Stairway to Heaven: Is there a path to God?

There is an ancient Hindu teaching which says something like: “There are many paths up the mountain to god. You may choose any path you like. The only foolish person is the one who runs around the bottom of the mountain telling everyone else they are on the wrong path.” This teaching may sound wise to some, but it does not concur with the teachings of the Bible. In John 1:14, Scripture tells us that “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” In other words, God Himself came down to Earth as a human being and lived like one of us. God never expected us to climb up to Him, He climbed down to get us.

In the last few years around our church, we’ve grown accustomed to using this phrase: “There is no path to God and heaven. There is only a Person. That person is Jesus Christ and He is the only Way to the Father.”

I love this phrase and use it often with full confidence. On the other hand, the book of Genesis mentions in two different places a “path,” or a “tower,” or a “stairway” that could lead to heaven. The first case, the Tower of Babel, is initiated by human beings. The second case involving Jacob, however, seems to be initiated by God.

In Genesis 11:1-9, simple-minded human beings made it their ambition to build a tower that reach to God. At that time, the whole world was together and spoke a common language. As they began to coordinate their efforts to grow and create a civilization, the Bible says:

Genesis 11:4: Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

This was a simple way to say to God, “We don’t need you. We can be as good as you (Gen 3:5). We can ‘make a name for ourselves’ without your help. We, and not you, are the center of the universe.” In the end, however, the Triune God foils the plans of the human beings, confuses their languages, and scatters them around the Earth. And, of course, this was not the last time in history that mankind tried to find our own way to reach heaven and live without God. Whether it be God’s people in Israel, or the great empires like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Franks, or others who rose and fell during the Middle Ages, or the periods of the Revolutions, or the great civilizations of our times including us here in the USA…the “who needs God?” attitude is always present when human beings decide they can accomplish great things on their own. In the end, empires fall and attempts to exist without God ultimately fail. There is no path to God.

Jacob Dore, Jacob's Ladder (1850)
Gustave Doré, Jacob’s Ladder (1860, enhanced by another artist)

Or is there? In Genesis 28, Jacob stops for the night and lays down to sleep. As he is sleeping, he has a dream about a “stairway to heaven” with God standing at the top. Angels are ascending and descending on the stairway, and this “path” clearly seems to be connecting heaven and earth. What do you make of this passage?

Genesis 28:11-13a: When [Jacob] reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac…

 Jesus helps us understand this passage when He describes Himself as the “stairway”. Leave this post for a moment and read John 1:51. Then come back and read the next section…


The "Pale Blue Dot" (NASA)
The “Pale Blue Dot” (NASA, 1990)

In 1990, Voyager 1 was just about to leave our solar system when NASA’s programmers instructed the robotic spacecraft to turn back towards the planet and take a series of photographs before moving out deeper into space. From the series of photographs that came back to earth an iconic image was obtained. It has come to be known as the “pale blue dot,” a phrase coined by scientist and astronaut Carl Sagan. The picture is grainy and nearly impossible to make out any detail–except for some sunbeams. As scientists looked at sunbeams more closely, they noticed that one held a faint, tiny blue dot on the right side of the image. That pale blue dot just happens to be planet Earth. When the image was finally deciphered, it was a reminder that the planet we call home is nothing more than a small, blue speck of dust in what is an incalculably humongous and expanding universe.

According to Sagan, “Look again at that (pale blue) dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confidant religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there; on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

The Earth is a very small pebble in a vast cosmic arena. At the same time, however, those of us who live on Earth have always seemed to behave like WE are the center of the universe. Jacob’s dream is a reminder that there is more to all that God has created than we could ever perceive or imagine. There are activities taking place on a spiritual, supernatural, and multi-dimensional level that have always and will always escape our notice. We are not the center of the universe, God is. There is no path to God that we can create, discover, or traverse alone. The only way to God is the path He created and that He controls. That path is not a stairway, that path is Jesus. Jacob saw a vision of Jesus in Genesis 28, and Jesus explained that path in John 1:51. Jesus is the way to God. Only in Him and through Him can we meet God and enter heaven. Jesus says this even more clearly in one of His last conversations with the disciples before He went to the cross:

John 14:1-6: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

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