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Testing Hinduism

Hinduism 2 400px“My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of their choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.” These remarks on religious tolerance were made by the Indian Prime Minister in February 2015. Hinduism is said to be tolerant to other religions because it holds that there are many ways which lead towards salvation (or spiritual liberation) and Hindus can select their deity from the wide pantheon of gods and goddesses conceived since time immemorial.

It is estimated that about 16% of the world’s population is Hindu. This increases to about 80% in India, Nepal and Bali (in Indonesia) and about 50% in Mauritius. The Hindu faith is polytheistic, although it is claimed that one supreme reality (Brahman) is manifested in many gods and goddesses. In this way Hinduism is different to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But is Hinduism consistent with the message of the Bible? Is it one of the ways to salvation and spiritual liberation?

True or false?

The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.

The Jesus test

This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6 NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?

The gospel test

The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).

The fruit test

Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?

I have previously summarized Hinduism. These tests will now be used to assess the Hindu faith.

Brahma1 400pxTesting the Hindu faith

The Jesus test

Hindus believe in one supreme god (Brahman) who created the universe. He is impersonal and all-pervasive. And he created many gods to be his helpers. There are thousands (and maybe millions) of Hindu gods that are considered to be different manifestations of Brahman. These gods and goddesses of Hinduism represent the many aspects of Brahman. So, Hinduism is neither only monotheistic nor only polytheistic, but has elements of both.

Brahman is not the same as the monotheistic personal God of Christianity, who is separate from His creation (Rom. 1:25). In Hinduism, God, the universe, human beings and all else is essentially one thing and everything is connected as part of the divine being. This means that Hindus worship literally everything and god is thought to be in every human being as Atman, the eternal Self. This is pantheism.

Because Hinduism involves image (idol) worship, it is included in those described by Paul as: “Yes, they knew God (through creation; v.19-20), but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. … They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created (idols) instead of the Creator Himself” (Rom. 1:21-25NLT).

Hinduism is also unlike the Christian trinity of one God in three persons. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit have similar attributes whereas there is greater distinction among the Hindu deities, which have different mythologies and personalities.

Jesus isn’t mentioned in any of the numerous Hindu scriptures (as most were written before His time) and none of the legion of Hindu gods is like Jesus. So, the Hindu religion says nothing directly about Jesus Christ. But Hindus may think that Jesus was a holy man, a guru (teacher) or a god. However, they wouldn’t see Jesus as the only way to God. At best, He would be one god amongst the many gods that they worship.

Hindus believe that Krishna was the eighth “avatar” (incarnation) of the god Vishnu. Could Jesus also be an avatar? In Hinduism, an avatar is the bodily incarnation of a deity on earth. But Jesus was not an avatar because He is fully human and fully God. Hindus could also consider Jesus to be a great teacher like Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. But Jesus wasn’t the reincarnation of Krishna because after His death, He was resurrected, not reincarnated.

What does the Hindu religion imply about Jesus Christ? By worshipping many other gods instead of Christ, the implication is that these gods are greater than Christ. Like Hinduism, people in the Greek and Roman empires worshipped many Gods. What does the New Testament say about this? When the Thessalonians became followers of Christ, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us (believers) from the coming wrath” (1 Th. 1:9-10). The God who was living and true is contrasted against idols that were dead and false gods. They had learnt that God “doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs” (Acts 17:24-25NLT). The Corinthians were told to separate from idol worship (2 Cor. 6:16-17). John repeats this message that Christians should “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). The true God is said to be God the Father or God the Son (Jesus), while idols are false gods.

Paul described the state of the Corinthians before they became Christians as “you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols” (1 Cor. 12:2NLT). Their idols were lifeless! But how were they being “led astray and swept along”? The Bible says that idolatry is associated with demon worship (Rev. 9:20). And it’s the work of Satan (2 Cor. 6:15-16). So they were being led astray and swept along by Satan and his demons! That’s why Paul was “was greatly distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

Except in matters of ethics and moral conduct, there is very little in common between the teachings of Jesus and the main teachings of Hinduism. So, Hinduism clearly fails the Jesus test. Hindus don’t believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God whose sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection solved the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. They don’t believe that Jesus came to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.

Vishnu 400pxThe gospel test

The ultimate goal of Hindu religious life is liberation from the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation) and to escape from the recurring pattern of existence. This is the Hindu core belief or hope. There are two problems with this goal: the problem being addressed and the solution that is offered.

The problem being addressed in Hinduism is the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death (reincarnation). The Bible shows that humanity is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. People are distinct and unique from all other creatures—angels and the animal kingdom. The Bible teaches that at death, while a person’s body is mortal (it decays and returns to dust) their soul and spirit continue to either a place of torment for those who reject Christ or paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Savior. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body (Jn. 5:25-29). The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This makes it clear that humanity only dies once and is then judged on the life they have lived. One is not born again in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, and its opportunities to improve one’s karma. The Bible never mentions people having a second chance at life or coming back as different people or animals. As Larry Norman sang, “you live once and you die once, with no re-incarnate episodes”.

We have seen that the idea of incarnation is a false teaching. But this is the main problem addressed by the Hindu faith! Their core belief or hope is the product of human imagination! On the other hand, the Christian faith addresses the problem of sin (rejection of God’s revelation in creation and in Jesus Christ) and its consequences. We will now look at the solution being offered.

Because the Hindu social division and hierarchy is believed to be based on rebirth and karma, good works and striving to please God play an important role in a Hindu’s way of life. A Hindu may seek to earn salvation and liberation through good works and a good life. Other ways that Hindus seek salvation are True Knowledge (scholarly study), devotion to a god, or meditation. These are also things that people can do to attain union with the Brahman (god). Yes, good works do please God, but only the good works and the good and sinless life of Jesus. The Bible says that it was Jesus’ good work (sacrifice) on the cross that will get us salvation and liberation!

Our good works are not good enough. Larry Norman also sang, “you can’t hitchhike to heaven or get there by just being good”. The Bible says that most of the work of salvation is done by God and not by us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Hinduism is a religion of salvation by works.

A Hindu’s salvation is never guaranteed; they don’t know how much meditation or yoga they need to do or how many lives they will live before reaching moksha (Hindu heaven). By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).

So, Hinduism fails the gospel test.

Shiva1 400pxThe fruit test

Hinduism is often said to be a tolerant religion. But India is included in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Following an increase in religiously motivated (Hindu) nationalism, India has climbed to its highest ever ranking of 15. It was ranked between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. This is equivalent to a “very high” level of persecution. Most of the countries where it is more difficult to live as a Christian than in India (except North Korea) are Islamic.

