With the world in the midst of an international health crisis, it is not uncommon to find people turning to religion to find answers. This can, unfortunately, lead people to make glib statements in conversation with others about their beliefs.
I have been within earshot of many conversations I wish would never have taken place, with people quick to deal out spiritual death for those who do not share their exact beliefs.
While I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the son of the Living God who came into this world to atone for our sins and to teach us how to live, I do not for a moment believe that if you don't share my belief in Christ you are guaranteed eternal damnation instantly upon physical death. No, not for an instant.
Most Christians point to the sixth verse of the 14th chapter of the Gospel of St. John to support their condemnation of all non-Christians. This verse reads, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” It is in a misinterpretation of the three words “but by me” that so many good, kind-hearted souls have been found guilty and sentenced to hell by friends, neighbors and ministers who in reality share almost all of their views.
This misinterpretation of the words “but by me” would thrust good souls who subscribe to a faith other than Christianity out of the Kingdom of Heaven and thus to eternal torment and separation from God.
Take, for example, Gandhi, a crusader for peace but, alas, a Hindu. Is he destined for hell? The correct answer should be we don't know. Only Christ knows his heart. What about the Daili Lama, a beautiful soul, but unfortunately a Buddhist. Is he hell bound? Once again, we only know that Christ knows his heart. How about Albert Einstein, a brilliant mind, but a Jew? Are all of these people damned because of the words “but by me”?
What if “but by me” doesn't mean what so many Christians have ascribed to it? What if it means something else? What if it means Christ knows the contents of our hearts and by this he determines whether he will open the gate to heaven for us regardless of our religious philosophy?
If we live a life of love for God and neighbor, but simply don't understand the mystical relationship between God the Father and God the Son, are we, then, by secular standards beings of love, condemned to hell on a technicality of belief?
What if the only Christians we've ever met have been poor representations of what a Christian should be, and therefore we cannot in good conscience align ourselves with them?
I believe it was Gandhi who once said, “I love your Christ. I do not love your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.” Are we, then, destined for the lake of fire?
It's time a Christian finally stands up and flatly says no. The answer is no.
Later in the New Testament, 1 John 4:8 declares that “God is love.” With knowledge of this fact, “but by me” can accurately be rendered as “but by love.” So the determining factor for entrance into the kingdom of heaven may not be whether we believed exactly the right platitudes, but whether we loved while we were doing it.