Do all religions lead to God?
This is an interesting question and one that we may have been able to avoid 50 years ago. However, today, we essentially live in a global village.
Despite some Christians living with an outdated concept that we live in a Christian country (we don’t and we never have) – even a cursory glance at the most recent census figures clearly indicate that 'Christianity' as a belief system has been on the downhill slide for some decades now and the rise of non-Christian religions is a very strong one – not only in terms of numbers but in terms of a percentage of the Australian population.
To put it more bluntly – for some time now, religions other than 'Christianity' have been landing on our doorstep and they are growing quite happily; and significantly.
What do we make of these other faiths?
Surely they are all pathways to God! For the average Aussie (Australian), surely it’s OK to take a morsal from the religion smorgasbord? After all, in the end, all religions lead to God; don't they?.
There are 2 fine books I really like when it comes to studying world religions from a Christian perspective.
So what I have tried to do for this blog is to glean (very heavily, mind you) these 2 books in order to address this question adequately.
But let’s begin first with a Bible passge from Acts 17.16-31
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
The central figure in this passage is a man called Paul.
He is a Christian – a committed Christian. He arrives in a city that is full of religion – not just one religion – but a conglomeration of different religions. He tours the city, notes its religious flavour and discovers “an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.”
His reaction to the presence of other religions is well worth noting. Luke tells us “… he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols”.
Do you see that? Do you note it? Let me repeat it again “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”
Luke (the author of this passage) also tells us that he takes the opportunity to speak to the Athenians and his address to them makes it crystal clear that there is only ONE God who “commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
It's as though he has ignored their personal commitment to their individual religious convictions.
Have you ever heard the statement: all religions lead to God?
It’s a great attraction isn’t it! Almost 'sexy' (did I really write that?)
After all, it allows us to avoid black and white choices and, therefore, allows us to swim in a wonderful shade of Grey!
Also, it allows us to be very tolerant – therefore we can be P.C. with our friends and relatives; not to mention our neighbours who have just settled in our country.
And, it allows us the luxury of not being dogmatic or arrogant.
It’s almost like John Q Citizen supporting the Sydney Roosters – they have their great strengths as a footy team. I’m sure he acknowledges the many strengths of the Parramatta footy side too. So, like footy teams, it doesn’t really matter in the end what religion one chooses. It's a personal preference and this, somehow, makes it 'right'.
If you asked the average Australian today what the difference was between any of the major world religions, they would probably mumble something about all religions being pretty much the same. People assume that all religions have nearly the same moral teachings and ideals. They might have different names for God, but it is the same God. These religions, many people believe, may travel different roads, but they all lead to God. As long as you believe in something, as long as you believe in God, it really doesn’t matter what form your belief takes.
Finally, it just makes common sense. If we look at all the world’s religions – and listen to the leaders of these religions – guess what! - we can build up an identikit picture of God. Just like that lovely old Indian Mahatma Gandhi did and who once said. “The soul of religions is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms … Truth is the exclusive property of no single scripture … I cannot ascribe exclusive divinity to Jesus. He is as divine as Krishna or Rama or Mohammed or Zoroaster.”
If Mahatma Gandhi was to sit down with the apostle Paul with some good coffee and had a chin wag about the topic 'Do All Religions Lead to God', what would be the result of their conversation? Would Paul agree with the Mahatma’s comments?
No, he wouldn’t.
The passage above (Acts) would indicate that these 2 men would not agree that all religions (essentially) lead to the one God.
Because the Apostle would say that this view fails badly on at least 2 counts – it’s ILLOGICAL and it’s IMPOSSIBLE!
It’s illogical because the evidence clearly indicates that the world’s religions are very, very, different!
The GOD of Hinduism is plural and impersonal.
The GOD of Islam is singular and personal.
The GOD of Christianity is the Creator of the world and Trinitarian in His nature.
The Divine in Buddhism is not personal and is not creative. Besides, the subject of ‘God’ is regarded by many Buddhists as a subject not worth exploring.
On this basis alone, HOW on earth can all religions lead to God?
Christianity teaches that God both forgives a person and gives him/her supernatural aid.
In Buddhism there is no forgiveness, and no supernatural aid.
The goal of all existence in Buddhism is nirvana, extinction (attained by the Buddha after no less than 547 births).
The goal of all existence in Christianity is to know God personally and enjoy Him forever.
The use of images (idols) figure very prominently in Hinduism – after all, it has been called the religion of 330 million gods!
Judaism prohibits very strongly the making of any image of God – it’s strongly monotheistic.
Islam allows a man 4 wives; Christianity one
And we could go on, and on, and on pointing out the MAJOR differences among the world’s faiths.
However, as conclusive as all these examples are, the Bible asserts, very clearly, that nobody can save themselves and make themselves pleasing to God, no matter how hard they try.
Most other religions will as equally assert that by keeping their teachings a person can be saved or reborn or made whole or achieve fulfilment.
For example, there is a Buddhist story that begins like the Prodigal Son.
The boy comes home and is met by the father.
Unlike the Biblical story which sees the Father forgive the Son unconditionally in a powerful display of love, the Buddhist son has to pay off the penalty from his past misdeeds by years of work for his father because there is within Buddhism (as there is in Hinduism) the doctrine of karma (cause and effect, paying off one's guilt). This teaching is a billion miles away from the Biblical teaching of grace which states in effect that there is free forgiveness for all us even though we do not deserve it one little bit!
All roads do not lead to Rome. They do nothing of the sort. To believe they do is to have a very strange view of truth and we would certainly not use the same logic in other areas of life.
It’s like me going to a public phone booth to ring My Aunt Ethel and logging in any 8 random numbers expecting Aunt Ethel to pick up the phone.
