Andy Kind is the evangelist at Redeemer King. In this blog series Andy shares his weekly adventures sharing the gospel.
There’s a street in Chesterfield town centre which is a hive of spiritual activity. It’s where the JW’s hang out, where the street preachers shout shouty things, and where you’ll find the most revered spiritual shrine of all: Greggs.
I was approached along this street recently by a very friendly man offering me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I was fasting Greggs that day so I was hungry but in no hurry. He asked me if I’d like to have a copy, and I accepted quicker than I accept cookies on a first-time website visit.
The Bhagavad Gita was what Ghandhi called his ‘spiritual dictionary’. It’s written as a poem (Bhagavad Gita means ‘divine song’) and features a conversation between a warrior and the Hindu God, Krishna. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas) use the Gita as their scripture of choice. My new friend was called Yurich and was clever, courageous, engaging and from France. I was genuinely interested to hear what he had to say and what his religion meant to him. Given Krishna’s influence on the hippie culture of the 60s, I also suspected that at some point he would call me dude and tell me to ‘chill out’.
Hinduism has about 330 million Gods, and in most strands of Hinduism these gods are like rivers that sweep you along to the ocean-like supreme being, Brahma. Brahma is both impersonal and unknowable (can’t wait to meet him – sounds like quite the welcome is in store) but he’s a sort of Troy McClure god: ‘You might remember me from such tributary gods as Vishnu, Shiva and that one which is an elephant.’ However, the Hare Krishnas believe that it’s Krishna who is the Supreme Being, and that he is actually a personal God. So I asked….
‘Does Krishna love me?’ I asked.
‘Krishna loves you more than you can imagine,’ he said.
‘That sounds great. And how does he show me this?’
‘He gives freely to everyone who asks.’
‘That’s interesting. Sounds a lot like Jesus.’ (Not only does it sound like Jesus – that’s actually a paraphrase of James 1:5. Ironically, no such sentence is found in the Bhagavad Gita.)
‘So what’s the difference between Jesus and Krisha then?’ I asked.
Yurich proceeded to explain that Jesus came for a particular time and a particular purpose. Jesus was apparently an avatar of Krishna, in the same way that Mohammed or Buddha might be.
‘So Jesus isn’t the only way to God,’ Yurich asserted.
‘But he claimed to be though,’ I countered.
‘He came for a particular purpose.’
‘Which was what? To confuse everyone by telling lies?’
‘Hey, chill out dude,’ he didn’t say, which I found upsetting.
The reason that a lot of these Eastern religions can seem very enticing – or at least reassuring – is that they seem to say that there are many ways to God. Yurich wanted me to believe that Jesus was one way of getting me to Krishna, just like Mohammed would be for Muslims. Krishna, Yurich would say (in fact he did say precisely this) has revealed himself in the form of avatars at different points throughout history. Now, that sounds superficially hopeful and I totally agree that it would lead to much more peace in the world if we all thought we were on different paths to the same heavenly place. The problem is, when you take anything more than a cursory glance at the major religions of the world, you see that they don’t actually claim to be leading to the same place at all. At all. The core of Christianity is that Jesus is God, he died on a cross, and three days later he rose again. Islam teaches that not only are those things untrue, but to believe them will get you sent to hell. Both Christianity and Islam might be false, but they can’t both be true because they are opposites. If both these figures (Mohammed and Jesus) are characters played by Krishna then he really needs to check his notes because the plot holes in this story are gross. Also, if Buddha is an avatar of Krishna then he’s a rubbish one because he doesn’t even believe in himself (Buddha was agnostic)! I need to wait for the Director’s cut for this Krishna film because the version I’m watching makes no sense and probably has Adam Sandler in it.
I would like it if all roads led to God. But if all roads did lead to God, we would still be left with the question of what that God is like. The reason I asked Yurich how Krishna showed his unimaginable love for me was because the idiom ‘actions speak louder than words’ applies to religion as much as it does to anything else. If any God is claiming to love me even at least as much as I can imagine, let alone ‘more than you can imagine’, then I want to know how he has shown that. Full credit to Islam, Allah doesn’t claim to love unbelievers so at least I know where I stand. Buddhism doesn’t believe in a God at all so there isn’t anyone to be loved by. Krishna certainly appears to be preferable to the Brahma of standard Hinduism because at least he’s supposedly personal, but is he knowable? And if so, how? If I think about the people who love me lots, I tend to know them – and I’m allowed to know them. They aren’t vague shadows on the edge of my social circle, instead they tend to show up and personalise themselves. We also have a word for people who love you from a distance without revealing themselves – we call them stalkers. The chat with Yurich reminded me of a capricious schoolboy:
‘Hey, my mate fancies you.’
‘Really, who is it?’
‘I’m not telling you.’
Against all of that, Romans 5 tells us that ‘this is how God demonstrates His love for us: whilst we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. Both Yurich and I agreed that our respective God loved the other person extravagantly. But I could point to something where my God backed up his words with actions. Love looks like something. Love does something. Love wins by being active and well-defined, not by being vague and apathetic.
As we finished our conversation, I suggested that we pray for each other.
‘How would you pray for me?’ I asked.
‘Well I’ve sort of been praying for you this whole time.’
‘So……you wouldn’t? Can I pray for you though?’
It’s not Yurich’s fault that he couldn’t pray for me. He doesn’t actually believe in a God who shows up or comes to find us. For him, salvation comes from having the right consciousness. But he was really open to letting me pray for him, so as the queue formed in Greggs I placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed God’s love over him and that Jesus would show up and reveal himself.
‘It’s been epic,’ he said with a lovely smile as we hugged it out. ‘I love it!’ I responded. I wasn’t really talking about our conversation any more – I’d only officially sworn off Gregg’s and I’d just remembered that there’s a Pound Bakery in Chesterfield. Love looks like something, and sometimes it looks like a double sausage and egg muffin.