Building a bridge between religions
By Rev Herman Roborgh SJ, member of the Diocesan Commission for Ecumenism & Interfaith Dialogue.
Christ is the only way to the Father and no one can come to the Father except through Christ (cf. John 14.6). I have often heard this verse quoted as proof that the non-Christian religions are not able to offer a way to God.
The conclusion would seem to be that we do not need to know much about other religions. According to this point of view, it would be enough just to have friendly relations with those of another religion.
Dialogue with other religions would simply mean to develop tolerance and to foster harmony. Interfaith dialogue has no further purpose.
If we take a look at history, we will soon see that tolerance and harmony between the religions has not been a common experience. Such a situation of peace did occur at some periods of history but there is much evidence of bitterness and hatred between people of different religions.
I wonder why it has been so difficult to live together in harmony?
I think that one of the reasons for this difficulty is that our faith in Christ as the only way to the Father has made us feel superior to others. We have not used such verses to make a bridge.
Are there any verses that we could use to make a bridge to those outside the Christian churches? I suggest the opening verses of St John’s Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-5)
Since all things were created through the Word of God, all nations, cultures and religions were also, in some way, created through God’s Word. For “not one thing had its being but through him.”
God’s Word is, therefore, the link between everything that exists, including people of every religion and culture. Even though the religions in the world are very different, each one has some relationship with the Word of God, which has existed since the beginning of creation.
John’s Gospel goes on to say that the Word of God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. This does not negate the fact that the Word of God has also been present and active throughout the world since the beginning of creation.
God has sown the seed of His Word wherever it pleased God. The Church Fathers (e.g. Justin, Iranaeus, Clement of Alexandria) referred to ‘the seeds of the word’ (logos spermatikos) to describe God’s presence and action throughout the universe.
The Second Vatican Council document Ad Gentes also referred to “the seeds of the word” that God has sown throughout the universe. This means that a Christian believer can find God’s presence, truth and light in other religions. In fact, if God has sown His seed in other religions, Christians can discover more about God by learning about these religions.
Christians believe that Christ leads us to the complete truth about God. However, as limited and fallible Christian believers, we do not possess the fullness of Christ within ourselves.
We can discover more about God and about the way the Spirit of God moves throughout the world by turning to our brothers and sisters from other religions. For God has revealed Himself to them through the ‘seeds of the word’ that He has so generously sown among them.
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