Q&R with Brad Jersak – A Christlike God or no god at all?
From E. Stanley Jones (1933), “Christ and human suffering”
I was reading this today in the early morn. Thought of you.
Despite the fact that our Trinitarian confession frequently slips badly into Tritheism (worship of three gods), Christians follow Jesus Christ’s claim that we worship the one God of Abraham. In these, we share significant common ground with Judaism and Islam. But when it comes to the Incarnation of God in the flesh of Christ, that seems completely forbidden for them, especially a God who suffers and dies in the flesh! Of course, the first Jewish apostles (esp. John and Paul) would disagree, but today, the deity of Christ is a no-no for the other monotheistic faiths.
Hinduism, by contrast, is so different from Christian in almost every way, with its many gods and many lives, yet they do grasp the concept of Incarnation, at least by analogy. This is because of their notion of avatars. “Avatar” in Hinduism means “descent” and refers to the material appearance or incarnation of a deity on earth. There always seems to be some common ground for interfaith dialogue. Likewise, there are always some essential differences at the core of each faith that can’t be watered down. In this case, Christ believes in one Incarnation, including the death and resurrection of the God-man, while Hindus believe in many Avatars.
In interfaith dialogue, I am amazed at how Common Grace is at play (call it the witness of the Holy Spirit) and that, as Wm. Paul Young says, “most paths lead nowhere but Christ will travel any path to find someone” (from The Shack). But rather than a bland pluralism that pretends we all believe the same thing below the surface, it’s good to develop interfaith friendships that are deep and stable enough to identify the deal-breakers (such as the Incarnation, the Passion and the Resurrection) and acknowledge each other’s distinct core beliefs–central tenets on which we cannot agree. That becomes the perfect opportunity for love and mutual respect without religious hatred.
One other note about Hindus. I believe it’s fair to call Gandhi a “Christ-following Hindu,” if I understand him and his friend, E. Stanley Jones. Why? Because he read the Sermon on the Mount every day and consciously sought to “hear these words of mine and put them into practice” … which Christ regards as the “wise man who built his house upon a rock.” At Gandhi’s funeral, a Hindu Indian government official (whose name I forget) who gave the eulogy said of Gandhi, “He was the most Christlike man of this century.”
My point is not that Hindus are Christians nor am I nominating Gandhi an honorary Christian. He never claimed to be one, even though it’s very likely he followed Christ more closely and radically than I. Rather, what surprises me here is that we have a Hindu speaking with reverence of another Hindu, and who is his standard? Not Krishna or Rama or one of the other ten avatars of Vishnu, but Jesus Christ. Even though Hindu ideas of Jesus and of Christ are very different from orthodox Christology, and despite their ongoing persecution of Christian in parts of India, still–at this event, as in the Jones anecdote, the foundational reference point and measure of perfection
Thanks again. I paused today in wonder and worship for our singular Savior, his distinct deity and his beautiful humanity.