Monday, June 18, 2007

Thinking Out Loud About John 14:6, Part 2

I was talking with a friend the other day who in turn had been talking with a friend. This third party is not a Christian, and he'd had a conversation with someone involved with the Evangelical parachurch campus ministry where he and my friend are getting Ph.Ds.

During the third party's conversation with this other person, the notion of the "God-shaped hole" came up. This is the idea that we all have a hole in our souls someplace shaped like God and thus God is the only one that can fill it. When my friend told me about this later, he used "God-shaped" and "Jesus-shaped" interchangeably, which is probably significant.

Anyway, my friend turned the question to me: "Do we need Jesus, specifically, to fill this hole? Is plugging some hole inside us with Jesus the only way to have a meaningful life?"

This was, and is, a question of whether other faiths are valid. It is also a question that assumes what humanity's problem is. I was a little dodgy on the first part because I myself didn't have a clear answer. But I did get to thinking about the second part.

The notion of a "God-shaped hole" assumes that 1) before some active profession and practice of faith, we have no connection to God, and 2) without God specifically as revealed in Jesus, our lives have no meaning. This is the problem as defined by this analogy. The problem is almost like a Mentos commercial: a problem arises, and once we pop Jesus the Freshmaker, all is well and we have a clear direction and purpose and maybe a cheesy smile. It borders on selling a product with promises of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. That's why many mainliners in particular have issues with many forms of evangelism, but that's for another day.

The first assumption of this analogy has flaws as well. The psalmist asks, "where can I go from your presence?" Jacob exclaims after his ladder dream, "Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it!" Jesus declares that the kingdom of God is very very close to people. There are numerous verses where God is in active pursuit of individuals and groups rather than waiting for them to make some public statement that they're ready to submit, repent, pray a sinner's prayer, sign a True Love Waits promise, raise their OCWM giving, or whatever else. So God is not a passive God waiting to fill some hole when invited in, and God is more connected even to people who have been deemed by others to have this hole. So there isn't really a hole to begin with, as that indicates complete separation from God and lack of regard by God until some commitment is made on the individual's part. we specifically need Jesus to fully realize this connection to and pursuit by God? My first inclination is to respond that the Israelites did pretty well for thousands of years without Jesus. That's being admittedly snide about it, but if we first consider that Jesus was indeed Jewish and thus in both continuity and critique with this tradition that had such a long history prior to his being born in a stable rude, coupling that with Paul's statements about whether Jews are "in" or "out," and the Biblical case is somewhat muddled.

Furthermore, I'm a weak subscriber to Karl Rahner's concept of "anonymous Christians." This is the idea that non-Christians can be in service to Christ without being aware of it. I say "weak" because I've never actually read this concept for's just come up in enough places for me to think that it makes sense. Understand that, acknowledging all of the factors of upbringing and cultural context, I am a Christian, and thus interfaith dialogue does not and should not call Christians to apologize for following Christ, but instead acknowledge differences while still working together on common matters of justice to which our faiths may call us. And while there may be the concept of "anonymous Christians," others may hold to concepts of "anonymous Muslims," "anonymous Buddhists," and so on. This is all to say, I suppose, that where our paths cross in matters of serving humanity and restoring creation is when we are most clearly showing the divine to our neighbors. That's probably an inadequate answer and I didn't even really mention John 14:6 until just now. I suppose it was the bigger concept that I wanted to write about.

This one was more rambling. But I think I've got all of this out of my system for the time being.