Open Doors reports that since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in 2014, radical Hinduism has increased steadily. Some of those who have left Hinduism to follow Jesus have been attacked and even killed by their own parents. On average, more than 15 Christians were physically attacked every week in India in 2016. Some of these attacks have come from Hindu extremists. They particularly target believers who have converted from Hinduism; these believers face daily harassment and have been beaten, hospitalized and even killed. Protestant Christian communities are the second main target because of their involvement in outreach activities and conversions.

Christians are also facing increasing pressure on a national level. Several states have implemented anti-conversion laws to prevent people from leaving Hinduism and the ruling BJP desire to make these laws nation-wide. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians. With the Indian government refusing to speak out against the atrocities being carried out against Christians and other minorities, the situation is expected to get worse. Hindus that convert to Christianity are rejected by their family. Their family is affected as well by suffering shame in their Hindu society.

In February 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report on “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India”. They note:
– “Anti-conversion laws” in seven Indian states, and discrimination based upon caste and religion.
– Since 2014, when the BJP took power, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion (to Hinduism) have escalated dramatically.
– Although discrimination due to caste is prohibited in the constitution, the caste system, which is discriminatory at its root, remains a fundamental part of Hinduism. Under this system, the “untouchables”, or Dalits, have faced unique discrimination, the only parallel of which was apartheid in South Africa. Many Dalits are Christians. In fact, Dalits account for two-thirds of India’s Christian population, who number more than 80 million, or 7% of India’s total population.
– Religious minorities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of judicial consistency.
– Religious freedom in India will never be achieved unless the country is willing to make substantial amendments to its constitution and legal framework.
The findings of this report were rejected by the Indian external affairs ministry.

In April 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report which noted:
– Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathizers perpetrated numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minority communities and Hindu Dalits. These violations were most “frequent and severe” in 10 of India’s 29 States. National and State laws that restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations helped create the conditions enabling these violations.
– While the Prime Minister spoke publicly about the importance of communal tolerance and religious freedom, members of the ruling party have ties to Hindu nationalist groups implicated in religious freedom violations, and used religiously divisive language to inflame tensions.
– Police and judicial bias and inadequacies have created a pervasive climate of impunity in which religious minorities feel increasingly insecure and have no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur.

Although it’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively, these three separate reports mention persecution of religious minorities and a lack of religious freedom in India. And there is even discrimination against low-caste Hindus.

What type of attitudes and behavior do you think the Hindu faith encourages?

Results of the tests

We have seen that the Hindu faith fails the Jesus Test and the Gospel Test and the results of the Fruit Test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the overall message of the Bible.

Ganesha 400pxDiscussion

In a previous post it was noted that Hinduism is both polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P). This is not surprising because most of the Hindu scriptures were written between 1500BC and 500BC. During this period, the deities of the following nations were also polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P): Egypt, Phoenicia (Canaan), Babylon, and Greece. In fact, this was probably a characteristic of all the Gentile nations at that time. It was also characteristic of previous nations (such as Mesopotamia) and following nations (such as the Roman Empire). By the way, pantheistic religions are probably polytheistic, but are polytheistic religions pantheistic?

What does the Bible say about such P&P religions?
– About 2000BC Abraham left the P&P religion in Ur of the Chaldeans (in Mesopotamia) to live in the land of Canaan and to follow the monotheistic God who created the universe.
– About 1750BC when Jacob left Paddan Aram (in upper Mesopotamia), his wife Rachael stole her father’s P&P household gods (Gen. 31:19, 30, 32, 35). When he arrived back in Canaan, Jacob buried all their foreign P&P gods (Gen. 35:2-4).
– About 1450BC when the Israelites left Egypt in the exodus, God told them to stop practicing the P&P religion of the Egyptians and gave them commands on how to follow the true monotheistic God.
– About 1500BC when the Israelites conquered and settled in Canaan, God warned them not to follow the P&P religion of the Canaanites and the surrounding nations.
– Between 1380BC and 1050BC the Israelites forsook the God that brought them out of Egypt and followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them (Jud. 2:10-13). They intermarried with these peoples and served their P&P gods (Jud. 3:5-6). Consequently, the Israelites were punished by God and brought back to serving the true monotheistic God by a series of judges.
– Between 930BC and 722BC Israel was divided into two kingdoms and the northern kingdom followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire.
– Between 700BC and 586BC, the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah) often followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
– the 70-year exile in Babylon decimated the nation of Israel and seemed to cure those who returned to Judah from following P&P religions. But it took over 900 years for them to learn this lesson!
– In the 1st century AD, the New Testament apostles, such as Peter and Paul, preached against the P&P religion of the Roman Empire.

Note the similarities between Hinduism and the P&P religions mentioned in the Bible. Hindus have household P&P gods like Laban. Since 2000BC God has distinguished Himself from P&P religions. By reading the Bible we can see repeated warnings against P&P religions. These warnings were given over a period of more than 1,500 years. Why not check this for yourself by reading the Bible?

Paul said that P&P gods are not real gods (Acts 19:26). He knew that they “cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Dt. 4:28; Dan. 5:23; Rev. 9:20). And that they are the work of Satan and his demons (2 Cor. 6:15-16; Rev. 9:20).

The clearest biblical arguments against pantheism are the numerous commands against idolatry. The Bible forbids the worship of idols, angels, celestial objects, and items in nature. If pantheism were true, it would not be wrong to worship such an object, because that object would, in fact, be divine. If pantheism were true, worshipping a rock or an animal would have just as much validity as worshipping God as an invisible and spiritual being. The Bible’s clear and consistent denunciation of idolatry is a conclusive argument against pantheism. So, Hinduism, which is based on pantheism, is a false religion.

Hinduism regards itself as an ancient religion. However, this is not a good attribute because such ancient P&P religions were soundly denounced many years ago by the Bible. In this sense, Hinduism is a retrograde religion. It’s like the religions that were denounced by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament.

Some Hindus are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is Hindu teachings, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Hindus are “trusting in deceptive words that are worthless” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case, the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets were that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Hindu meditation. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement! In Hinduisms case, the deceptive words come from Hindu teachings which are false. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Hindu teachings, Hindus follow many “other gods”.

Summary

We have tested Hinduism against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which is the product of human imagination, and which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So Hindus don’t worship the same God as Christians.

