life is “narrow”, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:14). There is a choice to be made, for God has given us freedom, and Jesus warned that we could use that freedom wrongly. We can use our freedom to say yes to his grace, or we can continue, even to the last moment of our lives, to turn away and reject these offers of light and love.
We have been sent by Jesus himself to live and proclaim the incredible Good News of his infinite love: the delights of forgiveness, freedom and peace which friendship with him brings. Let’s live the joy of that friendship and be ready to introduce others to this best of all possible Friends, the Way to the Father, and the Gate that leads to Heaven.