Good Friday and Easter in the Mosaic of Religious Pluralism

Those of us who hold religious beliefs of any kind find ourselves in a culture that encourages us to celebrate an assumed unity inherent within our diverse beliefs. A growing number of voices join the global community choir to rehearse the ever-popular mantra of religious and philosophical pluralism. The chorus often repeated by this choir loudly sings of how the followers of Jesus, Mohammad, Gautama, and Krishna are all climbing a multi-sided mountain destined to reach the same peak. Granted, this pluralistic picture of faith offers us an intriguing and colorful mosaic that attempts to capitalize on humanity’s common proclivity for religious experience and community.

Yet there remains that nagging (some would say irritating) question, “Is it true?” “Does the picture painted for us by religious pluralism correspond to reality?” Of course some are satisfied with adhering to beliefs (whether atheistic or theistic) without inquiring whether those beliefs  are true. But for others of us, we insist that the essential reason for adhering to any faith is the truthfulness of that faith’s object. Thus, for those sincerely concerned to find and live in truth, blindly dancing to popular mantras will never do.

Notice how the different faiths of the world present us with starkly contrasting views of God or ultimate reality. Compare Islam’s strict one-personal God with Christianity’s tri-personal God, and compare both with the marrieds of Hindu deities. Furthermore, contrast the dissimilarity between Islam’s conviction that God is too transcendent to reveal himself in flesh, with Hinduism’s teaching that God has been incarnated countless times. Compare both of these claims with Christian’s belief that the incarnation was a unique event in history where God became a man once in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Space prohibits exploring the stark contrast existing between these theistic and pantheistic beliefs and the atheistic beliefs of Buddhism and naturalism. Thus, when compared, the belief systems of the world offer contradicting propositions concerning God, man, sin, and salvation. Therefore, we believers and nonbelievers of various stripes cannot all be right. The sooner we realize this the better, and the less prone we will be to fall to the seductive song of religious pluralism, a sure path to intellectual and spiritual suicide.

I suggest that the best way to find the path of truth among the various religious and philosophical voices of our world is to look for the one that best answers the perennial questions of humanity: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “For what purpose, if any, do I exist?”  For millions of people worldwide, including myself, viewing life through the lens of the Bible’s narrative  provides the best answers to these questions.

Good Friday and Easter take us to the very heart of the biblical story. When reading the passion accounts in the Gospels, one perceives that the evangelists present more than a mere tragedy depicting a pacifist’s response to brutality that all Jesus’ subsequent followers should emulate. Nor do the Gospel writers wish to present Jesus as just another one of the many messianic claimants who suffered the wrath of the Roman governor Pontius Pilot. Instead, they present us with something much more profound – God on a cross. The Creator who fashioned the universe stooped to become a man and even gave himself to die on a Roman torture rack. Why would he do that? The consistent answer given by the biblical authors is that the cross was intended to save God’s fallen creatures from their sins (Matt 1:28). Even if there is a widespread denial of sin’s reality in our culture today, the apparent proclivity of the human race to hate one another and what accords with goodness, righteousness, justice, and truth is too observable to deny. The biblical diagnosis of the human problem as an innate bent toward evil mysteriously inherited from the first man makes the best sense of these symptoms. Yet, into the darkness of humanity’s plight God ordained the dawn of that historic day we call Good Friday. There, in a brutal spectacle we would hardly call good from a human perspective, God suffered on a cross so that his estranged, sin-bound creatures might be freed and forgiven, to enjoy the glory of his fellowship again (1Pet 3:18).

Yet, if Good Friday never gave way to Easter morning the theological profundity of the cross would look like nothing more then the tragic end of an obscure first-century Jew’s itinerant preaching career. But all of the Gospel writers consistently witness to the fact that the miraculous did happen – Jesus of Nazareth actually rose physically from the dead. These claims would be truly incredible if it were not for the fact that they are backed by the compelling type of moral certainty one gets from eyewitness testimony. The early disciples of Jesus did not proclaim the resurrection in a vacuum. Jerusalem, the locale of the Holy Sepulcher and of all Jesus’ antagonists, strategically speaking, is the least likely place to propagate a sham, especially if his decaying body could be produced any time after Easter morning. Despite the inhospitable environment, no corpse was produced. Of course there are theories posed as rational explanations of such assumed irrationality. Yet none of them (i.e. the stolen body theory, the swoon theory, the joint delusion theory) are as compelling as the straightforward testimony of the Gospels. Most of all, I find it extremely hard to believe that the disciples of Jesus were willing to die for proclaiming something they knew was an outright lie. All of the Gospels testify that Jesus conquered death, and this fact alone best explains the subsequent rise of Christianity.

Two thousand years later the faithful still take the apostle’s testimony upon their lips and into their hearts in the words of the Creed: “We believe in One Lord Jesus Christ,  . . . [who] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; . . . The third day he rose form the dead.” Of course, many remain firmly unconvinced. This comes as no surprise since even the Gospel writers record how some disbelieved the glorious reality standing right before their eyes (Matt 28:18). Yet, others may sense the springtime of conviction budding in the soul. For them, the glory of Good Friday and Easter causes the light of truth to shine distinctly through the Christian pane enshrined in the mosaic of religious pluralism.

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