Written, August 2017

Also see: Basic Hinduism
Testing Islam
Recognizing false teachers

Basic Hinduism

OM 2 400px“We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven”. This was the beginning of the US Senate’s morning prayer, on 12 July 2007. It was the first time the prayer had been made by a Hindu.

The main Indian religion is Hinduism, which includes concepts such as karma, reincarnation and nirvana. Hinduism is also the major religion in Nepal, Mauritius and Bali (in Indonesia). This post is one in a series on major religions. To minimize bias, the following content has been mainly drawn from Hindu websites.

Definitions

The word “Hindu” is derived from the name of the Sindhu (Indus) River. Apparently, those who lived south of the river were known as Hindus. The Persians used the term Hindu in this way in the 6th century BC. Over time the term changed from denoting the people of a geographic area to a religious group.

Hinduism has a broad range of beliefs, philosophies and traditions that are linked by shared concepts, rituals, cosmology, religious texts, a caste system and pilgrimage to sacred sites. And it is usually polytheistic. Everyone who is born in a Hindu family is considered a Hindu.

The most ancient Hindu scriptures are the four Vedas. These spiritual laws were compiled before ~800BC and are considered by Hindus to have divine origin. The word Veda means knowledge. The Vedas are books of mantras that have hidden meanings and symbolic significance.

The other scriptures shared by Hindus are called the Upanishads, which are a collection of Hindu texts which contain some of the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism. These were written after the Vedas, down to the present day. And there are many other Hindu scriptural texts including the Ramayana, The Mahabharata, and The Puranas.

History

Hinduism developed gradually over about four thousand years. The origins and authors of its sacred texts are largely unknown.

About 2000BC there is evidence of ritual bathing, sacrifice, and goddess worship. It is thought that the Vedas were composed between 1500BC and 500BC. During this period, food was offered to various gods in a sacrificial fire. These gods occupied the earth, or the atmosphere. The ritual sacrifice was offered to receive the favor of the gods such as wealth, sons, protection, and abundant crops. Later Hindus renounced the material and social world, and focused instead on asceticism and meditation. They believed that the material world is not “real,” but only an illusion that is created by ignorance. What is real is an abstract divine principle, Brahman. So they focused on how to free oneself from the bonds of material attachments, and attain a state of oneness with Brahman. Later the concepts of karma, reincarnation and moksha (release from reincarnation) arose.

Temple worship developed between 500BC and 500AD. During this period, the Vedic fire sacrifice tended to be replaced by the worship of images of deities in temples. Between 500AD and 1500AD, large temples were constructed to deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi (goddesses). And key thinkers and teachers (gurus) formulated new theologies. Between 1500AD and 1757AD Islam affected northern India and devotion to a personal god (bhakti), meditation and yoga were prevalent.

From 1575AD to 1947AD India was part of the British Empire. During this period, India came under Western influence and nationalism arose. In 1947 India gained independence from Great Britain and was separated from the newly-created Muslim state of Pakistan. After this, immigration lead to Hindu impact elsewhere including Transcendental Meditation, the Hare Krishna movement, Yoga and New Age beliefs.

What are the basic beliefs that one must have to be considered a true Hindu? Although there is a wide range of beliefs, there are six major beliefs.

Six major beliefs

Some of the basic beliefs of Hinduism are summarized below.

Polytheism. Hindus have the freedom to choose their own personal god or goddess. They often believe that one supreme reality (Brahman) is manifested in many gods and goddesses. These can be spirits, trees, animals, rivers, mountains, natural things that are useful for a human being, and even planets. They have the largest pantheon of gods and goddesses who are believed to actively influence the world and to interact with humans. Most Hindus worship god in the form of an image (idol). The most fundamental of Hindu deities are the trinity of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). But many other gods such as Ganesha, Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, and goddesses like Lakshmi, Durga, Kali and Saraswati are worshipped.

Pantheism. The Upanishads describe a single, eternal, impersonal divine force that animates and permeates the entire cosmos—Brahman. “Everything is Brahman”. Brahman is the universe and everything in it. They claim that one’s relationships, or appearance, or even thoughts, are not real but illusions. They advocate an ascetic path. If one wishes to realize the ultimate (moksha), then one must detach oneself from these unreal things. One must go off and meditate on the reality of Brahman, which begins with meditation on the self (the atman), which is in essence the same as Brahman. So the Hindu divine being is throughout all existence.

Reincarnation (samsara). Another basic tenet of Hinduism is the belief in reincarnation. This is a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. It’s a cycle of perpetual rebirth and suffering from one lifetime to the next. Reincarnation is based on karma. In the short-term a good karma will lead to reincarnation in more fortunate circumstances, or in a higher caste. The soul reincarnates until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth) is attained. According to Hinduism, this current life is merely one link in a chain of lives that extends far into the past and projects far into the future. Hindus also believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.

Dharma. This is a set of rules for the “right way of living” (ethics). It is the duty of a Hindu to follow the path of righteousness. But acting virtuously does not mean precisely the same for everyone; different people have different obligations and duties according to their age, gender, and social position. Dharma is universal but it is also particular. Each person has their own dharma known as sva-dharma. What is correct for a woman might not be for a man or what is correct for an adult might not be for a child. Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God. To achieve good ​karma it is important to live life according to dharma, what is right. This involves doing what is right for the individual, the family, the class or caste and for the universe. Dharma is like a cosmic norm and if one goes against the norm it can result in bad karma. So, dharma affects the future according to the karma accumulated. Therefore, one’s dharmic path in the next life is the one necessary to bring to fruition all the results of past karma.​ Hinduism has sought to recognize principles and practices that would lead any individual to become a better human being and understand and live in harmony with dharma.

Kama. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each person creates their own destiny by their thoughts, words and deeds. This is the belief that one’s current situation has been brought about by previous actions and decisions, and that future circumstances will be the natural outcome of the decisions and actions you make in this moment. What you have done determines what you are, and what you do now determines what you will be. One’s current situation and future outcome is the result of action and consequence. Our present condition in life is the consequence of the actions of our previous lives. The tally of a person’s life is their karma (action). This is the total of the good works or sacred practices which have been carried out. The merit gained through good works can reduce sufferings in the next life. In the short-term a good karma will lead to reincarnation in more fortunate circumstances, or in a higher caste. Eventually it may make possible the ideal, which is moksha (release from this earth and from the cycle of rebirth).

