Misplaced Jesus, Theology — June 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Gandhi, Lao Tzu & Jesus’ Other Sheep

by

Throughout my life I have found God in places that He wasn’t supposed to be, at least not according to the faith I was raised in. These, often seemingly paradoxical, experiences prepared me to see God in the sacred writings of Eastern religious traditions completely unrelated to Christianity.

During my travels I’ve felt like God smiled while I danced with child soldiers in Africa and got goose bumps singing rock and roll at a Midwestern Bible Camp. When I returned home and began to process these encounters I was confused. I couldn’t reconcile the Scriptures with my experiences.

With a taste for adventure, I wanted to discover just how big God was, but I wasn’t quite sure where to turn. So I looked East and tried to discover what the Asian traditions knew of God, and look for signs of God’s Spirit in their sacred writings. I decided to use the Apostle Paul’s “fruit of the spirit” as my litmus test for the work of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22)

So I thought, where better to start than Gandhi? After all, everyone always spoke highly of him. As I read his autobiography I was shocked to hear him speak intimately of his relationship with God: The existence of God is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within. Such testimony is to be found in the experiences of an unbroken line of prophets and sages in all countries and climes.

It struck me that Gandhi was experiencing the real presence of God within, and it had transformed his life. I read on as he exemplified these biblical fruits of the spirit, and even pointed to Jesus as his inspiration. All this was too much to ignore, and I began to suspect that God was at work, even outside of Christianity.

Jesus’ words have helped me to make sense of these faithful people from other traditions. He said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

Maybe the Spirit of God was calling people of different faiths, and this same Spirit was helping me to see this work. I began to voraciously read the world’s sacred texts. And while I found many important differences between religions (including many things I disagreed with) I found a voice of truth in each scripture.

In the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu I read words that spoke to the heart of Jesus’ message: The Master leads
 by emptying people’s minds 
and filling their cores, by weakening their ambition 
and toughening their resolve. He helps people lose everything
 they know, everything they desire, and creates confusion
 in those who think that they know.

Lao Tzu in 600BC seemed to be speaking of a Master much like Jesus. “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39). The Lao Tzu passage even echos themes found in Mary’s Magnificat, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the holy; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” (Luke 1:46-55)

I began hearing the voices of God-seekers around the world and I felt my calling was to proclaim the Gospel as standing among and clarifying the other great traditions.

I am now convinced that people of all faiths need to work together to celebrate what God has done in their lives. We will not all agree on theology, but true believers can share the love that God has put in our hearts.

Experiencing the Spirit of God in different traditions has challenged my faith. I now believe that we must celebrate what God is doing in other traditions while remaining faithful to our own convictions. My hope is that Christians can begin to see Sufi Muslims the way Catholics currently see Presbyterians.

We are called to celebrate faithfulness, while being willing to participate in vigorous debate where we disagree. I will end with the words I hear from a Monk on Greek mountain top: “we do not need to speculate on where God is or is not, but only confess where we have seen God and invite others to meet God with us.”

18 Comments

  • Nate,

    You stated “I am now convinced that people of all faiths need to work together to celebrate what God has done in their lives. We will not all agree on theology, but true believers can share the love that God has put in our hearts.”

    There are several shades of Universalism. All of which are roundly rejected by biblical and orthodox Christianity. Your statement is consistent with the stronger expressions of Universalism. Your statement indicates that you believe the real, actual, true God is working in and through “all faiths” and that true belief and divinely created love within the soul is mutually exclusive from (and not dependent upon) being theologically informed in any specific manner.

    To help me understand your perspective more clearly…is there ANY expression of “faith” you deem as false, harmful to humanity, deleterious to one’s soul, entirely devoid of the true God, and ultimately damning? If so, could you name them for us? And if so, by what standard do you disqualify those expressions of faith you deem as damningly spurious?

    It seems a plain understanding of your words indicates that you do NOT believe ANY faith to be damningly spurious. Is that so?

