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Can God Be Found in False Religions?

As much as I wish the Bible were cut and dried on this subject, it’s not. Scripture’s full of thorny verses, statements that force us into a corner or invoke paradox. Recently, I’ve been contemplating one such verse:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV).

For believers, this is a pretty affirming verse. But there’s lots of wiggle room. For instance, is seeking God with all our heart the only prerequisite for finding Him? What about those who “seek” God in non-traditional, even non-biblical, ways? I mean, if a person seeks God through alternative religions, mystical practices, or cultish institutions, can they still find God?

One of my co-workers, a good-natured alcoholic whom I shall call John, approached me recently and said, “I’m going back to church.” I’ve been praying for and witnessing to John for the longest. So you’d think I would be ecstatic, right? Well, not so much. You see, John returned to the Mormon church.

No doubt, this was a HUGE step of faith for John. He’d been raised as a Mormon, fell away from the religion since his youth, and his lifestyle is not exactly congruent with that of a saint (especially a Latter-Day one!). So something serious must have been churning inside him. But knowing what I know about the Mormon church made me ask: Can someone find God in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

Though Mormons profess to be a Christian group, its central beliefs veer radically from historic Christianity. Among the offending LDS doctrines is the belief that God (more commonly referred to as Heavenly Father) is an exalted and glorified man, and that he has a physical (albeit immortal) body. Furthermore, it is also taught that qualifying Mormons can become gods, just like the Heavenly Father, in the next life, and produce spirit offspring (presumably to populate another earth.).

Of course, John knows little about these things. He is simply responding, in the way he knows how, to the call of God. Which leads to an important point:

Seeking God implies NOT knowing how or where to seek Him.

If everyone knew exactly how to get to God, there wouldn’t be much mystery to the search. In fact, it would be more of a formula than a quest. So knowing John’s background, him seeking God by attending the Mormon church is completely understandable. Everyone starts seeking God at the place they are most comfortable, through the form they most associate Him with… whether or not that place / method is 100% Grade A Approved Orthodox. Where else would a Hindu or a Buddhist begin seeking God but where they are at?

And according to Jeremiah 29:13, it doesn’t matter WHERE a person starts seeking God, but HOW they start seeking Him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”   So if John is serious about this search, he will find God. Even in the Mormon church.

This principle riddles Scripture: God is not a respecter of persons; if anyone, anywhere at any time seeks Him with all their heart, they shall find Him.

As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:11-13 NIV)

Everyone? Shouldn’t there be some qualifiers to this? It seems far too . . . liberal. Don’t they need to give up drinking, smoking and watching Jersey Shore to be saved? Shouldn’t they attend catechism or receive training in Christianese? And musn’t they leave the ashram, temple, or Church of the Poison Mind?

Pascal suggested that there are only three kinds of people in the world:

Those who have sought God and found Him
Those who are seeking Him and have not yet found Him
Those who neither seek Him nor find Him

Pascal called the first class reasonable and happy – reasonable because they seek and happy because they find. He calls the second class reasonable and unhappy – reasonable because they seek and unhappy because they have not yet found. He calls the third class unreasonable and unhappy – unreasonable because they do not seek and unhappy because they do not find. Peter Kreeft summarizes,

The greatest difference is not between those who have found God and those who have not. This is only a temporary difference, for all in the second class will get into the first; all seekers will find. The greatest difference is between the seekers and the non-seekers, for that is an eternal difference.

If this is true, it means there is hope for John. Of course, as he seeks God, God will guide him to truth and away from error. This is also a promise of Scripture.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth…  (John 16:13 NIV)

The fact that we must be guided into truth implies a process. Which means that, at some point, even devout seekers do not possess the entire truth. In a way, salvation is not so much a matter of KNOWING the truth as being GUIDED into the truth. (Or, is that sanctification?) Anyway, as Pascal suggests, this can be a sticky, painful process.

For John, it appears this process is beginning because, these days, he is irritable, unfulfilled, and “reasonably unhappy.” Seeking God with all your heart is no guarantee of immediate revelation or instant happiness. In fact, confusion and misery may be an indication that one is, indeed, on a genuine spiritual quest.

So can God be found in a false religion? Absolutely. But if one is really in a false religion, the more we seek Him, the more he will guide us in the other direction. And this is not always a comfortable — or cut and dried — process.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Norm January 29, 2010, 2:05 PM

    Interesting thoughts. But how do you square them with someone who is genuinely seeking God yet remains in a false religion?

  • Mike Duran January 29, 2010, 2:28 PM

    Norm, that's a great question. I think it depends where someone is at in the process. And none of us can ultimately know that. Just because someone remains in a false religion does not categorically exclude from heaven in the same way that, just because someone remains a Baptist, it does not GUARANTEE them of heaven. It's a heart issue. Seeking God with all one's heart is not something we can definitively measure, nor qualify by religious affiliation.

    I think it's the point at which someone is hardening their heart to the truth that they risk "finding God." But how many people in false religions are in the process of actively, intentionally resisting God is for Him to say, not me. Thanks for the comment!

  • xdpaul January 29, 2010, 3:27 PM

    High-pressure cults have a palpable, overt spiritual component – supernatural forces that work overtime to boggle the mind and keep a "seeker" marginally addicted to false premises and idols.

    How does one determine when iconoclasm is the holy thing to do, as opposed to a more quiet encouragement to "keep seeking?"

    In other words, when is it time to overturn tables in the temple and pull down high places? And when is it time to instead encourage those who worship in fear the so-called "Unknown God?" And when is it time to shake the dust off the sandals?

    I've often shaken dust when I should have been scourging. I"ve scourged when I should have encouraged. I've encouraged, and worried that I've only misled the lost.

    Ack! Help me Obi-De-Compposi! You're my only hope!

  • Nicole January 30, 2010, 3:57 PM

    Since God is able to determine matters of the heart as in "seeking me with your whole heart", He finds those individuals wherever they are. However, if a person is simply seeking solace, or something to placate their belief system, they can "devoutly" believe in just about anything. It's truly a heart issue.

  • Jay January 30, 2010, 4:17 PM

    C.S. Lewis said that as a Christian, he could see at least a little bit of truth in all religions…whereas as an atheism, he had to reject the supernatural bases from all of them, wholesale.

    If this is true, then I'd say that it's certainly possible that God (at least certain properties of God) can be found in other religions, but the FULLNESS of the truth of God can only be found in orthodox (small 'o') Christianity.

    You can also look at Calvin's "sensus divinitatis", where God implanted in humanity a natural inclination to believe in the supernatural. This inclination might be expressed imperfectly by belief in non-Christian religions, but through God the partial believer can "train" him or herself to believe rightly.

  • RJB January 30, 2010, 4:38 PM

    Knowledge of God, or belief in God is not the same thing as salvation. The demons believe and tremble. The point is not simply to know God, but to believe, repent, trust and follow.

    Also, God is not deceptive. He does not use lies to reveal truth. I think the continuing process of santification would propell a person toward truth, the Bible, not toward lies.

  • Guy Stewart February 2, 2010, 1:53 PM

    Jay: I was going to bring out the same CS Lewis statement. Here's the quote and reference: "If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth…being a Christian does not mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic — there is only one right answer to the sum, and all other are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others." MERE CHRISTIANITY, Book Two, Ch 1

    • Mike Duran February 2, 2010, 2:10 PM

      Awesome quote, Guy! Thanks so much for including it here.

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