Moksha (freedom, liberation, salvation, nirvana). Liberation from the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation) is the ultimate goal of Hindu religious life. The ultimate purpose of any devout Hindu is to escape from the recurring pattern of existence. This involves the realization of one’s relationship with God (union with the Brahman), the achievement of mental peace and detachment from worldly concerns. This union can be achieved through True Knowledge (scholarly study), devotion to a god, meditation, or karma (right work).

Eight major practices

Hinduism embraces many practices and traditions. Some Hindu religious practices are summarized below.

Durga - goddess of war 400pxWorship of images. This devotion consists of a range of ritual offerings and prayers before an image of a deity in temples and home shrines. Reverence toward sacred images is very important; they are treated as kings in their temples and honored guests in people’s homes. Worship of images, icons, and statues of the gods is a feature of both home and temple devotions. The deity is considered present in the image and is an honored guest. Worship has traditionally been done individually rather than in groups. The worshipper acknowledges that they are inferior to and dependent upon the divine. They offer what they think the god (or goddess) likes (such as flowers, water, fruit, special foods, grains, coconuts, oils or incense) and receive blessings and protection in return. If the offering is made in a temple, a portion of it is kept for use by the temple, and the rest is returned, now blessed by the deity. Offerings made in the household shrine are later divided among family members.

Hindus are theoretically obliged to perform five daily sacrifices. These are offerings to the gods, ancestors, animals, humans (by offering hospitality to members of one’s caste) and reciting the Vedic verses as worship to Brahman.

In Hinduism, there are many rituals that may be practiced at each stage of life, and in a variety of circumstances, both in routine practice at home and in formal celebrations. Devout Hindus perform daily rituals, such as worshiping at dawn after bathing. Vedic rituals and chanting of Vedic hymns are observed on special occasions, such as a Hindu wedding. Other major life-stage events, such as rituals after death, include the yajña (sacrifice) and chanting of Vedic mantras.

Ritual purification. Purity and its opposite, pollution, are vitally important for Hindus. Ritual purification, usually with water, is a typical feature of most religious observance. The bathing of the body in rivers considered holy such as the Ganges is valued highly. For example, during the Pitcher Festival, millions of Hindus plunge into the Ganges river to wash away their sins. Bathing in the Ganges even once is supposed to ensure salvation. Avoidance of the impure (such as taking animal life, eating flesh, associating with dead things, or body fluids) is another feature of Hindu ritual and is important for repressing pollution.

Ceremonies Hindus have many of ceremonies. There are family ceremonies, caste ceremonies. and village ceremonies. Many ceremonies incorporate fire. Hindus believe that fires are sacred.

Gurus. Guru is a Sanskrit term for someone who is a “teacher, guide, expert, or master” of certain knowledge or field. In Hinduism, a guru is a spiritual guide on the Hindu religion. Gurus are ancient and central figures in the traditions of Hinduism. They are an essential part of knowing god.

Yoga. Yoga is a system of physical and spiritual techniques for achieving balance and harmony within yourself, the environment, and with others. It is one of the paths to achieve union with Brahman.

Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via physical postures and exercises (asanas), controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced to improve the body’s physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment. The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to locate and activate the chakras (centers of energy), thereby raising the kundalini (dominant spiritual power). This in turn is believed to help remove blockages (disease) in the mind and body.

Meditation More philosophically-minded Hindus seek realization of the self through intense meditation. Types of meditation include:
– Mantra meditation, where a syllable or word, usually without any particular meaning, is repeated to focus the mind.
– Transcendental meditation is a mantra meditation that repeats Tantric names of Hindu deities.
– Yoga meditation, such as focusing the attention on the “spot between the eyebrows”, or focusing on particular sounds.

Vegetarianism Hinduism does not require a vegetarian diet, but many Hindus avoid eating meat because of their belief that it minimizes hurting other life forms. Because Hinduism teaches that all of nature is divine (pantheism), Hindus believe that god manifests in the various forms that are found in nature, including animals, rivers, mountains and earth. Hindus are called to respect and honor the divine in all forms (so all life is considered to be sacred), and to follow the principle of ahimsa (to do no harm). Vegetarianism is a simple way to practice ahimsa through what they eat. The cow is the animal that is most revered (considered sacred) by Hindus. It’s a source of food, a symbol of life and may never be killed.

Reincarnation is one of the basic beliefs in Hinduism. Souls can move not only among different levels of human society, but also into other animals – hence the vegetarianism of many Hindus.

Bindi A bindi is an ornamental mark (often a red dot) between the eyebrows of Hindu women. It’s a religious symbol that identifies a person’s “third eye”, or what Hindus believe is the center of a person’s nervous system, the area in which a person can see spiritual truths. In meditation, this spot between the eyebrows is where one focuses their sight. The third-eye chakra is a center of energy, believed to be located between the eyebrows. A bindi placed at this position is said to retain and enhance this energy, strengthening one’s concentration.

Culture

India’s caste system splits up Hindus into different societal groups according to their work and birth. It’s a hierarchical social system. In this system, Hindus are divided up into four classes: the Brahmins (the priestly class – teachers and intellectuals); the Kshatriyas (the ruling, administrative and warrior class); the Vaishyas (the class of artisans, tradesmen, farmers and merchants); and the Shudras (manual workers). Some people fall outside this system, including tribal people and the Dalits (previously known as “untouchables”).

For centuries, caste dictated almost every aspect of Hindu religious and social life, with each group occupying a specific place in this complex hierarchy. It determined the type of occupations a person could pursue and the social interactions that they could have. The higher the person’s caste, the more the person was blessed with the benefits and luxuries of life. Although originally caste depended upon a person’s work, it soon became hereditary. Each person was born into an unalterable social status. The three key areas of life dominated by caste were marriage, meals and religious worship.

People who violated social norms could be punished by being made “untouchables.” This was not the lowest caste – they and their descendants were completely outside of the caste system. Untouchables were considered so impure that any contact with them would cause contamination and the person would have to bathe and wash their clothing immediately. Untouchables could not even eat in the same room as caste members. The untouchables did work that no-one else would do, like scavenging animal carcasses, leather-work, or killing rats and other pests. And they could not be cremated when they died.

Reincarnation is one of the basic beliefs in Hinduism. After each life, a soul is reborn into a new material form which depends upon the virtuousness of its previous behavior. Thus, a truly virtuous person from the Shudra caste could be rewarded with rebirth as a Brahmin in their next life. Within a life cycle, people had little social mobility. They had to strive for virtue during their present lives to attain a higher status the next time around.

