I was home over the Fourth of July and was able to hang out with a life-long friend, Therese. We were dropping her mother off en route to my sister’s house and because of construction had to weave our way through the cornfields of central Indiana. If you are not familiar with the road systems in Indiana, they function on 1 mile grids, and the road numbers are increments of 100 delineating the distance from the county line. As you can imagine, the numbering system can be quite confusing. But the good news is that you can never get lost, as you are almost always heading a cardinal direction and there are major State Roads sporadically dispersed amongst the county roads, so if you know the general direction you need to go you can just keep driving until you hit one of those thoroughfares.
When Therese was young, she and a girlfriend had set out to go out. Therese asked her friend if she knew the way and her friend said yes. They got out onto the road and at an intersection Therese asked which way to go and her friend responded, “Whichever way. All roads connect.”
We all recognize the absurdity of that statement. Perhaps all roads connect, somehow, someway, but you have to be going to right direction to get onto the right road which would lead you to your intended destination! And then of course you have roads on islands or in remote areas that do not connect intercontinentally…
Throughout history most people have adhered to a religion. There have been phases of time when people attempted to deny the supernatural and claim atheism – but for the most part people understand that there is a power greater than themselves and a distance between them and God. The Bible tells us that God reveals Himself through conscience and creation such that all are without excuse (Rom 1.20), and those who would seek to deny that there is a greater power are suppressing the truth which is evident to and within them (Rom 1.21-25).
There are three responses to sin: shame, guilt and fear. Different cultures around the world tend to one of the three responses and we see carnal religions built on these. Americans tend to function in guilt. It is an internal response, thinking “wow I did that and I shouldn’t have”. Most Asian cultures tend to be shame oriented. Saving face is extremely important and if caught in a sin, the question is not if you did something wrong, but you are considered a bad person. Tribal societies and hierarchical societies tend to focus on fear: there is a power greater than you (spiritual or natural) that will pay you back for what you have done.
All world religions are trying to make amends with God. And based on these three foundational responses to the problem of evil, we see different religions built. Hinduism and most Spiritism are based on fear – the gods are angry and we must appease them. Islam and most monotheistic religions are based on shame: you are a bad person and you need to make right your debt to God. Buddhism and Eastern religions tend to be based on guilt: removing one’s self from reality to realize that suffering and the physical world do not exist. Each of the three forms merge with the others, no one society or religion is focused solely on one response to sin, but in general we can observe these reactionary tendencies.
The one thing that all of these have in common is man. Man is the determining factor and the one who must make peace with God or the spirits at work. Man is the one who can attain redemption, forgiveness, peace or release by that which he does or does not do.
And this is the beauty of Christianity. If God is perfect and holy, I can never pay off my debt of sin to Him. I can never appease His wrath, and I can never remove my guilt before Him. There is non righteous, no not one. There is none who seeks after God, and we are Spiritually dead in our transgressions without Him (Rom 3.10-11, Eph 2.1). But God Himself make a way for us to be forgiven. He, through the person of Jesus Christ, atoned for our sins on the cross and offers us forgiveness if we trust in His saving grace through the forgiveness of our sins by repentance. I cannot do it. But Jesus did.
I would argue that we all experience all three responses to sin and have to process them with the Lord throughout our Christian experience. But the foundation, the key, that on which we cannot falter is the fact that Jesus alone makes peace with us. We do not make peace with Him. We trust Him for that peace.
Therefore all roads do not connect. If I am trying to appease the wrath of angry spirits, or if I am trying to do enough good deeds to balance out my bad deeds, or simply trying to remove myself from suffering and evil by convincing myself that none of it truly exists – I am not trusting Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14.6). I am relying on myself. And by consequence nullify the cross.
It is common sense that to get to your destination you have to know the way. You cannot set out and simply tell yourself that you are going the right way, you have to study the map. You have to establish the directions. And you have to stay on the road.
“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
– Matt 7.14