I can believe, most sincerley, that she will pick up the phone but she won’t.
My quest may be a sincere one but it’s extremely illogical; proving that I can be sincerely wrong.
As far as religions go we have to ask these questions:
Extinction or heaven?
Pardon or paying off?
A personal God or an impersonal force?
Salvation by grace or by our efforts?
These contrasts are irreconcilable!
To hold on to the view that all religions lead to the one God is ultimately an extremely dangerous one – both to ourselves and to those we expose this view to.
It’s like saying to a blind man sitting on the edge of a precipice – ‘It doesn’t matter which way you move. All paths lead to the same goal!” We should intervene in the life of this man and steer him from danger.
God has intervened in history. The history of the Jewish people, the birth of Jesus, the cross and resurrection are all historical facts that leave us all with the possibility of a very real heaven.
Secondly, the question “Do All Religions lead to God” must be answered NO because it simply is impossible.
It’s impossible due to the fact that God is Who He is. He is the reason why we exist in the first place and He is LORD over all human life regardless of whether we claim to be religious or not.
Consider Paul’s words to real people in Athens:
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' (As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.') "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill.”
That is the God of the Bible – the God Who refuses to be fashioned by the hands or intellects of men – no matter how clever they may be.
I really think it’s true that people who like to hold on to this view about all religions leading to the same God really have no idea about Who God really is.
If they, or we, were to be ushered into His very presence now to behold His glory, do you really think we would be able to maintain our composure and carry on a discussion with Him as if we were talking our neighbour? We would all hit the floor in fear and trembling – atheist and religious fanatic alike!
Consider the prophet Isaiah’s words (Isaiah 40:21-28) all those years ago when he wrote about the God Who is really there:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
"To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
How can we possibly climb up to this God?
By our own systems of belief how can we possibly believe that we could ever be good enough for He who inhabits eternity?
It cannot be done.
Man cannot connect with His Creator by his own methods.
Religion, all religion – even if it is Christianised – is bound to fail.
The UNKNOWN God will remain the UNKNOWN God unless the God Who is there chooses to reveal Himself.
Christopher Mayhew some years ago wrote a book called MEN IN SEARCH OF GOD. In this book representatives of various world religions gave their account of their religious experience and their search for God. NOT ONE OF THEM CLAIMED TO HAVE FOUND HIM.
You see, we do not need religion but a revelation from God. And that is precisely what true 'Christianity' speaks of – the God Who has spoken and the reliable record of those who have listened and obeyed and have met their Creator – on His terms. The Bible does NOT bring us the story of people in search of God: it tells us about the God Who comes in search of people.
We cannot reach God, for He views all of us as sinful people, no matter how much we compare ourselves with others and believe ourselves to be ultimately good. We are not good and by following a religion of our choosing we cannot become good in the eyes of our Maker.
We cannot reach God but there is no reason why He cannot reach us – not with religion but by a relationship with His Son, Jesus.
At just the right time in history Jesus (“God the rescuer”) was born. For centuries the Jewish people had been prepared for His coming. He was born into a world that was very religious but very anti-God but that didn’t stop Jesus from preaching, not religion, but the need to have a relationship with Him and to follow Him.
Ang get this: As God’s Son He made some very INTOLERANT, DOGMATIC and ANTI-RELIGION statements:
For example, consider His words in John 14:6:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”
Consider, too, the words of His closest followers:
• Referring to Jesus, Peter boldly states in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
• Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.”
• John writes to his friends in 1 John 5:12: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
And so Jesus came into a religious world in order to show us what God is really like. See Jesus and you see God. And what is He like? Is He bloodthirsty? Is He like a policeman? Is He a hater of humanity?
No, look at Jesus and you see God and what is He like?
Well, He is compassionate – He’s not only loving and forgiving and willing to die on a Cross BUT He is actively seeking His enemies to save them from His courtroom. The judge of the Cosmos is committed to keeping us from entering His courtroom if we would but accept his offer of a relationship in Jesus.
Therefore, to conclude, NOT ALL RELIGIONS LEAD TO GOD.
Indeed, depending on how one defines the word RELIGION, it could be argued that NO religions lead to God.
Because it’s not about religion – it’s all about Jesus!
Some years ago at a World Council of Churches Conference in India a most sensitive, lonely man from Pakistan spoke to the Assembly about his conversion from Islam.
As he spoke it was very obvious that his great longing was still for his own people, their language, their ancient culture and even in a generally defeated and factional church in which he found little consolation or fellowship.
To those who listened he made this powerful statement. He said, “I am a Christian for one reason only – because of the absolute worship-ability of Jesus Christ. By that word I mean I have found no other being in the universe who compels my adoration as he has done. And if ever some pundit or theologian should prove me wrong and show that, after all, the High God is not of the character which I now see in Jesus, I, for one, would have to blaspheme and turn my back on any such god.”
For those of us who are Christians we should never apologise that we point the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lord of all people. We should never apologise for the fact that we want all people to know Jesus and to follow Him.
We should never apologise that we legally and illegally proclaim the gospel in the whole world – we cannot place restrictions many would love to place!
Whether people have a strong commitment or average commitment or even a nominal commitment to any religion (we don’t want to discriminate!) or even if they have high ideals or defective moralities makes no difference to us. All must hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
(Again, I want to acknowledge that I have borrowed very heavily via the sources I have referred to above).
Do All Religions Lead to God? by Professor John Lennox (Oxford University). Download this talk - video, pdf, mp3 (all free!)
See our RELIGIONS page on this website.
The following video, by Mark Driscoll, is so good! He clearly explains the difference between religion (in a general sense) and being in relationship with Jesus. It's good!
The following video sees Greg Koukl answering the question, "Is christianity right and others wrong?"
This last video features William Lane Craig. This video is excellent!