We would all like to think that everyone, at least everyone we know, is either non-existent or in eternal bliss somewhere. To wrestle with the possibility that someone we know is in a state of eternal torment and exile is too painful to bear. We don’t want to believe that so we just won’t.
I am not much for using denial as a coping mechanism. It seems inherently dangerous to me. So what happens to us after death isn’t something you can just ignore and hope for the best. You need to confront the beliefs that are out there.
The idea that we just live and die and that is all there is does not ring true to me. It doesn’t match my internal sense of self, it doesn’t fit Near Death Experiences, it doesn’t fit with any world religion, and it doesn’t have nearly enough proof to discredit the rest.
The ideas of eternal life and how to get to a positive situation vary among world religions. Hinduism and Buddhism hold to an idea of reincarnation and slow progression based on practice and morals. Judaism, if it holds to eternal life at all, holds a hope of a positive resurrection based on practice and morals. Islam leaves your eternal destiny to the will of Allah, but you influence that will with practice and morals. The common thread is practice and morals, even if the expression of these may differ somewhat. So is there wisdom in the majority or is it misled?
Christianity values practice and moral too, but for a different reason. Jesus’ message is that no one fulfills God’s Law and no practice can actually fix our failures. That leaves us to the unique purpose of Jesus in the first place. He is not primarily a teacher of practice and morals. When Jesus says that He is the way to eternal life, He is not saying that He teaches us the way. No, He is the way.
Jesus fulfills God’s moral requirements and Jesus suffers the consequence of sin. God’s standard is perfection and nothing less. The Law cannot be suspended or compromised, but a union can be forged between the sinner and Jesus so that the sinner is saved.
Jesus says that He is the only way to be saved, regardless of culture or anything else that defines us. If you are human, you are both under the judgment of God’s Law and a failure at it. The union with Jesus is all we got. Jesus is unique among the religious figures of the world. He is God made man, completely voluntarily. There is no other human like Him, therefore there is no substitute.
Even Jesus double checked God’s insistence on this fact. When facing His impending crucifixion, Jesus asked the Father to “take this cup from me”. The answer was an obvious “no”.
It seems culturally insensitive, maybe even bigoted to some, to say that Jesus is the only way. Generations lived and died in many families without knowing anything about Jesus. I can only trust that Jesus himself had a way to deal with their lack of information. Acknowledging the narrative of Jesus does change culture. It doesn’t have to homogenize culture, however. Gaining eternal life with God over being cast out into Hell has to trump any loss of culture.
Jesus isn’t the Jewish answer, or Mediterranean answer, He is the human answer for our greatest problem. He is the only way to be reconciled to God.