The three-letter word that causes wars

riverThe truth of God is the truth of God. In order to communicate, share, and pass on the revealed truths of God, we are compelled to give those truths form and structure: a process of worshipping, an organization, a book.

Ultimately, inevitably, a religion.

Because our souls tell us that the truth of God does not change, we tend to believe that our religion—the systematic forms of God’s truths to which we subscribe and call our own—must likewise remain unchanged.

What we love we try to contain, hold, grasp, control.

But (as somewhere deep inside of us, we all know) the truth of God no more fits into any one religion than an ocean fits into any one cup. The spirit of God—the discrete essence of His-Her creative love—animates all people, all animals, all plants, all things. That essence is, always has been, and always will be everywhere and in all.

We step into God’s river where we are, how we are, when we are. And that clean, crisp, ever-moving water keeps us afloat and carries us along, delivering us to exactly the places all along its banks that we most need to be.

But ours is not the only river of living water. Many rivers all over the world are right now carrying people to all the places that they most need to be. Such rivers always have. Such rivers always will.

I am a Christian. I know that Christianity is the right and true religion.

I also know it’s the word the in that statement which causes infinite pain and strife. That is the word that causes war.

So let me confess my faith in a different way. Let me say instead that I know that Christianity is a right and true religion.

But can Christianity be the only right and true religion?

Is there only one river in the world?


For a Christianity that leaves in Christ but drops the inanity, visit/like Unfundamentalist Christians. Read the UC group blog here.

"to show how out of touch with reality nicky is....that 'baby' is an adult. Which ..."

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  • Lymis

    I am the 6th of 7 children raised in a Catholic military household. Needless to say, by the time I came along, a lot of “the rules” were written in stone.

    But I remember the year I really, really wanted to start learning music, and music lessons and an instrument were going to cost money. At the same time, all my older brothers went to summer camp every year – a prospect that showed less than no interest to me.

    I vividly remember my mom and dad sitting me down and saying that, with a used instrument, music lessons would cost about the same amount as the summer camp, and that I needed to understand I couldn’t complain that I didn’t go to camp. Since I didn’t want to go to camp, that was fine.

    I remember Mom saying that it actually would have been unfair to make me go to camp and then use that to justify not letting me have music lessons, and that it would have been unfair to make my brothers take music lessons and not go to camp. And that treating people identically was not always the same as treating them equally, or often, fairly.

    I’ve never understood why so many people think God is incapable of, as a minimum, the same wisdom we expect from human parents. It’s frankly insane to me to think God would speak to everyone the same way, or require the same things from each person. And if anyone should know who we really are and how best to reach our hearts and minds, it would be God.

  • Mindy

    Well said, John. And Lymis, as always, you put beautiful words to the concept. Thanks!

  • Leslie

    Wonderful! Just as many streams run into rivers and many rivers into oceans, it makes sense that many belief systems lead to God’s truth.

  • I believe all truth is God’s truth.

    I believe that, in Christianity, God’s truth is incomplete and encumbered with a tremendous amount of baggage and misunderstanding.

    I believe God provides eternal life to people who are not Christian or who have never heard of Jesus at all.

    However, I do think Jesus is unique. His resurrection demonstrates that he is able to deliver on the eternal life he promised us. I do not disparage other religions, and I have particularly benefited from the insights of the Buddha, but as I embrace the religions of the world I still believe Jesus is unique, and his message of eternal life is valid for all of us.

  • Dear Mr. Shore,

    I’ve red a lot of holy books, and, surprise, they have more or less the same content but every religion claims to be the “only one”. You are totally right, the error comes into faith with the human factor. As long as humans pretending to represent God, getting obsessive with rules and regulations, or even use religion to surpress their followers, they miss the true spirituality. A GENUINE SPIRITUAL PATH DOES NOT RESPOND TO MATERIAL EXPECTATIONS. I’m happy to be an independent follower of faith. I know, God loves me and I try to live to His expectations.

  • mike moore

    thank you. I don’t if you’d agree, but this is why the notion of “original sin” – barf – is idiotic to me. God issues a “rule” not to eat from an apple – knowledge – and then punishes Adam and Eve for doing exactly what God created them to do … seek out knowledge and truth.

    God tells his tiny, innocent, naive, and naturally-pure children NOT to act on one of the most important gifts He gave them – curiosity.

  • mike moore

    good job, John.

  • Steven Waling

    Quite agree Mike. One of the dogmas I rejected on my way to Quakerism.

  • Thanks, Andrea. (Hey, so, for what it’s worth: I suppose that I, too, have read my share of holy books from different religions-or dug into them pretty well. And boy, has it ever not been my experience that they have in them more or less the same content.)

  • I think it’s safe to say the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden is meant as an allegory, Mr. Moore. It’s not supposed to be taken literally.