After India attained independence in 1947, the country introduced laws to make discrimination against lower castes illegal and to improve their socioeconomic positions. In recent decades, with the spread of secular education and growing urbanization, the influence of caste has declined, especially in cities where different castes live side-by-side and inter-caste marriages are becoming more common. For example, in June 2017, Ram Nath Kovind (from the marginalized Dalit community) was elected India’s new president. However, despite laws that aim to create equality, the caste system in India continues to have a strong impact on society

Conclusion

This post has summarized aspects of the history, major beliefs, major practices and culture of the Hindu faith. These practices and culture impact everyday life in India, which is predicted to become the world’s most populous country in 2022.

Written, August 2017

Also see: Basic Islam

Complex creation

William Shakespeare is the best-selling fiction author of all time. But his plays and poetry were written over 400 years ago. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has decided that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand. So it has commissioned 36 playwrights in a 3-year project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.

CERN 1 400pxIs the universe more complex than we realize? Many people think that scientists understand how it was formed and how it works. But even the most brilliant scholars don’t understand this. For example, here’s summary of what they know (and don’t know) about the forces and particles that make up the universe. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind.

Fundamental forces

The four fundamental forces of nature are gravity (which holds planets, stars and galaxies together), electromagnetism (which holds atoms together so that electrons are attracted to the nucleus), the strong nuclear force (which holds the atomic nucleus together) and the weak nuclear force (which is involved in radioactive decay). These forces hold together atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. Gravity is described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, while the other three forces are part of the Standard Model of particle physics.

How well do we understand these forces? Let’s look at the force of gravity.

Gravity

In the late 16th century Isaac Newton developed three laws of motion, which included a description of gravity. Newton’s laws of motion described the movement of objects. In 1915 Einstein’s theory of general relativity replaced Newtonian mechanics. This theory describes the force of gravity and describes the motions of bodies in our solar system. The general theory of relativity describes an expanding universe, which has been detected by scientists (although some dispute whether the universe is expanding). But observations of distant spiral galaxies defy the predictions of general relativity. To explain this behavior, scientists postulate the existence of dark matter and dark energy. They are named “dark” because they can’t be detected. So they are “fudge factors” to make the mathematical model work. Dark matter and dark energy are theoretical inventions that explain observations we cannot otherwise understand.

On the scale of galaxies, gravity appears to be stronger than can be accounted for using only particles that are able to emit light. So scientists added dark matter as 27% of the mass-energy of the universe. But these particles have never been directly detected! The Hubble Space Telescope found that the expansion of the universe is increasing with time, instead of decreasing as was expected from the force of gravity due to the matter in the universe (whether ordinary or dark matter). So scientists added “dark energy” (a weak anti-gravity force that acts independently of matter) as 68% of the mass-energy of the Universe. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious.

However, the amount of dark matter and dark energy postulated in the universe is huge. The mass-energy of the universe is assumed to be 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter and 5% observable matter! This means that without the fudge factor, the general theory of relativity only explains 5% of what is observed to exist! So, the universe is so complex that the best mathematical description of gravity needs to be adjusted by a factor of 95%! General relativity is also part of the framework of the standard Big Bang model of cosmology.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the forces that control it. For example, we don’t really know:
– if dark matter exists
– if dark energy exists
– if the universe is really expanding (because it can’t be explained by general relativity without using these fudge factors)
–  if Einstein’s theory of gravity is correct (because it can’t explain the universe without using these fudge factors).

This situation is influenced by the fact that astronomy uses remote sensing (measurements made from a distance) to gather its data. Many assumptions are made when interpreting these data and the assumptions have a large influence on the findings. If any of the assumptions are wrong, then the findings are probably also wrong.

These fundamental forces act on atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies. How well do we understand the matter that makes up atoms, molecules, planets and galaxies? Let’s look at the particles that combine to form atoms.

Fundamental particles

CERN 5 400pxIn late 1800s scientists thought that the atom was the smallest building block of nature. But then the electron was discovered in 1897, the proton in 1919 and the neutron in 1932. By the mid-1960’s, it was realized that the understanding that atoms were composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, was insufficient to explain the many subatomic particles being discovered. Via quantum theory, protons and neutrons were found to contain quarks—now considered elementary particles. Then the Standard Model of particle physics (of fundamental particles and their interactions) was developed to explain the behavior of these subatomic particles. The Standard Model is a mathematical equation that describes the particles and forces that govern quantum physics.

In the Standard Model there are 61 elementary particles (18 quarks, 18 antiquarks, 6 leptons, 6 antileptons, 8 gluons, 4 electroweak bosons, and one higgs boson). This number varies according to what is assumed to be an elementary particle. So in a century the number of fundamental particles has risen from one to 61! That’s a huge increase! The particulate structure of creation was more complex that was imagined. I wonder how many more fundamental particles will be discovered in the next 100 years?

But the Standard Model that describes these particles can’t explain gravity, dark matter or dark energy! The quantum theory used to describe the micro world, and the general theory of relativity used to describe the macro world, are difficult to fit into a single framework. No one has managed to make the two mathematically compatible in the context of the Standard Model.

So the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scholars to understand all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter.

The implications of this complexity

Clearly the forces and particles of the universe are complex. The pattern (design) of the universe is too complex for the human mind to understand. This shows that the intelligence behind the universe is greater than the intelligence of the human mind. Is this evidence of design by a being that is more intelligent than humanity? This is consistent with what the Bible says.

What the Bible says

According to the Bible, Jesus Christ created and sustains the universe.

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15-17NLT).

Jesus “existed before anything was created”, including time. As He existed before time was created, Jesus is eternal. In this way, He is different to His creation (the universe). He is “supreme over all creation” because He “created everything”. He created the stars and galaxies (“the heavenly realms”). He not only made the “things we can see” (the visible universe), but He also made “the things we can’t see” (so there is a spiritual unseen dimension to God’s creation which is inhabited by angels). And Jesus “holds all creation together”. This means He controls all the forces of nature including gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. Hebrews also says that Jesus “sustains everything by the mighty power of His command” (Heb. 1:3).

Solomon said, “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). God works in nature, in the spiritual world, in society and in our own lives. This means that no-one can discover the full extent of what God does. Our understanding is limited. Our knowledge is finite, and thus infinitely less than God’s. Some of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God is evident in His creation. But it is so vast and our capacity is so limited and our life is so short that we only understand a miniscule part of what God does. Consequently, there are many mysteries that we don’t understand. For example, when science answers one question usually several replace it. There’s always more to discover.

If complexity requires a creator, who created God?

