Isaiah 49.6-7 A light to the nations - so that all the world may
We often forget that the Old
Testament is not Christian. One of its fundamental ideas is that the
Hebrew nation was a cut above the rest. Their God was exclusive. If the
world was to be saved, it had to look to the Hebrew nation as a "light to
The New Testament is a curious mixture of Old Testament
superiority and a radically new way of life.
On the one hand there is a triumphalist vein which
proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as the final solution for all and for all
time. To use John's imagery, Jesus is the unblemished "lamb of God" whose
sacrifice cancels the sin of the entire world. Jesus is the only complete
answer to life's problems.
On the other hand, Jesus himself again and again refused
to allow barriers of religion, ritual cleanliness and ethnic origin to
rule his life. His God was not a God of a superior people, but one to whom
all could relate. His approach was the opposite of the exclusive dogmatism
of his fellow Hebrews and generations of Christian missionaries.
Paul was successful precisely because he continued in
Jesus' way. If he had followed the Hebrew way ("I am a pure-blooded
Hebrew" - Philippians 3.5) he would have preached Hebrew superiority. And
if he had championed Jesus as a Hebrew Messiah, I suspect Christianity
would have died as a Jewish sect.
Some Christians today still operate from the Old
Testament vantage point. They insist that the Christian way is the best.
Often speaking from unawareness of their own pride of place, they preach
that others must accept Christ as the final answer or pay the penalty of
eternal suffering in a fiery hell.
Superiority requires submission from those who differ.
Absolute truth by definition denies others the right to question. It
cannot allow independent thought. Dogma taught by the superior must be
accepted willy-nilly by the inferior. It cannot affirm that others may
relate fully to God without Jesus.
The Christian claim to absolute truth persists today as it has for many
centuries. One of our defensive tricks is to blame others for "not
listening" to our final answers. The truth may well be instead that we
will not listen to them, focused as we tend to be on our own pride at
Humility, in contrast, grows best close to freedom. It
listens, asks and explores, knowing that answers are provisional. It
remains willing to accept that others may flourish in God's eyes even
though they grow and attain holy maturity in other than Christian soil.
Humility faces outwards, not inwards. It is open, not closed, to
questions and answers. To be humble is to acknowledge that, in the end,
one has more questions than answers. Humility will not sacrifice another
on the altar of dogmatic rectitude. It is the only stance, I think, which
patterns itself in each unique situation on the person of Jesus, who
himself "was humble ... all the way to death" (Philippians 2.9).