    However you do reference the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 as your “litmus test for the work of the Spirit.” as opposed to a specific theologically paradigm. But what of the faiths where the attributes of Galatians 5 you listed are in short supply? Are they authentic expressions of faith OR are they damning counterfeits OR are they counterfeits without consequence to the soul in your opinion?

    And what of atheists? You have lifted the attributes listed in Galatians 5 from their context and applied them in a universal way to various belief systems. Does this also apply to the system of non-belief, to atheism? By your litmus test of where God is working – the attributes labeled as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 generically defined – many atheists make the cut. There are many atheists who are “good” people and exhibit such characteristics. According to your beliefs, do they also have God working in them, even though they vehemently reject such a position?

    THANKS for any clarity on your perspective. Your bio says among other things you are a Midwestern minister. I’m curious, in what context do you minister? Thanks.

  • Great questions. Many of them I have asked myself during faith journey.

    I believe that there are people of all faiths that “are false, harmful to humanity, deleterious to one’s soul, entirely devoid of the true God, and ultimately damning.” Jesus confidently preached that there were those who where on the wrong path. “Narrow is the road and few find it.” This certainly applies to people of all faiths who do not have true faith. No religion says that everyone in that religions is living right.

    But I think that God loves all of God’s children. As first John says “God is love and whoever loves is of God.”

    I understand that there are some compelling ways to interpret Scripture that would lead someone to a very exclusivist position.

    But I feel confident that if people take the time to read the sacred scriptures of the world and make friends from other traditions you will see God at work in unexpected places.

  • Nate,

    THANKS for your response. I appreciate you taking the time. Your response has sparked further questions in me about your ultimate perspective. I do not want to monopolize the comment section in this post or come across long-winded or tedious. Could you tell me where you minister so I could send you an email for futher dialogue? Regards…Patrick.

  • Nate,

    Hey its been awhile! I hope Africa is treating you well… I believe you are still there, yes? Congrats on the recent engagement as well.

    I have two questions for you:

    1) I’m curious why you determined that the fruit of the Spirit was the litmus test by which to determine where God was in other religions as opposed to a declaration (propositional statement) “Jesus is God.”

    2) I too have had a substantial amount of experiencing other cultures/traditions/religions. But my experience/exposure has not produced the same conclusions as you (i.e. I have not found God in unexpected places, vis. Jehovah in a Mosque, the attitude/love of Jehovah/Jesus in Al Qur’an, glory of God in Hinduism, etc.). When two people’s ‘experiences’ differ so widely, who is the arbitrator between these experiences?

  • Nate,

    Hey its been awhile! I hope Africa is treating you well… I believe you are still there, yes? Congrats on the recent engagement as well.

    I have two questions for you:

    1) I’m curious why you determined that the fruit of the Spirit was the litmus test by which to determine where God was in other religions as opposed to a declaration (propositional statement) “Jesus is God.”

    2) I too have had a substantial amount of experiencing other cultures/traditions/religions. But my experience/exposure has not produced the same conclusions as you (i.e. I have not found God in unexpected places, vis. Jehovah in a Mosque, the attitude/love of Jehovah/Jesus in Al Qur’an, glory of God in Hinduism, etc.). When two people’s ‘experiences’ differ so widely, who is the arbitrator between these experiences?

    Thanks.

  • Nate, it is good to hear these words from you. I think it is important for everyone to remember that life itself is messy, maybe too messy for us to clean it all up and categorize everything and everyone into the in and out group. I have for some time sought to reconcile my relationship with Jesus with the life of God evident in the rest of the world. This is an inspiration for me to really explore more of the Spirit’s work in the world as you have done. Nice article.

