The First Epistle of John Wrote…
The First Epistle of John wrote, “let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” This statement of a biblical faith in the ultimate meaning of existence as love is a classic affirmation of what one might call the pluralistic principle: Respect for the radically other begins with God’s respect for the world, which is radically other from God. In other words, God is the first pluralist. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
In Abelard’s Sic et Non (Yes and No), he explains about the natural word, and, more to the point, the natural power of reason was, for him, occasions of connection with God, not a division from God. The coming of Jesus was for the purpose of revelation, not salvation—revelation, that is, that we are all already saved. Creatures are saved not by virtue of the loving act of Jesus but by the virtue of God’s prior and constant love. The love of Jesus was “exemplary,” a manifestation of God’s love.
If this is so, then respect for human beings follows, whether they associate themselves with Jesus or not. This affirmation of the basic principle of pluralism brought Abelard the opposition of the powerful Bernard, who accused him of opening up the “One Way” to Jews and other Infidels, regardless of their attachment to Christ. “A new gospel is being forged for peoples and nations,” Bernard complained. When Abelard was formerly condemned, the new gospel was unforged. It would appear again with Nicolaus of Cusa’s vision of peace among religions. As Genesis declares, “God looked at everything God had made and saw that it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31). That goodness remains, and so does God’s unconditional positive regard for it. God loves the people no matter who they are, what they believe, or how they worship. Or, as Jesus himself put it, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:45). And recall that, for Jesus, being good or just was not a matter of being a believer, but of caring for the neighbor. There is no ontological difference between the evil and the good, nor is there, with God, a hierarchy of the loved.
All that exists, and in particular all persons who exist, participate, by virtue of mere existence, in the existence of God. There is no question here of an unbridgeable gulf between the human and the divine. Christian Platonism yields to biblical faith. In this view, the Creation, is more than salvation, is the pivotal event of being and of history, because the Creation is nothing less than God’s self-expression. As Rahner explained, “God does not merely create something other than himself—he also gives himself to this other. The world receives God, the Infinite and the ineffable mystery, to such an extent that he himself becomes its innermost life.” Human beings are the creatures who instinctively respond to that innermost life. “This mystery,Rahner insists, “is the inexplicit and unexpressed horizon which always encircles and upholds the small area of our everyday experience… We call this God… However had and unsatisfactory it may be to interpret the deepest and most fundamental experience at the very bottom of our being, man does experience in his innermost history that this silent, infinitely distant holy mystery, which continually recalls him to the limits of his finitude and lays bare his guilt, yet bids him approach; the mystery enfolds him in an ultimate and radical love which commends itself to him as salvation and as the real meaning of his existence.”
For Christians, Jesus Christ is a revelation of the mystery that is religion. But Jesus did not come to put a fence around it, defining the corral gate as the way to salvation. There are numerous revelations of the mystery of God, and I hope one day, the shift from, at most, a grudging tolerance of other religions to an authentic respect for other religions as true expressions of God “beckoning” the human heart.