This is another in the occasional series of posts responding to faith questions people wrote early last fall:
The question today: “With all the religions out there, how do we know that ours is the “correct” one?”
That’s a great question. And the answer is kind of complicated. But first, let me unpack your question just a bit. I think your question actually has two parts to it:
- How do we “know?”
- Are we “correct?”
First, let’s talk about the “knowing” part of your question:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1.
We don’t know. We don’t. I will sometimes get someone who will ask me “can you prove to me that God exists?” “well, no” I answer. And then they look at me with a look of curiosity, as in “how could you give your life to something that you don’t have proof of?” The first step is to understand this important distinction:
There is a difference between “faith” and “proof” in the same way there is a difference between “knowing” and “believing.”
For example, I know that 2+2=4. It is quantifiable. But I believe that God exists.
In fact, I believe in God the creator, I believe in Jesus who redeems, and I believe in the Holy Spirit who sustains. And while I cannot quantify this, I have seen evidence…lots of evidence…that all points to God’s existence. And so I believe. And all I can do is to share God’s story, and to share my story, highlighting where the two stories intersect. And the rest is up to the Holy Spirit. So no, I don’t know. But I believe, and I trust.
As to the second part of your question, about how we know we’re the “correct” religion? To be honest, whenever I’m a part of conversations that move in this direction, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I get really uncomfortable.
Because Jesus says in John 14:6 that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
So I know what I believe, and I know what Jesus teaches. But at the same time, all throughout scripture, Jesus is really, really clear that it is not up to God’s people to judge others, even for their beliefs. That in the same way that my beliefs are an expression of my relationship with God, the same is true for others. In other words, that’s between God and them. So I get really cautious when we start talking about who is “right” and who is “wrong” because that’s really up to God to judge. All I can do is look at my own relationship with God and tend to it, and to be willing to tell my story to others.
So no, I have no way of knowing for sure that our faith is the correct one. However, I do believe it with all my heart. I believe it because I have seen evidence of God working in the world…because I have experienced grace through Word and sacrament…because I have felt God’s presence in the midst of our community.
That is a story worth sharing…and if others are welcomed and hear, God’s Holy Spirit will do the work within them.
Thanks for asking!