This is a question that addresses something many people interested in esoteric or mystical forms of spirituality, contemporary or traditional, shy away from. But it's something that we, especially we in the West, must always come back to. Is Jesus Christ a spiritual teacher or is he the spiritual teacher?
Q. How do you interpret the words of Jesus that no one can reach God except through him? Should we take them seriously or do they just have a symbolic meaning?
A. "No one comes to the Father except through me." These are extraordinary words. Can they possibly be true? On the face of it they seem to be saying that Christianity is the only true spiritual path. But do they really mean that or are they pointing to something different? Remember that at the time they were spoken there was no such thing as Christianity. There was Christ but not yet a religion based on his teachings. Let me set forth here what I think Jesus meant by these words.
To begin with, though, there is little point in even considering this matter unless you think that the words might be true, and that Jesus had (and still has) the right to say them. So let me say straightaway that I do think they are true. When we come across them in the Gospel of St John we don't say to ourselves that here is a megalomaniac with severe delusions of grandeur. Such is the power of Jesus's personality, the strength of his aura, that we take them seriously. We believe them. I believe them. They don't make me want to give the person who says them a wide berth, and yet if I heard them from anyone else I would certainly react like that. In the context of the one who speaks them, these words convey a deep sense of truth. It is just as it says in the Bible. Jesus speaks as one having authority.
But even if we accept this saying as true there are still various ways in which we can take it. We can interpret it literally or metaphorically, or we can say that it is true on both these levels. I think this last way is the correct way and that it is true in both a literal and metaphorical sense. No one can reach God who does not go through Christ. However to say that does not mean that everybody must become a Christian. We must distinguish between outer and inner truths or paths, and also between the incarnated Jesus in whose name a religion was founded and the risen Christ who on the heavenly plane is the Master of Masters and the Teacher of Angels and Men. (Not that these are different beings. It is more that they are the human and divine faces of the same being). The risen Christ is the inner channel through which we all must approach God, and though this does not negate or replace the individual connection we all have to God, who is eternally present as the core of our being, it is nonetheless the way through which that individual connection is opened. We all have the divine spark within us but that spark can only be fully ignited through the inner spiritual reality that is Christ, through whom we must pass in order to find God the Father.
Not everyone will be able to accept this as an intellectual proposition and, from the perspective of an outer spiritual practice, they do not necessarily need to. Many who do not follow Christ outwardly may be doing so inwardly in that they follow the essence of the teachings he embodied. In the same way many who follow him outwardly may not be doing so inwardly. Christ does not have an monopoly on all forms of the teachings that lead eventually to the Father, Divine Reality, but he is their personification, their instantiation, and they are given life and salvific power through him.
So the outer sense of these words may not apply literally to everyone but the inner sense does, and so does the metaphorical sense and what it means is this. Those who seek God only as an impersonal force, who restrict Him to a kind of universal cosmic consciousness will not find him. We cannot access the unmanifest divine essence except through the Personal God who is not a lower level of reality than the formless Godhead but fully one with it, never to be separated from it, and the only reliable portal to it. For in truth there is no such thing as the impersonal God. If there were how could the personal be its primary expression? Indeed, how could the idea of the personal exist at all? If the impersonal really were the root of existence there could be no I, and if there were no I then there could be nothing. Certainly nothing could ever be known. So the personal aspect of God cannot be ignored or denied which is to say that the full recognition of God with form is essential if you would go beyond it to the formless. This may be transpersonal but it is not impersonal and it can never be known without complete acceptance of the personal and all that it implies. Why? Because only that allows for a genuine love and humility, and a proper sense of one's place in the divine chain of being. This is the reason that the Masters said 'Remember the Creator'. Today too many people, both materialists and followers of certain spiritual paths, don't do this.
In several articles here I have argued against the idea, basic to advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, that the personal belongs to a lower level of reality than the impersonal and is therefore, in some sense, unreal. I have said that the Personal God is not merely a limited expression of Impersonal Being, and ultimately subsumed into that, but that the two are co-equal and coeval, two faces of the one reality representing God in creative mode and at rest. If I now say that the impersonal does not actually exist at all, i.e. does not correspond to anything in reality, what I mean is that ultimate reality cannot just be pure unqualified, featureless being or the personal could never arise from it. God cannot just be life. He must be alive. Deeper levels of reality must include, in some form (not necessarily expressed but present), what derives from them, and so, if the highest reality is above the personal, that can only mean that it includes the personal in the same way as a cube includes a square not that the square reduces to nothingness at the cube level. If that is what is meant by impersonal I have no argument with the term, but very often that is not what is meant. The square is reduced to a line if not a point if not a blank if not, as the Buddhists say, emptiness. Ultimate reality may be beyond the personal but it is impersonal only to the extent that God is not limited by or to form. But then He is not limited by or to formlessness either. If, in His essence, He is beyond Personhood, or our conception of it, neither does He fall below it into a kind of blank facelessness. He is not mere abstraction but real in the most concrete of ways. So for us, made in His image which means reflecting His reality, God must be personal before He is transpersonal. And this is the metaphorical meaning behind the words spoken by Jesus. We must go beyond the personal to find the Father but we can only do that by going through, going through but fully including, the personal. Formlessness is not less than form.
I don't by any means claim to have covered all that is captured in this saying here, but I hope I have said enough to give you some food for further thought.