A common objection to the idea of an intelligent creator is “if all complex things require an intelligent creator, then why is that creator himself not bound to the same rule? Would that complex deity not require an even more complex creator, and so on, for infinity?”.

What this fails to acknowledge is that there are two categories of complex things – those that have a beginning (and so were created) and those that don’t have a beginning (and so were not created). Those that have a beginning (such as the universe and people) do require an even more complex creator. The reason for this is that everything which has a beginning has a cause. This is the law of cause and effect. But as mentioned above God is in a different category. He has no beginning; He is eternal. God, as creator of time, is outside of time. This means He has no beginning in time. As He has always existed, He doesn’t need a cause. So the seemingly endless sequence proposed by the questioner stops at God – He doesn’t have a more complex creator.

Summary

We have seen that the universe is too complicated for our most brilliant scientists to understand all aspects of the forces that control it and all aspects of the fundamental particles that are the building-blocks of the atoms and molecules of matter. This complexity should cause us to be humble before our God who created and sustains the universe. And to praise Him as Paul did when he wrote:
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

Written, August 2017

Also see: How the universe is held together

Build your house on the rock

Aug 2017 image 400pxWhen Jesus wanted His listeners to understand how important it was to put His words into actions, He chose to tell a parable…

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash (Matthew 7:24-27NLT).

Not everyone ends up building an actual house. But we all have to build a life. Which means, in a world that gets harder and more complicated with each passing year, we need to make wise decisions. Decisions about where it’s safe to live, how to earn money, who we can trust to hang out with… and lots and lots of moral decisions. For example, every day there are temptations to lie, steal, slander, be cruel or at least indifferent to someone we can help. And sometimes a terrible test comes along when we least expect it. People have woken up and, without any planning, made split decisions that have landed them in jail… or worse. We can lose our temper in a parking lot or agree to cover up corruption at work.

So, if building a life is like building a house then how do we build wisely? How do we avoid the rain, winds and floods that tear lives apart? Jesus tells us to build our life foundation on His words. When He said this Jesus was concluding the most important and world changing speech of all time – His famous Sermon On The Mount. In it He asks people to be honest with themselves and God. And He challenges people to live their lives to God’s high standard. Deep down we know these things are right.

Are you ready to start a fresh building? Considering this magnificent fact may be a help… Jesus willingly went to the cross and sacrificed His life for the sake of the world. It shows us that His words aren’t empty. On the contrary – they’re solid as a rock.

Bible Verse: Matthew 7:24 Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock”.

Prayer: Dear God, help me to start my life afresh with Jesus as my foundation.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, August 2017

God: Fill the earth and subdue it

July-17_WhenGodSaid 400pxThe earth is in trouble. Forests are disappearing. Rates of extinction for animals and plants are 1,000 times greater than before the industrial revolution. Every minute a garbage truck’s worth of plastic slips into the world’s oceans. By 2050 the amount of plastic by weight floating at various depths will equal the total amount of all fish (World Economic Forum report).

Recently, scientists have started calling our age the Anthropocene era – the first point in history in which humans have become the major environmental influence on the planet. Sadly, so much of our impact on the world is destructive of other forms of life.

Are we pleasing God? When God told us in Genesis – back in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, that we were to: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.  … did God want us to care for creatures other than ourselves? Did He want us to care for plants and ecosystems? Or should we just focus on increasing the human population?

The answer to these questions is found in the same chapter of Genesis. As God looked at each part of His creation He declared it to be good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and very good (Gen. 1:31). Which means creation is not just good because it helps humans survive and thrive. It is also good in and of itself – having both instrumental and intrinsic goodness. And because we humans have been given the task of ruling creation it’s our responsibility to safeguard this intrinsic goodness. Which is terribly difficult. But then, making hard decisions is the lot of all rulers. As we balance competing interests, sacrifices will be inevitable.

Some may say that, since God promises ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ when Jesus returns, we shouldn’t be too bothered about this world. After all, isn’t it going to pass away? Yet that would be ignoring both God’s command and basic common sense. You see, since we have no timetable for Jesus’s return we must plan for both the short and long term. Indeed, our wait for Jesus could be a long time. Are we really happy to leave a toxic and treeless planet for our children’s children?

If you’ve only just realized the extent of your responsibility to God’s creation then please take action where you can. It’s your duty.

Bible Verse: Genesis 1:28 Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to be a wise ruler of your creation every day as I wait for Jesus to return.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, July 2017

Hallel: An anthem of praise and thanksgiving

National anthem 5 400pxA national anthem is a song that celebrates a nation’s history, struggles and traditions. It’s a patriotic song that’s sung at important events. The book of Psalms was the Israelites song book. They would have memorized these songs and sung them regularly. The Hallel psalms (113-118) were sung at their three main festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt. 16:1-17). They seem to be equivalent to a national anthem in ancient Israel.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted at the last supper when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the night before He was crucified. The Biblical account finishes, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26NIV). The hymn they sang (chanted) was probably one of the Jewish Hallel (praise) psalms (Ps. 113-118). Apparently, Psalms 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal and Psalms 115-118 after the meal. So, the final song may have been Psalms 115-118 or Psalm 118. The Hebrew verb halal (Strongs #1984) means to praise, celebrate, glory or boast. And Hallelujah (hallel-Yah) means to praise Yahweh (the Hebrew word for God).

The Hallel psalms show that God’s people can look back and ahead with thanksgiving and praise. This pattern of songs of praise and thanksgiving can be traced back to the exodus (Ex. 15:1-21). After the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, the Israelites sang a “song to the Lord” about what God had just done (defeated their enemy) and what He was about to do (the conquest of Canaan).

Here’s a summary of the Hallel psalms.

Psalm 113

The theme is to praise God because He is great and gracious. To be gracious is to be kind and generous. He is great because He is matchless and omniscient (all knowing). He is gracious because he helped the needy then and He helps us in our spiritual need. So the Jews praised God because of His attributes and His actions. This psalm begins and ends with “Praise the Lord” (or hallelujah in Hebrew). We can also praise God for who He is and what He does. He is still great and His kindness is shown in the salvation He offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus. If you are needy, call upon the great God to be gracious to you.

Psalm 114

The theme is to respect God’s awesome power in the Exodus. His power was shown in crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan River. And in the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai that caused the Israelites to tremble in fear (Ex. 19:16-18). And providing water from a rock. These miracles were a demonstration of God’s power. We can also respect God’s awesome power shown in the miraculous resurrection of Jesus.

