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by Mary Roe
from Signs of the Times, No. 44 - Jan 2012
A review of a book with this title in the Church Times 20.10.11 has prompted these thoughts.
This is not the time to go into the provenance of the "I am" sayings recorded in St. John's Gospel although the way in which they have been understood and proclaimed throughout Christian history has a lot to do with our interfaith dialogue.
Our starting point must be GOD - God Is - God Is All, in All.
For Christians, God Is Trinity: God the Creator of all things, God the Redeemer - Emmanuel, God-with-us and God the Sustainer - the Spirit within.
Does this partial insight into the mystery of God preclude all other insights? Is there indeed no possibility of any other revelation? If this is the case, we have to ask who is responsible for the misleading lure to damnation of millions of God (Jahweh/Allah)-fearing souls created in God's image? The devil? A cruel, capricious "Father" God? Don't ask me, because that's not what I believe.
And does this partial insight mean that only those who have had access to it, through the Old and New Testaments of our scripture, who have read it intelligently, understood every word, subscribed to its authority and been baptised/confirmed can receive the unconditional love of God the Creator or benefit from the redemption of the sins of the world through the self-giving love of God the Son?
If salvation is a bonus limited to a small number of initiates who have the right credentials through knowing the right people and signing up to the right creed (i.e. Christians, of perhaps all but maybe only a few denominations then everything we thought we knew about God - what the Schoolmen called "God's properties" - is mistaken: that God created all human beings in his own image, and all the "omnis": omnipresence, omniscience, etc. We have shut our eyes to the revelation granted to us over three millennia and are back with the geographical/tribal god whose borders Jacob was so fearful of crossing when he fled to Haran, before he was reassured by his dream that God was with him always, wherever he went.
The Quakers are surely right when they say that there is the light of God in every person, so to imagine that any part of that eternal light will be extinguished for ever, for whatever reason, must be heresy, blasphemy, or both.
To return to our foundation: God Is. God Is All, in All.
The internal combustion engine is - it exists. It is part of our God-given daily lives, to be used well or badly, for good or ill. Some of us are privileged to own and drive a car although we are totally ignorant of the mysteries of its workings. And there are others, unlike me, who understand exactly how it works, who get the best results from driving, and can put right most of the things that might go wrong. But no-one is barred from travelling by car, bus or ambulance because they can't explain the fuel injection system to the satisfaction of a qualified motor mechanic.
Can Christians who have tried to live their lives in accordance with the two Great Commandments, to love God with one's whole self and to love one's neighbour as oneself, expect to rejoice in that "light perpetual" which they hope will shine upon them while their neighbours of another faith or who have not experienced any faith at all, are eternally consigned to outer darkness or even the figments of narrow, punitive human imagination called Purgatory? I suppose we should be glad that the possibilities have widened out a little since the question was whether it would be Ian Paisley or the Pope nearest the fire "down there".
There is a great deal more to ponder on the concept of the "uniqueness of Christ" which some Christians hold so dear, and what that really means, but that must wait.
Mary Roe is a retired RE teacher, lay reader, widow of a bishop, and member of the Modern Church Council.