How Many Ways?

Is Jesus the only way to God?  Are members of other religions damned to Hell?  I ask these questions because one of the passages in the Bible that gives me trouble comes from the Gospel of John.  In chapter 14:6, Jesus says ” I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  The way, truth and life part I’m okay with; it’s the “No one comes to the Father except through me” that gives me pause.  It’s a very exclusive statement from a man whose ministry was anything but.  A strict reading of the passage doesn’t fit with His actions.  Jesus was determined to open access to God to anyone, not just Jews, and spent time ministering to people outside the accepted circles of 1st century Judaism.  His talk with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 shows that.  Then, he turns around and makes a statement that is loaded with exclusivity.  It doesn’t fit.

I’ve looked for help in understanding this statement.  I’ve read books, searched the web, asked knowledgeable people all to no avail.  No one has yet to give me an answer that fits with my understanding of Jesus and his message.  Some people use this verse almost like a club to pummel people into submission and “lead them to Christ”.  That is nothing more or less than a perversion of the Gospel in my opinion  At the other end of the spectrum are the explanations of the emergent community.  Many of these people seem to adhere to a belief similar to the one Ghandi espoused when he said that “Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different road, so long as we reach the same goal. Wherein is the cause for quarrelling?”  It’s a nice sentiment, and I wonder if my reluctance at embracing it doesn’t spring from years of programming that the Christian way is the only way.  But, none of this answers my question.  What did Jesus actually mean when He said that?  Taking the first answer and saying that only those who accept Jesus as their personal Savior denies the Jewish people their historic place as the People of God.  Some would say that’s right, that unless Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah, they have no hope of salvation.  Yet, even Jesus said that the Jews were God’s people and that salvation comes from them (John 4:22), so how can this be?  The second interpretation says that all religions are pathways to God and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  But, how do I reconcile that with the statement “No one comes to Father except by me“?

I’ve wrestled with this passage for a long time.  In fact, a large part of what you’re reading comes from an earlier blog entry on the subject and I’ve recycled some of it because the way I described the struggle then was a pretty good representation.  No need to reinvent the wheel, you know.  While the description of the struggle was good, I’ve picked up new insight on what Jesus may have meant with this statement.  I believe He was saying that anyone who does what I’m talking about, who loves God enough to love their neighbor as much as they love themselves, who feeds the hungry and clothes the naked and visits the prisoner, those are the people who truly know God and not someone who has said a prayer and then turns way of Christ into some kind of exclusive religious countrty club that keeps “the others” at arms length.