Before the meal

At the beginning of the annual Passover celebration, the Jews chanted psalms 113-114. This reminded them that their God was great and gracious and that this was demonstrated in the exodus. Like the Jews recalled psalms 113 -114 before the Passover meal, we can praise God when we recall God’s greatness and kindness shown in the salvation He offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus, and His awesome power shown in the miraculous resurrection of Jesus.

So, let’s praise the Lord – “Now and for evermore” and “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets” (Ps. 113:2-3). That means continually and everywhere! That’s what the Jews did in the Hallel and what Christians did in the early church (Acts 2:46-47).

Psalm 115

The theme is to praise the Lord for His love and faithfulness. The absence of miracles caused foreigners to question the existence of Israel’s God. But Israel’s invisible God is greater than their idols. God is trustworthy and will reward the Israelites. It looks ahead saying that God will bless those who trust in Him. And it ends with “Praise the Lord”. We can also praise the Lord for His love shown through the sacrifice of Jesus. Let’s glorify God in all we say and do (1 Cor. 10:31). And not use Him like an idol to get what we want. Are we willing to trust God in difficult circumstances?

Psalm 116

The theme is to praise God for deliverance from death. When in a dangerous situation, God heard the psalmist’s cry for help and he was rescued. His grateful response is to obey and serve the Lord. It ends with “Praise the Lord”. The Jews applied this psalm to their exodus from slavery in Egypt. We can also praise the Lord and obey and serve Him for our deliverance from spiritual death through Jesus and for the resultant spiritual blessings.

Psalm 117

The theme is for the Gentiles to praise God for His great love toward Israel. God’s love for Israel affects their destiny. It ends with “Praise the Lord”. Indeed, today God’s salvation is available to people of all nations. We can also praise God for His great love for us in the salvation He offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Psalm 118  

The theme is to thank God for deliverance from enemies. He answered their call for help. The psalm begins and ends with thanksgiving, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever” (v.1, 29). The Israelites give thanks for deliverance and victory over their enemies (v.5-21). They repeat “God has become my salvation (or deliverer)” (v. 14, 21). They are reminded of the exodus (Ex. 15:2). God rescued them from their enemies. And they respond with rejoicing (v.22-27).

They sing, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22). This probably referred to the king who was now exalted instead of being rejected. It’s a metaphor that describes his changed circumstances. He was like a stone which was discarded by the builders as useless, but now he is important to God like the cornerstone of a building. Imagine Jesus singing “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” on the night before He was rejected and crucified. The Bible applies this verse to Jesus (Mt. 21:42; 23:39; Acts 4:11-12; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pt. 2:7). We can also apply it to Jesus. Let’s exalt Him in a world that rejects Him.

They also sing, “This is the day the Lord has brought about, we will be happy and rejoice in it” (v.24NET). They were rejoicing on the day of their victory and deliverance. Imagine Jesus singing “This is the day the Lord has brought about, we will be happy and rejoice in it” on the night before He was crucified. He brought about a great victory and deliverance for us that we can be happy and rejoice in.

They also sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (v.26). This probably refers to the one who with God’s help has defeated the enemies. The crowds shouted these words during Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (Mt. 21:9; Mk. 11:9; Lk. 19:38; Jn. 12:13). Imagine Jesus singing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” four days after the crowds had shouted it to Him and knowing what was about to happen! We can also apply it to Jesus. He indeed was sent by God the Father.

Psalm 118 ends with praise and thanksgiving, “You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you” (v. 28). And everyone joins in, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”. God delivered the Jews physically, while Jesus delivers us spiritually. Let’s praise and thank God for delivering us from the penalty and power of sin.

This psalm may also be sung at the second coming of Christ by those who believe in Him during the tribulation. In this case it celebrates God’s final victory over evil.

After the meal

Like the Jews recalled psalms 115 -118 after the Passover meal, we can praise the Lord for His love in delivering us from spiritual death (which is the penalty of our sin) through the sacrifice of Jesus. That was a great victory for which we should be grateful, thankful, and joyful. It also means to respond by obeying and serving the Lord. It’s a change from slavery to service.

An anthem of praise

In the Hallel we see that God raises the needy (113), delivers the oppressed (114), is superior to idols (115); receives personal praise (116), national praise (118) and will receive global praise (117). Praise is mentioned nine times and thanks is mentioned six times. And four of the six psalms finish with “Praise the Lord”. So the theme of the Jewish “national anthem” is praise and thanksgiving.

In the Hallel the Jews looked back with gratitude to God’s past acts of salvation (the exodus and the giving of the Torah) and ahead with confidence to God’s future blessings. We can also look back and look ahead. Back to Christ’s death and resurrection, which is God’s greatest act of salvation. And ahead to the finalization of our salvation when we leave this earth to meet the Lord in the air. And to when Christ returns as the powerful Messiah to establish His kingdom on earth. That’s why we can look back and ahead with thanksgiving and praise. What’s your anthem? Is it characterized by praise and thanksgiving?

Written, July 2017

Does God have a sense of humor?

According to the Macquarie dictionary a sense of humor is appreciating what’s amusing, funny or comical. A joke is an amusing or ridiculous circumstance. Laughter is usually normal and healthy, but there are times when it is not. For example, it can mask and trivialize sin (Jas. 4:9).

Of all God’s creatures, human beings alone possess a sense of humor. As they are also made in the image and likeness of God, I suggest that God is capable of humor as well (Gen. 1:26). But of course God doesn’t share all our attributes (such as sinfulness).

Solomon said that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4NIV). For example, we laugh at the things that children do. I wonder whether God (as our Father) laughs at some of the things that we do?

Creation

laughing_kookaburra 1 400pxGod created some funny creatures. For example, the distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra. And it looks like God was having fun when he designed the Australian platypus and bilby. The first English scientists to see a specimen of a duck-billed platypus thought it was a hoax because it had a bill and webbed feet like a duck, which is a bird. They thought the bill of a duck had been attached to the body of an otter, beaver or mole! The bilby is called a “rabbit-eared bandicoot” because it has ears like a rabbit. And its back legs look like those of a kangaroo, but it gallops like a horse!

Recently I went to the zoo with a grandson. We saw lots of God’s creatures. I’m sure God had fun designing all the animals in the web of life. From bacteria to whales. Will they walk, fly or swim? Adding a long neck or stripes. Which would be companions, predators and prey? They are so diverse, but integrated.

