As the great English author G. K. Chesterton once said, “The mind is a machine meant to come to conclusions.” We are going to challenge a prevailing idea today so that our minds can make some conclusions about God. This may offend some people, but the point here is not to offend, but to be constructive in one’s thoughts.
We often hear people say things like, “All religions deep down are the same.” Or maybe they will say, “I am not religious. Religions divide people. I’m spiritual. I believe in God, I just don’t get all dogmatic and exclusive with it.” The modern belief structure is that we all will eventually come to God. This is often followed by a sense of anger at those sectarians who actually believe their religion is the right one and everyone else has got it all wrong. This anger is a natural consequence of those who think faith is merely opinion. How dare you say your opinion is better? This is my truth! That’s your truth! That’s all!
Another objection to Christianity often hurled at theology and doctrine is that our reasoning about God is so blah when compared to the real thing. How can we define the indefinable? “If you only met the real God like I have, you’d ditch all your silly doctrines and dogmas!” It’s like putting the ocean in a hole we dug in the sand. It’s not going to fit, no matter how hard we try.
I would answer that a notion is only true insofar as it corresponds with reality. When we make truth claims about God, they have to correspond to reality and not merely my preference or opinion. Now, it belongs to the weakness of human reason and human language that our propositions and doctrines about God, while true, are limited. This easily trips people up. Catholics do not believe in our definition of the Trinity, but rather, we believe in the Trinity. It is not the propositions we have faith in, but the Person behind them. God is way bigger than our language about Him, but that does not mean our language about Him is altogether false. It is true we cannot comprehend God, but we can apprehend certain things about God, especially from what He has revealed about Himself. Our talk about God either corresponds to reality or it does not.
This returns us to the relationship between faith and reason. A spiritualist wants God without the baggage of religion, a faith without reason, which is totally understandable given what a mess Christians have made of their religion. This is belief without consequence for the way one lives. God is a precious accessory to one’s life full of positivity. C.S. Lewis once spoke to a RAF pilot who dismissed doctrine, preferring his actual experience of God. Lewis replied that our creeds are like a map, which show you where you want to go and are the result of thousands of other people’s experiences. Maps help you with your limited experience to arrive at your destination. But a map is not the place itself, no matter how much you stare at it. Doctrine is precisely this. Doctrines tell us about God, but like a map, we do not have faith in the doctrine. The point is to go somewhere with it.
I heard recently a Christian pastor’s conversation at an inter-religious event. The Buddhist and Muslim representatives approached him and talked about how we all believe in the same God and in the end all of our religions are different names for the same thing.
The pastor responded, “So you’re saying it is like God is at the top of a mountain and we are all on different paths, but eventually we will all get to the top of the mountain and all be with God.”
They looked at each other, smiling. “Exactly!” they exclaimed, happy he was accepting their point.
Seeing the moment to express the most essential truth about who Jesus Christ is, the pastor replied, “But what if God came down the mountain to us?”
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” –John 1:14