At this point we have all seen that, or some variation, on a bumper sticker or T-shirt. The original image was created by Polish, Warsaw-based graphic designer Piotr Młodożeniec in 2000 as an entry in an international art competition sponsored by the Museum on the Seam for Dialogue, Understanding and Coexistence. U2 used a variant of it on their 2005-2006 tour. From that point it was copied, changed, and mocked in dozens of variations.
But what does it mean for a Christian? Especially in light of John 14:16: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Should we be angry? Offended? Is the image telling me everything is the same? Offended seems to be the default setting things in our time.
Let’s just calm down for a second and think.
First, coexistence simply means “live and let live.” It acknowledges the right of others to exist. That is all. I wonder about people whose faith is so weak or whose god is so fragile that it cannot tolerate the existence of contradiction. Coexistence acknowledges the value of other human beings and their culture and their right to choose for themselves. God did not choose to force himself on anyone, God does not command we force him on anyone. Peaceful and loving coexistence requires understanding. If I am going to understand others I need to understand what they believe.
Second, as a Christian I believe the full revelation of God is in the person of Jesus Christ. That does not mean, however, that I believe Jesus is the only revelation of God. St. Augustine said “All truth is God’s truth.” God is revealed to us in relationships with others, in nature, in science, in art, and in the earnest search for wisdom. The early church, Augustine included, was heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers, we even see evidence of it in the letters of Paul. By looking at other religions I might learn something about people and the world and God.
Third, I acknowledge that there are many point of contradiction between the world’s religions. I also acknowledge that there are point of contradiction even among the branches of Christianity. The existence of contradictions in belief does not preclude conversation. If it did I would never talk to anyone, and neither would you. We can still talk even knowing we already disagree.
Fourth, I stand humbly before an infinite and loving God and admit I do not know nor am even capable of understanding everything. Jesus said “I am the way.” Jesus’ way was one of love and self sacrifice for the good of others and the need for grace in our relationship with God and others. I understand that much and I can speak to what I think it means about how I am to live my life. I am a Christian. I am even a Baptist of Baptists. I have chosen this path not simply because I was raised in it but because I constantly evaluate it and choose it. Yet I still must acknowledge that I might not fully understand what that statement means.
All of this, and more, is why starting April 24th we will begin a study of world religions on Wednesday night. We will start with Islam. This will be a basic presentation of beliefs and history followed by an effort to answer any questions. It isn’t going to be apologetics nor instructions on how to convert people. Out goal is understanding that leads to love.
If you would like to know more please contact the church or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.