  • Hi Nate,

    My friend Brianna shared a link to your site on my blog and I am really glad she did. I have been on a similar journey but along side addicts who have found true “new life” through “the God of their understanding.” Like you said, “I found God where God was not supposed to be.” I also started reading Gandhi’s autobiography and I have a post titled “Will Gandhi Burn” where I wrestled with the exact same disconnect I felt between what my spirit told me and what other Christians told me. Thanks for your courage in sharing this. What I have found on my own site is that I often get attacked by those who see my questioning and authentic searching as a threat. What I am finding is more and more people are finding the courage to point out the contradictions that I think many people feel but have been bullied into ignoring. Until we are willing to make space for people to wrestle with these issues, we will continue to see folks flee the faith because they don’t feel free to be authentic in who they are and what they believe. It is nice to see there are others willing to risk the negative attacks in order for others to have permission to ask these questions.

  • Please dear seekers… don’t be fooled by the enemy. The Word of God is very, very, very clear on this issue. Searching your heart will lead you astray.

    “Jer 17:9 “The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

    Dear seekers you must search Jesus, the Word, in His Word for the answers you long for.

    “Mat 10:33 “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

    The sheep must come into the fold, to enter the narrow gate and be with the Shepherd.

    “1Pe 2:25 “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

    “Jhn 10:1 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
    Jhn 10:2 “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. Jhn 10:3 “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
    Jhn 10:4 “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Jhn 10:5 “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
    Jhn 10:6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.
    Jhn 10:7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. Jhn 10:8 “All who [ever] came before Me [fn] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.
    Jhn 10:9 “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

    • Wow. I couldn’t help but notice that you are referring to me as a messenger of Satan. That’s harsh and uncool.

  • I agree with C Sullivan. Whether it is harsh or uncool to say that someone is a messenger of Satan, it must be said when someone is preaching a gospel that is the opposite of the gospel of Christ. Christ referred to sheep from another pen–this has always been interpreted as Gentiles (since He spoke to a Jewish audience who thought that only Jews were God’s chosen ones). The NT writers clearly speak that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John) and that Jesus is the only One who can make the Father known to others (Matthew 11:27) and that all others are lost and not children of God at all. Ghandi’s good qualities are a reflection of the general revelation of the grace of God to all of humanity, but his sins–and he did commit them–werenever atoned for if he didn’t trust Jesus to take them away (John 3:36). Therefore, he was God’s enemy–not a temple of the living God.

  • Nate, thanks for the views you shared here. Reading the comments, I notice that authority is a common theme. Can we trust the indwelling spirit as an adequate authority for making our life choices? Some think not, and they appeal to texts not just for guidance, but for absolute certainty. An insistence on absolute certainty reveals a heart not yet fully aware, humble and tender. Robert Barclay, a Quaker apologist, painstakingly argued that the indwelling spirit is the authority underlying all others, such as the Bible, creeds, and the intricate casuistry of ancient traditions. Texts do not speak for themselves. They must be interpreted by the mind, and owned by the heart for them to have any authority at all. Alas, we humans with a highly evolved consciousness suffer from inescapable existential pain, for not even the blessed assurance of a loving, indwelling spirit guarantees that we are right and sound. Ecstasy may be a sign of madness as well as wholeness. Our treasure is in earthen vessels. We walk by faith, not by the assurance of any authority.

  • Nate,
    Thank you for your courage and wisdom.

    There is a teaching in Buddhist spheres summarized by the adage “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

    I’ll let you practice your translation skills on that one…

    As for comments by C Sullivan and Andrew Lindberg I would advise them to punch some air holes in that box they try to keep God in so he can breath. (Not that it is really necessary but the image serves.)

    And TCDavis, BRAVO!

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  • Great delivery. Great arguments. Keep up the good
    spirit.

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  • Hey, Nate. This is my first time reading your blog, and first time writing in. I think I can see where you are coming from. God is bigger than we can truly ever know as imperfect human beings, and when we try to compartmentalize His actions and abilities, it often leads to judgementalism. Perhaps we all don’t worship in the same building or read the same books, but if God wants to use us to further His Goodness, it doesn’t matter. His influence is everywhere, and that’s the beauty of it, and of our faith. We just have to look around and see where He is and who He has influenced, and that should reaffirm everyones faith. Beautiful message, if I got it right.

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