As our world becomes increasingly smaller–through easier and more frequent travel, migration, and the influence of the Internet and foreign-made entertainment options–it is impossible to not notice that other people, too, have a worldview–which may or may not coincide with ours. But what are we to make of it? And, how should we respond?
“God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:27 NIV)
The truth is that God is generous, kind, and inclusive to any who genuinely look for Him, and His desire is that all be made right with Him. But while salvation from our sins and a right standing with Him come through Jesus alone (hence His command to those who follow Him to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) God, nonetheless, sees when individuals of other nations look for Him and act according to mandates of righteous behavior–and, He blesses their efforts. When, for example, those who have not yet come to saving faith through Jesus recognize the value of family and remain together, they receive the blessings that come from having strong families. When they recognize the value of self-sacrifice and diligence, they reap the accompanying blessings.
This is not to say that there are many roads to heaven–“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV)–yet in many worldviews we can find some element of truth, some common thread of good (albeit frequently mixed with very erroneous teachings). And while–without the full revelation of God through Jesus–it isn’t enough, it is still something, and we can recognize it as such and work from there to present the truth to those who do not yet know Christ, and are, thus, not yet right with God.
So how should we respond to those who are devout–who believe in something–but don’t know the true God yet? St. Paul, one of the most successful missionaries of all time, spoke to the people of Athens, Greece about Jesus–but with a different approach than when he addressed the Jews:
“Sha’ul stood up in the Council meeting and said, “Men of Athens: I see how very religious you are in every way! For as I was walking around, looking at your shrines, I even found an altar which had been inscribed, ‘To An Unknown God.’ So, the one whom you are already worshipping in ignorance — this is the one I proclaim to you. “The God who made the universe and everything in it, and who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in man-made temples; nor is he served by human hands, as if he lacked something; since it is he himself who gives life and breath and everything to everyone. “From one man he made every nation living on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the limits of their territories and the periods when they would flourish. God did this so that people would look for him and perhaps reach out and find him although in fact, he is not far from each one of us, ‘for in him we live and move and exist.’ Indeed, as some of the poets among you have said, ‘We are actually his children.’ So, since we are children of God, we shouldn’t suppose that God’s essence resembles gold, silver or stone shaped by human technique and imagination. “In the past, God overlooked such ignorance; but now he is commanding all people everywhere to turn to him from their sins. For he has set a Day when he will judge the inhabited world, and do it justly, by means of a man whom he has designated. And he has given public proof of it by resurrecting this man from the dead.” (Acts of Emissaries of Yeshua (Acts) 17:22-31 CJB)
Paul started from common ground–their statue to an unknown God (hence, their recognition that such a God exists)–and moved forward from there to explain the true, living God, and ultimately, Jesus, to them. We must do the same. We should identify common ground–acknowledge correct teaching–and move forward from there to humbly explain that while there is good in their faith, there is so much more: forgiveness, and restitution through Jesus Christ with the God who made, redeems and sustains us, and whom we will meet at our dying breath!
So, what are we to make of all the religious traditions of various cultures in our world? We must, first off, know well what God has revealed to us in His Word, the Holy Bible. When we know what He says we can recognize right teaching elsewhere, acknowledge it, and move forward from what God, in His mercy, has already allowed the devout of other religious traditions to understand, to the forgiveness He gives people of any culture freely when they acknowledge their sin, repent of it, and turn to Jesus in saving faith!
Use me to help others seek You and perhaps reach out for You and find You, though You are not far from any one of us. Amen.