  • Helen Blanton

    I agree that we as Christians have been haughty in our assurance of salvation. We forget we must work out of faith in fear. We forget we also have been grafted into this family which began with a select race and have been taught that if we have been grafted in how easy it will be to tear us off. What matters is working so all may be able to seek God.

  • Pierre Tardy

    I believe that the main religions have been inspired by God at different times in history and in different cultures. God wants to raise all people spiritually. Christianity is the first religion which discovered that God is our Heavenly Father and that we can have a relationship with Him. In Christianity there is no feminine incarnation of the word even the Bible states it. In eastern religions they understand that God and the creation have the duality of femininity and masculinity. God is not just our Dad but he is also our Mom.

  • Michele Metz

    We put God in a box and think we have Him all figured out. That’s baaaad.

  • Vic Den

    And then, if we are paying attention, we realise that we are in the box, not God.

  • Jill Winter Morgan

    Thanks for this, John. So much power in three letters, and they’re not even capitalized.

  • Todd Erickson

    Perhaps “Jesus is the way, but my way isn’t the way, and unless you get me confused with Christ for the right reasons, I have no reason to expect you to follow my way?”

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Mike! I’m, um, skipping church. Again. If you read Genesis, there are two versions of the creation story. Right there. Side by side. Elohist and Jahwist. Harold Bloom posits the Jahwist was a woman. (:

  • Elizabeth

    Elohist has been subsumed as a part of the Priestly contribution, recently. So now there are only three authors of the Pentateuch, yada yada yada.

  • Tad Richard

    Perhaps because I come from an un-churched background, I have always had difficulty with any claims to a ‘one true religion.’ I have always seen religions, churches, and spiritual practices to be of educational value — training me to recognize God in the world and support Her work.

    To claim that there is but one true religion, is the same (to me) as saying there is only one way to learn to make music, or only one way to grow a garden.

    We all come from different starting points and we all take different paths. But we all can and should appreciate the beauty of each other’s music, each other’s garden.

  • Matt

    You’ve caught me, John! I find myself attached to that three-letter word on occasion. Something between a reminder and gentle rebuke is needed to get me out of it. It’s a real treat to see you posting on a Sunday. Thanks for this.

  • Well said, Todd, and succinct too!

  • Don Rappe

    Good sermon Pastor John. Makes me proud to be an Unfundamentalist. Who says Christians have to be stupid? Since I love the Bible a lot, I offer a text for it. “All rivers run to the sea, but the sea is not filled.” I’m pretty sure that’s somewhere in Ecclesiastes.

  • Wayne Gunn

    A little bitty word with more than enough destructive power.

  • Dorothy Jackson

    Jesus said that in His father’s house there are many mansions. Who among us is wise enough to fully understand God?

  • Don Rappe

    There is an unmistakably feminine hand showing in the Jahwist stories. It would be impossible to convince me that there was only one Jahwist. The hundreds of wives and concubines of David, Solomon and their successors, with all that time on their hands, talked to each other, including the telling and retelling of elaborate stories. Thanks to this, we have a Bible.

  • Timothy Scott Little


  • Laurie LaFramboise

    What a wonderfully provocative thought.

  • Kathe Repasi

    Excellently researched, thought out and stated! Thank you.

  • Heather Barden Koelle

    Yes, John, exactly.

  • Ann Kosa

    It’s a two letter word. “Us” Or a 4 letter word: “Them”

  • I think moral certainty can often be sinful – it crowds out the possibility of God in our life. To me, certitude is kinda the antithesis of faith. The godliness people I know rarely make truth claims.

    My favorite Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote talks about how children readily admit what they don’t know and are open to discovery. About adults he says: ““We destroy the mystery because we sense that here we reach the boundary of our being, because we want to be lord over everything and have it at our disposal, and that’s just what we cannot do with the mystery…”

  • I once heard certainty described as (paraphrasing) something that locks us inside our mistakes. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.

  • charles

    when we project “God” outward is when the problems begin. To assume we are justified in our evil due to God’s providence is insanity.

  • Tom Dunn

    Why do you think this is “safe to say?” Based on what, exactly?

  • Marissa

    Mike, I agree with you and find there are still many Christians who do take the book of Genesis, and the rest of the Bible, literally. I’ve always felt it was kind of like putting a two-year-old in a room with a jar of cookies on the floor and saying, now don’t touch those cookies, and leaving. 🙂 Not to mention that if God is supposed to be omniscient, he would already have known the choice they would make, right? I don’t believe in original sin and certainly don’t believe it’s an excuse to put women down for generation upon generation.

    John, could you explain briefly (if possible – I know that can be a tall order sometimes when it comes to these subjects) what you think the symbolic meaning is? It’s always been a topic that interests me.

  • Elizabeth

    I’m such a bulldozer. “Mistake. Mow it down, ask questions later,” lol. Lovely to see you.

  • Fayssoux

    Eccles 1.7

  • Well Mrs. Deere, condemn my ass and call me razed. I often don’t know I made a mistake until far too late. Sometimes I’m dense like that. That’s the way I steamroll.

