“O merciful God… have mercy on all Jews, Turks, infidels and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word, and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock … under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So runs an ancient prayer for Good Friday which you will be unlikely to hear (word for word) in church next week. In fact some church leaders would probably refuse to say even an updated version of it, because they don’t agree with it.
What happened on the first Good Friday was that God’s infinite love and perfect justice were both fulfilled in one action. It would appear that the relating of divine love and justice posed a dilemma of cosmic proportions. How could mankind, with whom God longs to share time and eternity, be saved from its just deserts of eternal condemnation by a holy God?
By rights we should all be condemned to hell. But God’s way is higher than ‘rights’ and ‘justice’. He is love.
In his infinite wisdom God made a substitute. The substitute had to be at least equivalent in value as a person to the whole of mankind. So he had to be divine.
Before God’s perfect justice an imperfect substitute would be as acceptable as a lawyer with a criminal record could be to a human judge. He had to be perfect. But the punishment was to endure death and hell, so he had to be human,
Therefore the great divine initiative of redemption involved the perfect God-man suffering death and hell. There was no other way to fulfil both God’s love and his justice.
There is no other way of salvation. There couldn’t be. The ways of salvation created by the other religions are human bridges which fall short of God, heaven and eternal life.
Contrast that with the statements of some modern Christian leaders. One bishop said we shouldn’t seek to evangelise Jewish people. They come to God their way: we come through Christ.
Archbishop of Runcie said after his exposure to Hinduism in India, ‘India can be a stunning experience.. , which leaves one dazed and unsure of one’s bearings. Before there were the certainties of an encapsulated western Christianity: after, there are new ways of thinking about God, Christ and the world.’
He continued that ‘we shall have to abandon any narrowly conceived Christian apologetic (defence) based upon a sense of superiority and an exclusive claim to truth … This will mean that some claims about the exclusiveness of the church have to be renounced.’
He concluded by quoting a writer who saw the 20th century as ‘the time when the first sign became visible of that great interpenetration of eastern religions and Christianity which gave rise to the great universal Religion of the third millennium AD.’
One book I read, published by what was then the British Council of Churches, tried to argue (unsuccessfully) that when Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, he didn’t mean what we’ve always thought he did. But the amazing thing was that this study totally ignored the remainder of Jesus’ words, ‘No-one comes to the Father except through me.’ That sort of ‘interpretation’ is bordering on the dishonest. So great is the vested interest in ‘proving’ that there are other ways to God than through Jesus.
When I think about the theological necessity of a perfect God-man suffering death and hell for us, I am reminded that other ways of salvation are at worst dangerous and at best fall short of achieving the restoration of relationship between human beings and God.
But then I think of all that the Lord went through on the first Good Friday, as the only one who could achieve our salvation. And I see Christian leaders implying or saying that there are other ways to God, and undermining the necessity of faith in Christ crucified.
As for me:
‘There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.’
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction