ALTHOUGH a great part of my life has been devoted to study of religion and to discussion with religious leaders of all faiths, I know that I cannot avoid seeming presumptuous in writing about the figure of Jesus Christ and trying to explain what significance and meaning He has had for me. I do so solely because I have been told more than once by certain Christian friends that, since I am not a Christian and do not (to quote their exact words) "accept Him in my innermost heart as the only-begotten Son of God", I can never realize the full meaning of His teachings and therefore can never draw upon the greatest source of spiritual strength known to man.
Whether or not this is true in my case, it seems to me to be a mistaken point of view. I believe that is incompatible with the message that Christ brought to the world. For He, surely, was the greatest example of one who wished to give to all, to withhold from none, whatever their creed. I believe that He Himself, if He lived among men today, would bless the lives of many who perhaps had never heard His name if they lived in accordance with the virtues that His life so imperishably illustrated, the virtue's of unselfishness and loving-kindness toward one's fellow men.
It is this, I think, that above all was important to Him, just as it is written in the great book of Christianity — not he that crieth Lord, Lord, but he that doeth His will.
What, then, has Jesus meant to me? To me He is a great world teacher. To His followers He was and is the only-begotten Son of God. Whether or not I accept this, does He affect my life the less? Is all the grandeur of His teaching thus automatically barred from me? I cannot believe so.
The adjective "begotten" has a meaning for me that I like to think is deeper and possibly grander than its literal one. To my mind it implies spiritual birth. My interpretation, in other words, is that in Jesus' own life' He stood nearest to God; He most perfectly expressed the will and spirit of God. And it is in this sense that I look upon Him as the Son of God.
But I believe that there is something of this spirit which in Jesus was expressed in the fullest measure, in all mankind. I must believe that; if I did not, I would be a cynic, and to be a cynic is to be lifeless, empty, valueless; it means that one condemns the whole race of man.
There is every apparent reason for cynicism, certainly, when one beholds the bloody carnage that Europe's aggressors have wrought, when one thinks of the misery and suffering spread over the surface of the globe, the pestilence and plague and hunger that inevitably and terribly follow in the wake of warfare. In the face of that how can one speak seriously of the spirit of the divine in man? Because these acts of terror and bloodshed appall man's conscience; because he knows that they are evil; because, in his innermost heart and mind, he deplores them. And because, when he is not misled, deceived, and corrupted by false leaders and false arguments, man has in his breast an impulse of kindness and compassion which is the spark of the divine, and which one day, I believe, will be brought forth to the full flowering that is inherent in it.
It is an example of such a flowering that is seen in the figure and life of Jesus. I refuse believe that there were any who did not profit by His example and by His atoning for their sins, whether or not they consciously realized it.
The lives of all were, to some degree, great or small, changed and benefited by His presence, His actions, and the words of His voice.
It is impossible, I think, to weigh the merits of the world's several religions, and unnecessary and pointless even to attempt to do so. But in each one, I believe, there was an original common impulse — the desire to help and to improve the life of all men. I interpret the miracles of Jesus not in a literal sense, which seems to me unimportant, but as the dramatic and unforgettable expression of this impulse, as the most vivid lesson possible to impart—not to pass by the sick and suffering, not to judge those who in the world's eyes, have sinned, but to forgive them and thus help them to enter a new and better life, in the firm belief that regenerate can outgrow the original taint.
These lessons stand for us today as they stood for the men and women of Jesus' own time.
Jesus gave mankind, in these lessons and in His life, the great goal toward which to aspire. It is because there is such a goal, and because there was such a figure as that of Jesus, that I cannot be pessimistic, but instead am hopeful and confident of the future. And it is because His life has this significance and meaning for me that I do not regard Him as belonging to Christianity alone, but rather to the whole world to all its peoples, no matter under what name they worship.