I recently met with a colleague who visiting our office on a business trip from another country in Europe. It was lunch time and he was sitting at his desk. I was on my way out to lunch, when I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that I ought to see if he had plans and ask him to lunch. So, I turned around and went back to our area and asked him if he had plans. He had no plans for lunch that day, so I invited him to go to lunch with me.
I have had a history of working with him and it was very nice to get together for a meal. We went to a Mexican restaurant, which he enjoyed, as he was able to get a vegetarian meal. He is originally from India and we were talking about all the places he’s lived in India. Then I asked about Punjab, commenting that I’d heard they have their own religion there. So, we started talking about religion in general. My colleague said that many different religions are practiced in India (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, etc.) and that India is very open about religion. I asked him what he meant by “open”. He said that members of each religion will visit and talk with and be friends with people of other religions and even visit their respective places of worship and spend time together during festivals. He even said he’s visited Christian churches in India before. However he said that is not the case for Islam – as Hindus, they don’t go into mosques.
He went on to tell me more about Hinduism, his beliefs and some of the stories in their scriptures. During our conversation, he described how the best schools in India were Christian schools – he specifically mentioned Catholic and Protestant. I commented on his mentioning Catholic and Protestant and asked about his understanding of the difference between the 2? He said that he understood that Catholic was the one true church until the protestant church split away. I asked him if he’d heard of the Protestant Reformation. He said no. I asked if he’d heard of Martin Luther. He said, “Yes, Martin Luther King, right?” I said no, that Martin Luther King was the civil rights leader in America in the 1960’s. I’m talking about Martin Luther. He said, “Wasn’t he a philosopher?” So, I went on to explain what happened during the Protestant Reformation. He asked when all this happened, and I told him about the day (October 30th 1517) when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses (or complaints) against the Catholic Church on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. I explained that Martin Luther was actually a Catholic Monk and he didn’t want to create a new church, rather he wanted to reform the church because he saw that they were straying away from the Bible – I also explained the situation that was occurring with selling indulgences. I explained that the Protestant Reformation spread throughout Europe and the UK during that time period. This was the time when the recent invention of printing press allowed the “common man” to have his own copy of the Bible for a cheaper cost, which helped the spread of this reformation. We even talked about how the countries of Europe to this day are considered either Catholic (e.g. France, Poland, Italy and Spain) or Protestant (Germany, Netherlands, England, etc.).
During this part of the conversation, he even mentioned the level of Atheism in the UK, where he said that atheists represent about 20% of the population. I told him in the US it is somewhere between 5 and 10%. We talked about how it is hard to believe that someone could believe that the Universe and everything in it came into existence from nothing with no cause, and that life in all of its complexity, including the DNA molecule, could come into existence without an intelligent designer. He agreed then he started to tell me about how in Hinduism there are three different gods Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer. I think they were Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva. Then he started to tell me in general about Hinduism and some of the scriptures. After I was asking him many questions he told me about avatars and how Krishna was an avatar. As we went on talking, I asked him about the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation. He said that everyone must be reborn so that whatever body you’re living in now you will die and eventually be reborn into a different body. I was asking him a lot of questions during this whole time we were talking about Hinduism and learning quite a bit. For example he said the final state of a person according to Hinduism is Moksha. But the new thing that I learned was that Moksha according to him is a state of non-existence that’s the final state of a person (I had previously thought that Moksha was kind of like Nirvana). He also revealed that there is a heaven and hell in Hinduism. There is one god that keeps track of all the things you do in this life. And there’s another god which, by his description of it, almost sounded like the grim reaper who will take a person to either heaven or hell. According to him, after you have served your sentence then you’ll get reborn into another body.
Then I asked him if he knew what the concept of “grace” means in Christianity. He said he had definitely heard of that phrase – the grace of God, but what he described sounded more like the blessings of God. So I talked to him about the meaning of grace. I told him that grace is defined as “unmerited favor from God”, meaning, you didn’t do anything to earn it. With grace, you are getting good things that you don’t deserve. Kind of a parallel concept, I told him about is mercy. Mercy is where you don’t get the bad things (i.e. punishment) that you do deserve. Those two concepts, I explained, are related like two sides of the coin. He seemed to understand. I explained that all people have sinned and are accountable to God for those sins and the punishment due for them. I asked him if he had any idea how to obtain or access the grace and mercy of God? He thought for a while – I let there be an awkward silence. Finally, he said no. I explained to him, this is where Jesus comes in. God came to earth in the person of Jesus and lived a perfect (sinless) life. He followed the 10 commandments to a tee. I asked if he knew what the 10 commandments were. He had heard of them, but couldn’t name any. I explained that these are laws and rules for living that God gave to the Israelites long ago, and gave him a few examples. So, Jesus lived a perfect life and did not deserve to die, but you know that he was killed by crucifixion on a cross, right? He said yes. I explained that Jesus was paying for punishment we deserved for our sins. So, if we believe that we have sinned and deserved the punishment that Jesus experienced and that He died in our place, then we can go to heaven forever to be with God. This is the Good News – this is the Gospel. But if we don’t believe in Him and His sacrificial death for us, then we have to go to hell to pay for our sins ourselves. In Christianity, this life is the time we have to choose Jesus. After we die, there are no second chances – this is it! The purpose of life is to know Christ and once you know Him, to make Him known to others. He indicated he understood.
We covered a lot of ground in this conversation and I pray that God would take my imperfect witness and help my Indian colleague understand it and consider his relationship with God and his destination in eternity!