  • mike moore

    allegory? dude, I’m stuck in North Carolina, and you’re tossing off 4-syllable words? These kind Christian folk haven’t moved past 3-syllable words, and they know only one of those: “literal.”

  • Tad Richard

    Ha ha! I know what you mean about ‘those kind’ of Christians being narrow minded, Mike. Don’t you hate it when people assume that everyone else has the same bigoted view as they do? They really should read Luke 18:9-14.

    –Tad (from North Carolina)

  • Jill

    I love my Bib Crit class. I actually know what the hell you’re talking about now! An amazing thing, when a church wants me to arrive with a functional brain.

  • Elizabeth, I like your comment but the three authors of the Pentateuch (Yada, Yada, Yada) all seem to have the same name. How do you keep them straight in your mind? 🙂

  • God is in the box, but he also IS the box and the air outside the box and every cell that makes up us and our world and universe.

    Humans will continue to try to understand God – we are designed by God to yearn for that understanding. The place where I feel God the most and find the most peace, however, is when I cease to try to apply human rules and constraints to God.

    I have absolute faith that God is leading me down the path I need to take to know God; God is taking you down the path you need to take to know God. For me it is Christianity; I don’t presume to know what it is for you.

    I get tripped up in the details sometimes too, but when I return to the simplicity of truth that “God is”, the details and “the” vs. “a” seem very insignificant.

  • Richard W. Fitch

    “We see now as in the distorted reflection from a mirror, a mystery, an enigma, but then we will know even as we are know.”

  • Lymis

    I’ve always felt that Jesus said, “no one comes to the Father except through Me” – not “except through the Church that people will form in my name” and not “except through a thorough and detailed understanding of the book people will compile in a couple hundred years” and not “except through agreeing with what everyone else says they know about Me.”

    And, most especially not “no one comes to the Father entirely through what they learn and know while they are still alive.”

    Even if that quote is absolutely 100% literally true, it doesn’t actually say what a lot of people seem to think it says.

  • I agree. Lymis, I think every point you made in the comment is valid!

  • Sharla

    I think the understanding nowadays is that we’re not talking about four individual authors but rather four communities of authorship. There may be even more. I am afraid I don’t entirely understand why people find Biblical criticism as a threat to faith. To me it makes the Bible richer, more interesting, maybe even more miraculous, if I may. And women are, in many cultures, the ones who keep and pass on stories, so it seems thoroughly plausible that women’s voices are present in the stories of the Bible. Again, something I don’t get why it threatens some folks.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Sharla. Christianity was born of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. Hand-in-hand with that belief system was Midrash. You explained difficult passages orally. You didn’t write it down. Admitting you knew it in writing could get you killed.

    Women usually couldn’t write. They could always eavesdrop, though. The Jahwist (if you go with that theory) could include it in the Bible. She was rich. She was educated. Mary of Magdala, not one of the twelve disciples, was Christ’s first contact after the Resurrection. I firmly believe that wasn’t a coincidence. Women were paying attention all along. Any sexism read into the New Testament is bullshit. Pure and simple.

  • Richard Lubbers

    I once had a personal experience where I felt Jesus saying to me, “I never meant to start another religion. The world has too many already. I just wanted to restore people to God.”

    Mind you, this is my personal experience, and it does not imply that I believe this word is for anyone but me.

    It seems ludicrous to me that God would be defined in a book, a system of belief, and any group of people. God does not subscribe to the hierarchies of humans. And, there will be no Christians in heaven; there will be people and the rest of the creation with God. What a day that is!

    Thank you John for an insightful essay. “Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again!”

  • There is certainly parallax to account for, when one such as Jesus uses the word “Me”.

    As the fish is not where it seems to be, so our ideas about Christ bend the light.

    But, what other way could there be, for man to come to God?

    Christ, being not different than God.

    Always been so. Always will be. Here and Now.

    Recognizing the Christianity in our neighbor’s path they become our friends, sisters and brothers.

    Inviting Buddha to join in choir practice, our ears open to his words.

    No difference in Christ.

  • Andrea Albrecht from Germany

    Dear John,

    my next book will be about the common things in religion. I’m a bit overloaded right now with work. So keep it mind, I will let you have a copy of the manuskript as the subject is to much for a blog. Will take some time, as it is in German, need to translate it.

  • Kagi Soracia

    Not John, obviously, but my answer is ‘because it doesn’t actually matter’. There is nothing added or enriched by understanding it literally, or taken away by not doing so. (Rather quite the opposite, in my opinion.) It does not affect salvation. It is in the Bible for the purpose of telling us something about God, and it still accomplishes that regardless of whether or not it is understood to be literal. There is no point in insisting on it’s literality – whatever you actually mean when you say that – and allowing such argument to distract from the contemplation of it’s true purpose in the communication of the divine.