Recently I was re-reading Max Lucado’s God Came Near and I was struck by the following statement:
Pilgrims with no vision of the Promised Land become proprietors of their own land. They set up camp. They exchange hiking boots for loafers and trade in their staff for a new recliner.
That statement is a succinct and welcome reminder that, as Christ followers, we’re merely pilgrims passing through the world. In other words, we’re visitors in a foreign land, sent here for a very specific purpose: To spread the love of Christ among the nations.
I have vivid memories of two expensively framed plaques that hung in pride of place on the wall in our living room when I was growing up. These plaques declared my parents to be “Jerusalem Pilgrims” and they were signed by the Pope—who I believe was Pope Paul at the time.
My parents had gone, along with a group of other adults from our catholic diocese, on a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land (Israel). Apparently this was quite the big deal at the time, as, once every twenty five years a very specific door in the Vatican was opened and the Pope would make an appearance through it. Now I’m completely unacquainted with the significance of both the door and the twenty five year time frame, but eavesdropping in on the many adult conversations I knew it was a big deal.
My parents came back with glowing tales of the wonderful spiritual experiences they’d had, and the amazing impact the trip had had on their lives. But the point is, they came back! They knew they were pilgrims. Pilgrims don’t settle in the land to which they’re pilgrims. They do whatever it is they’re supposed to do and then they return home.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews puts it like this:
Here on earth we do not have a city that lasts forever, but we are looking for the city that we will have in the future. ~ Hebrews 13:14
To believe and live by this creed is a massive leap of faith into a chasm that promises a better future than the present… whatever the present is. At the best of times that leap is incredibly difficult to make, and at the worst of times… well, it just seems impossible.
How can we believe in a God that seems so disconnected from the tragedies of our world? How can we trust in a God who, when it seems to matter most, appears to be absent from our most dire circumstances?
How can we look around our world, and believe that there’s more after this, and that He has it all under control?
But what if there is? What if He does?
What if you can only see it when you have faith? Doesn’t make sense right? There you are, you’re finally beginning to get it. You’re finally beginning to have faith. You see, faith, in its unbridled, sacrificial form doesn’t always seem to make sense.
To believe that Jesus Christ is “The Way, The Truth, and The Life,” takes faith in the One who declares that He is. Once I’ve accepted this as truth, it is impossible for me to accept that all other religions lead me to the same place. That is not religious intolerance, it’s simply a requisite act of faith for the Christ follower, and while it may seem to make no sense to some, it makes a lot of sense to me.
You see, Judaism teaches that we are still awaiting the long expected Messiah. Islam teaches that Mohammed is the Messiah, and that Jesus was simply a prophet. A good man, but nonetheless just a prophet. Hinduism, a polytheistic religion says all other gods are subject to Brahma, and Buddhism is essentially in search of enlightenment. The Bible however, teaches that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. The long prophesied Messiah. The only way to salvation.
For me to accept that all religions lead to the same God would be to say that on Friday I believe that Mohammed is Messiah. On Saturday I believe that I’m still waiting for Messiah. On Sunday I believe that Jesus is Messiah. And for the rest of the week I hang out with one of Hinduisms 350 million gods or simply search for enlightenment with the rotund Buddha.
That would make for a perfect case study in schizophrenia. So I choose to hang my hat… and my faith on the fact that the Bible is true. The lives of so many great men and women who’ve gone before me seem to suggest that it’s a safe bet, even when things don’t seem to work out as planned.
Consider the following:
It was by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.
It was by faith that Enoch… was a man who truly pleased God.
It was by faith that Noah… obeyed God and built a large boat to save his family.
It was by faith Abraham… lived like a pilgrim in the country God promised to give him.
It was by faith that Abraham… offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice.
It was by faith that Jacob, as he was dying… worshiped as he leaned on the top of his walking stick
It was by faith that Joseph, while he was dying… spoke about the Israelites leaving Egypt and gave instructions about what to do with his body.
It was by faith that Rahab, the prostitute, welcomed the spies and was not killed with those who refused to obey God.
Then amazingly the Scripture tells us something that would chill the most hard-hearted to the bone:
All these great people died in faith. They did not get the things that God promised his people, but they saw them coming far in the future and were glad. They said they were like visitors [pilgrims] and strangers on earth. When people say such things, they show they are looking for a country that will be their own. If they had been thinking about the country they had left, they could have gone back. But they were waiting for a better country -- a heavenly country.
- Hebrews 11:13-16 (NCV)