Monday, March 7, 2016

Interfaith Series: Hinduism

This semester, I'm working as a teaching assistant in a non-Western religions course. A couple of weeks ago, the professor asked me to write a series of devotionals for the students, relevant to the ideas they would be discussing each week. So my task was to write Bible-based devotions for students at a Christian university who are studying non-Christian religions. Fun, right? It was. So I thought I'd take a few days and share some of these devotionals in this space.

First up: Hinduism.

Most Christians only have a cartooned version of Hinduism - the kind of caricaturized things we see on our televisions in shows like 'The Simpsons' and maybe even Raj's half-hearted practice in 'The Big Bang Theory.' When we think of Hinduism, we often think of the plurality of Hindu gods with all the weird names, the multiple arms, the disturbing physical characteristics. And certainly, some of that is part of the Hindu religion.

But at the true heart of the Hindu religion is a book called the Baghavad Gita. This is what the Hindus would most likely call their holy text, although most would simply refer to it as "the Gita." This is a rather lengthy book, similar to our Bible (a little thicker than our Bible, actually, but that could be related to a number of factors like page layout and font size, and not necessarily to actual word count). And the Gita is primarily an account of a heavenly battle.

It's the story of the gods, of one specific god's journey to be a greater god, to conquer, to become more meaningful. It's a war story, through and through. And the entire point of the battle is what the warrior, Arjuna, is going to get out of the battle; he's fighting for himself. He's fighting for his own name. He's fighting for something he wants. It's rather riveting, at least as a narrative goes. (And yes, I have read the entire thing.) There's mystery, intrigue, action, honor, and a very serious engagement on the part of Arjuna, who wants nothing more than to be a god.

Although not, necessarily, your god.

And that's the fundamental difference between the Hindu concept of god and the Christian one. When the Christian God engages in battle, it's not because He wants to be a God; He wants to be your God.

Throughout the Old Testament, as Israel comes into contact with other nations and must engage and defeat them, God repeatedly tells them He's on their side, "So that they will know that are you my people and that I am your God." And perhaps we see this nowhere greater than on the edge of the Sea of Reeds.

Israel has left Egypt in the mass exodus, and they've come to the edge of the Sea. The waters are rushing on the path ahead of them, and suddenly, the thundering footsteps of horses and the sound of chariots can be heard behind them. Egypt is in hot pursuit. The people feel trapped. Where are they going to go? What are they going to do? They've taken Egypt's wealth, but not their weapons. However are they supposed to fight?

And it is here that Moses tells them, "The Lord will fight for you." (Exodus 14:14) 

It's one thing to have a god who is a warrior; it's another thing entirely to have a warrior God. One simply fights; the other fights for you. 

There are times in our lives when the obstacles in front of us seem bigger than the strength that is inside of us. We're tired. We're weary. We're uncertain. We look at something like the Sea of Reeds looming before us, the Egyptian army in hot pursuit behind us, and we feel, simply, stuck. There's no way out. No matter which way we go, it's going to be bad news. Have you ever felt stuck like this?

God says there is a way out, but it's not what you'd think. The way out of this situation, when life is pressing in on you from both sides, is to simply be still. Wait to see what the Lord is going to do. Because He is going to fight for you.

What does it mean to have a God who fights for you? Can you just be still? Will you?

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