If Christianity were my religion, I wouldn’t thank God for the Cross. But it’s not my religion, and on Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. tomorrow, I will be giving God all the thanks I can give him for the Cross of Jesus Christ.
I know I need to explain that, and I will. First I’ll need to clarify what I mean about “my religion.”
Choosing Our Religions
We live in a world of religious pluralism. A recent Gallup poll says that 70% of North Americans believe that many religious could lead you to God. The Pew Forum surveyed Americans who belong to various religions in 2008. They found that 57% of Americans who attend Bible-believing churches (evangelical or black churches, in their study) believe that many religions can lead to God.
I take it that those 57% believe their choice of Christianity is an expression of their personal preference. Maybe it has to do with their culture, upbringing, friends in church, or what they’re comfortable with. As far as spiritual life goes, though, they think they have a choice, and the choice they’ve made is evangelical Christianity. They picked it out, and it’s their religion.
For my part, I follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, to the best of my capacity in Christ. I am a Christian. I do not, however, consider Christianity my chosen religion. I didn’t choose it off some religious clothes rack; I didn’t say, “I don’t really feel like a Buddhist or a Muslim for this life; I’m a traditional American, so the Christian thing just seems to fit me better.”
No, I didn’t buy it and I’m not trying to make it my own. Christianity is too big, too grand, too filled with God for that. I am a Christian because the one God has called me to relate to him in that unique way.
So as you see, my opening statement hinges on what i mean by “my religion.” If Christianity were my choice from a list of options, if it were my religion in that sense, I wouldn’t thank God for the cross.
History’s Most Despicable Act of Injustice?
How could I? Remember how at Gethsemane Jesus prayed that this cup could pass from him? He was asking the Father (though he knew the answer already), “Couldn’t there be some other way?!” He was arrested in humiliation and betrayal. Couldn’t that have been avoided? He was humiliated in trials before the Jewish court, Pilate, and Herod. Did he really have to go through that? He was mocked, beaten, tortured. Was that really necessary? He was hung on the Cross until he screamed the agony of forsakenness; and he died. Why, God? WHY?
Why? Because he loved us and wanted to bring us to God, and because there was no other way.
What if there had been another way? What if these 57% believe correctly that Christianity is one of many true ways to God? Then it should never have happened. The cup should have passed from the hand of the Son of God. There would have been no need for his brutal passion experience. Far from being something to thank God for, the Cross would have to been the worst of all needless atrocities in history.
Do not, I repeat, do not say, “All religions lead to God, but since I’ve grown up a Christian, I’ll follow that path for myself.” Do not make Christianity your religion that way. If you do, it is as if you are glorifying history’s most despicable act of cosmic cruelty. If you think there are multiple paths to God, then for Christ’s sake (I mean that reverently and literally), don’t choose Christianity! Don’t choose the religion that includes his torture and execution!
Or History’s Most Astonishing Declaration of Love and Justice
The question hinges on whether Jesus really did die on the cross for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. If he did, then we can be sure he did it because it was the only way to God. He said so himself in John 14:6. I am convinced that he did; that the God who created us entered human history in the form of a child who grew to be a man; who taught, healed, and demonstrated a life given wholly to God; and who died on the Cross, was raised from the dead, and was glorified into heaven.
I am convinced he did it because it was the only way we could come to God. He did it for love; for the joy set before him, knowing the life it bring to us whom he loves. He was willing to endure it because it was necessary in order to reconcile humans to God. The Cross was good, but it was only good because it was the only good way to bring us to God.
I do not follow Christ because Christianity is my religion of choice. I have chosen to follow Christ, yes; but that doesn’t make Christianity my religion. It’s God’s. It’s his initiative, it’s his action, it’s his grace, it’s his revelation, it’s his plan; and I’m thankful he has given me grace to enter into the relationship he has called me to.
For that reason, tomorrow on Thanksgiving, as an every other day, I will humbly and heartily thank God for the Cross of Christ, where I was rescued from death. I thank God, too, that the story did not end in death, but in resurrection, glory, and a mission for us to pursue until Christ returns.
Finally: If like me you are thanking God for the Cross, but at the same time you’re trying to hold on to the impossible belief that other religions can lead to God, it’s time to make your choice.