world council of churches

My God, Your God, Our God, No God?
Jay T. Rock

Thanks to Anantanand Rambachan, both for his comments and for his example. It is a particular blessing for me to travel a little way with this particular pilgrim, whom I count as a spiritual friend.

By way of response, let me try to outline what I think are some points of ecumenical consensus, and also divergence, in relation to his inquiry into what it is that motivates us toward interreligious engagement.

1. Most Christians would agree that they do share "a rejection of a materialistic understanding" of life and an affirmation of a sacred reality in connection to which life has its significance. Many will go further and echo the remarks made 30 years ago by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, which I hear in Anant's words: that

the most significant basis for meeting of [people] of different religious traditions is the level of fear and trembling ... where our individual moments of faith are mere waves in the endless ocean of mankind's reaching out for God, where ... our souls are swept away by the awareness of the urgency of answering God's commandment ...
"Is it not our duty," again in Heschel's words, "to help one another in overcoming hardness of heart, in cultivating a sense of wonder and mystery, in unlocking doors to holiness in time?" (1)

2. Nearly all Christians also affirm that God is always more than our ideas of God. Of course, we believe that God has revealed Godself in Jesus; most of us would say that God is not other than the God known in and through the Christ. Even so, we are aware that we see but through a glass darkly -- now we can know god only in part. God can never be contained in our human conceptions of God, nor can our ideas about God possibly limit God's action in the world.

3. Precisely such ideas lie at the heart of my Reformed Christian convictions that the church is always in the process of reformation, and that god alone is Lord of the conscience. At its best, the Christian community remains open to receive the gifts of fresh understandings of God's word for each place and in every time. And, ideally, the church stays open to adopt new forms for living out what it knows of God's truth. In other words, we affirm the ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And we know that the process of our own conversion, as individual Christians and as the church is never complete.

4. But can any of the insights into the nature and action of God of those outside the Christian family bring new light to Christians? On this question, Christians do not yet agree, although a consensus seems to be emerging: Because God created all humankind in God's own image, then it is possible for any of God's children, regardless of their religion, to receive "a ray of that light which enlightens all [hu]mankind." (2) A primary medicine for our spiritual blindness is what we can learn from one another.

5. Many if not most Christians will go further and say that because God is the creator of all people and created all in the same divine image, we are therefore created as one community. In ecumenical conversation, we regularly affirm that unity among Christians is a gift already given by God, which we are called to make real in our life together. Even so, community with all humanity is also God's gift, and we re called to accept and make real that community in our living.

Finally, there is considerable disagreement among Christians about whether there is ultimate freedom, or salvation, for humanity apart from Christ; and further disagreement as to the relation of dialogue and evangelism in Christian life and witness. But deeper than these -- although itself subject to differing interpretations -- is the shared conviction that the Christian vocation is one of carrying out God's work of reconciliation in the world.

Our God offers one justice and love for all people; how can we act otherwise?

Rev. Jay T. Rock is a minister and director of Interfaith Relations in the National Council of Churches in the USA.


  1. "No Religion is an Island," originally published in the Union Seminary Quarterly Review XXI (1966), cited from F. E. Talmage, ed., Disputation and Dialogue (New York: KTAV, 1975), pp. 348, 351.
  2. "Nostra Aetate," document of the 2nd Vatican Council, 2.3

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