Funny incidents in the Bible

platypus 1 400pxThere are some funny incidents in the Bible. As “all-Scripture is God-breathed”, it means that God has caused these to be recorded (2 Tim. 3:16). At Babel the builders constructed a tower “that reaches to the heavens”. Ironically God had to “come down” to see the tower they were building (Gen. 11:4-5)! So it wasn’t very high according to God! Such delusions of grandeur would have made God laugh.

Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachael. She was veiled during the wedding and unrecognized in the darkness of the wedding night and the Bible says, “When morning came, there was Leah!” (Gen. 29:25). What a surprise! Did Jacob drink too much wine at the wedding?

God used a talking donkey to warn and rebuke Balaam for planning to curse Israel (Num. 22:21-35)! And he used a fish to get Jonah to Nineveh!

When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant they added it to their gods by placing it in the temple beside the god Dagon. But next day Dagon was flat on the ground before the ark. So they put Dagon upright once again. But the following day the idol was flat on the ground once again with his head and hands broken off (1 Sam. 5:1-5)! It was obvious who was the stronger God.

When Saul was pursuing David, he went into a cave to relieve himself. It happened that David and his followers were also in the cave and David crept up and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:1-4). Saul looked ridiculously vulnerable!

After being told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathaniel says “Can anything good come from there?”. Then Jesus says that Nathaniel was without deceit! And accepts him as a disciple!

The disciples took a metaphor literally. When Jesus said to them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, they said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread” (Mt. 16:5-12)! They were dumb!

Funny sayings in the Old Testament

Bilby 1 400pxWhen describing a stork, the book of Job says “God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense” (Job 39:17). That’s not very flattering!

God used irony and sarcasm when He answered Job. Where were you when I created the earth? Surely you’re old enough to answer my questions about the creation (Job 38:4, 21)? Of course the answer is no! Job wasn’t there in the beginning, but God was.

Jehoram, was an evil king of Judah who lead the nation into idolatry. The Bible says that “He passed away, to no one’s regret”, didn’t have a funeral fire and wasn’t buried in the tombs of the kings (1 Chr. 21:19-20). That’s a colorful way of saying what people thought about Jehoram.

Some of Solomon’s proverbs are funny:
– “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (11:22)
– “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9). And “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm” (27:15).
– “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!”” (22:13). That sounds like a good excuse to stay home!

God mocks idols. They had mouths, but can’t speak. Eyes, but can’t see. Ears but can’t hear. And mouths, but can’t breathe. They seem to be useless and dead! And then He adds the punch line: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:15-18)! Idols are a fraud and worthless (Jer. 10:14-15). They were just a dead stone or block of wood (Isa. 44:9-20; Hab. 2:18-10).

God can use wordplay in serious situations. For example, the Lord showed Jeremiah the branch of an almond tree and said “I am watching” (Jer. 1:11). The Hebrew word for almond (saqed) sounds like the word for watching (soqed).

Funny sayings in the New Testament

Jesus used some funny illustrations:
– He said to the hypocrites, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3). This hyperbole is hilarious!
– After He spoke with a rich man, Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24). This is another exaggeration.
– He said the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders were “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mt.23:27).
– He said to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mt. 23:24). They were leading people into danger like blind guides (Lk. 6:39). And by concentrating on minor matters (like gnats), they missed dealing with major matters (like camels). Jesus also used a pun here as the Aramaic word for gnat is galma and for camel is gamla.
– He also mentions lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket, building a house on sand, and a father giving their child stones instead of bread. All of which are ridiculous.
– And He makes a Samaritan behave better than a priest and Levite (Lk. 10:30-35).
The common people would have laughed at these comical images.

Jesus also used puns like saying “on this rock I will build my church” when he was speaking to Peter (whose Greek name meant detached stone) (Mt. 16:18).

When describing Abraham, the writer of Hebrews says, “from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12). That’s a colourful way of saying that he was very old when Isaac was conceived.

There are probably lots of other incidents and sayings in the Bible that would have been shocking or amusing in the culture of the time, but are lost on us today. For example, there is wordplay in the names of people and places in the Old Testament.

God laughs

The Bible says that God laughs when nations rebel against Him (Ps. 2:4; 59:8). He scoffs at them. God also laughs when the wicked plot against the righteous (Ps. 37:12-13). They don’t realize it’s impossible to defeat the omnipotent God. It’s ludicrous because of the great difference in power.

We may say that God has the last laugh. It may be delayed; and evil may appear to have prevailed. But in the end, God will be victorious.

God is happy and joyful

When the Jews are delivered from their enemies in the future, the Bible says that God “will take great delight in you … will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). This is similar to Paul saying that God is happy (“makariou” is translated as “blessed”) (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15). This is lasting joy and not just a transient emotion.

Jesus used wordplay

Large crowds of people followed Jesus to hear Him speak and see Him do miracles. Obviously He was a skilled orator. And He would have seen the humor in life – that which is ludicrous or incongruous. He used exaggeration, irony, sarcasm, and satire to help communicate His message. It may have been like street theater with subtle wit and wordplay, but with a serious message.

Jesus also welcomed children and children usually see the funny side of life (Mt. 19:13-14; Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17).

Lessons for us

Humor is cultural and situational and doesn’t always translate into other languages. For this reason, much of the humor in the Bible is probably lost to us today. But we have seen that there is evidence that God has a sense of humor. This is consistent with a God who is personal and who sustains the world.

Coarse jokes are ungodly (Eph. 5:4). And some comedy relates to sinful behavior. This is not part of God’s character. It has been said that:

God is serious because sin is serious. God finds nothing funny about the state of the world. How could a God so holy and righteous be funny in a world where sin is still present? Jesus was a serious person because He was on a serious mission. Our eternal life was a serious issue to Him. Leaving His glory in heaven to come into the world was no fun. The death on the cross was no fun at all. He didn’t come to put people down, but to lift them up.

This is true, but it is clear that God is joyful and Jesus used wordplay. God is serious and He has a sense of humor. He has both attributes, not just one or the other. So, let’s have a balanced view of God.

The joy of the Christian life can be expressed in humor. While worldly humor glorifies sin, puts down others, ridicules righteousness, and hurts the soul – Godly humor encourages others, honors the Lord, and restores the soul. And humor helps us get through life by providing relief from the seriousness of life. So, let’s balance the seriousness and humor of life. And, like Jesus, let’s use appropriate humor to promote our communication with other people.

Summary

Although we are usually unaware of it, God is capable of good humor and there is evidence of this in the Bible and in creation. And the carrying out His plan of salvation and His coming exaltation bring Him much joy. Do we share in this joy?

Written, June 2017

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