Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

In our country, all is well as long as we talk about God and take care of orphans and HIV/AIDS patients. In fact, people will even appreciate us. But when we take the name of Jesus, and especially if we say that He is the only way to God, we get immediately classified as being narrow-minded and fundamentalist. How dare we claim that we alone are right and everyone else wrong about it!

However, it was not we who said it, but Jesus Himself (Jn.14:6). To make such claims He should have been a mad man with grandiose ideas about Himself, a simpleton who was deceived about Himself, both of which everybody will readily acknowledge He was not, or a sane, rational Man who knew what He was saying and meant it. His disciples were convinced beyond doubt about His genuineness and the veracity of His words after His resurrection (Acts 4:12), and they were even willing to lay down their lives for this fact. We are restating it from our own conviction because we have come to find from our own experience and understanding that He is truthful and reliable in every way. He has indeed saved us from our own sins, and we would very much like to tell everyone else how they too can be saved.

Also, after we have looked at His credibility, vis-à-vis the claims of others who have proclaimed other ways to God or themselves as gods, we are left without any doubt about the matter.

Is it altogether incredible that, in metaphysical subjects such as spirituality, people can be mistaken about what they believe even if there are many others who believe the same thing? We only have to look at the history of ancient civilisations to recognise that people were taught to believe and practise what we would now consider as weird or fantastical, by groups of people who manipulated them for power or money. There were times of ignorance when many people naively believed mythological stories. But as these civilisations developed into the modern days, practically all of them have thrown off the chains of superstition and recognised their earlier beliefs as myths.

As India was on the verge of coming out from its own mythologies and putting aside its superstitions, one man appeared on the scene who re-established them by giving them an intellectual veneer. That was Swami Vivekananda who essentially said that any way was alright for reaching God as long as the devotee was satisfied and comfortable with it. He said in his address to the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893 quoting a hymn, “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee,” and quoting from the Gita, “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.” According to him, some reached God through good works (karma marga), some through devotion (bhakti marga), and some through knowledge (gnana marga). Later on, others added raja yoga as another way to moksha which is understood as escaping from the maya of this material world and merging with the reality of god. With this understanding of the paths to God, people suddenly found acceptance for any way they liked to choose.

The development of this theme has gone on to capture the minds of multitudes not only in India but also all over the world in various forms. The result is that anyone who would claim any uniqueness for the path he followed would be looked upon as being out of his mind or as an imbecile!

Growing up from the mythological stories of India and cultivated by the all-encompassing philosophy of Vivekananda and others like him, another major outlook that resulted was that morals are relative to the individual. In other words, according to this new philosophy there is no absolute understanding of right and wrong, but only as each individual thinks. The practical outcome of this development among the masses seems to be towards defining one and only one broad commandment, “Thou shalt not get caught!

When the constitution of the Republic of India was made, the right to religion stated very clearly, “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.” This was the definition of ‘secular’ for the “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” that India was declared to be. The fundamental right given here is stated in terms of a freedom of conscience and a right to profess, practise and propagate religion. This understanding of secularism has since metamorphosed into quite something different over the years, energised by the thinking that every way that any man chooses to take up to go towards God is equally valid. Now secularism seems to have come to mean that we must not only provide rights for others to have their own way of religion, but that we must also respect and accept each of those ways as being valid.

Two religions which have problems with this new understanding are Islam and Christianity, because each of them considers itself as being unique. While Islam has sometimes tried to force others to convert to Islam or face destruction, Christianity has tried to proclaim the good news of the gift of the grace of God for all people through Jesus Christ and invite others to receive that gift. This approach taken by Christians is certainly in accordance with the constitution as well as considerations of human rights.

One might think that those who say that all ways lead to the same God should not really have any problem with the rights of someone else to follow any way he chooses. But the fact is, when Christians quote Christ to say that there is only one valid way to God, that irks the others beyond limits. Much killing and arson have resulted out of this anger at the implication that their own way is not right.

For those who are convicted in their heart about their sins and see the Saviour holding out free forgiveness, it becomes immediately clear what they need to believe and do. For the others who see their religion merely as a matter of rituals and traditions, discussions may hardly be the means to convince them. At the end they will shout just like the Ephesians, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28,34).

The apostle Paul learned very quickly when to preach the Gospel in and out of season (2Tim.4:2), and also when to hold back. When he was in Athens speaking to people who considered themselves to be intellectuals and who were always interested in listening to anything new, he used an intellectual approach to reach them with the Gospel (Acts 17). He left them when they showed no real interest, but worked with those among them who believed (vv.33,34). In Ephesus, where the discussion was not really based on the merits of different faiths but driven from behind by some people with commercial interests, his initial desire to speak out gave way to practical wisdom (Acts 19).

There is an appropriate time for everything. There is a time to be bold in confessing our allegiance to the truth and our Lord, and there is also time to be prudent. “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph.5:15,16).

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, June 2014

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