Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gandhi and Christianity

Mahatma GandhiMahatma Gandhi seemed to have been a man with a rare moral compass. He humbly sought the truth and he was self-aware enough to know that he needed what Jesus came to give. More self-aware, frankly, than many Christians. He was in a perfect position to understand the power of the cross, but it appears that he never fully did.

Gandhi was deeply drawn to Christ, referring to him as "a beautiful example of the perfect Man." He befriended a number of Christians and consented to their efforts to convert him, even though he noted that his friend Mr. Coates had "no regard for my religion." Mr. Coates introduced Gandhi to other Christians, including one man who said: "Sin we must. It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think of what a life of restlessness is yours [because Gandhi was always atoning for his own sins], and what a promise of peace we have."

Gandhi replied by saying: "If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless."

"I assure you, your attempt is fruitless," the man replied.

"And the brother proved as his word," Gandhi continues in his narration. "He knowingly committed transgressions, and showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought of them."

That man sounds like a lot of Christians today, doesn't he? We want Jesus to take away our guilt without removing the stain. We are content to know that we'll go to Heaven, even if our lives stay exactly the same. But if I still cherish sin this side of the cross, who's to say that Heaven would be desirable to me--a place where, according to C.S. Lewis, "we shall not be able to retain the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell." The truth is, if I don't love God and hate my sin, I will probably not be motivated by Heaven anyway.

But I think to a degree we all want more than "pie in the sky by and by when I die." I want my soul to be right within me, so that sin is not my default setting. I don't want to be arrogant, insecure, lazy, stressed, irritable, weak, clueless, prejudiced, anxious, hateful, jealous, naive, vengeful or any of those things that make life miserable and complicated. I want the space beneath my skull bones to be a pleasant place because it is the prism through which I see the world. My thoughts and feelings matter a whole lot more than circumstances. If I'm bitter or angry, what difference does it make what my life looks like to others?

When Gandhi told Mr. Coates about his encounter, he was horrified. But Gandhi reassured him that he knew that not all Christians hold to such a theory of atonement. "Mr. Coates himself walked in the fear of God," Gandhi wrote. "His heart was pure, and he believed in the possibility of self-purification."

The possibility of self-purification? How is that good news? Gandhi had been attempting self-purification his entire life as a Hindu. But clearly his best efforts were not good enough, otherwise he wouldn't have expressed such a longing to be redeemed from his sins. Not surprisingly, Gandhi decided that Christianity was not much different from his own religion.

But properly understood, Christianity is fundamentally different from any other religion, because Christ came to reconcile us to God and restore our souls. When Jesus died on that cross, he defeated evil once and for all. And through faith in him, we have victory over our sins. He justifies us (sets us right with God) and sanctifies us (heals our brokenness). The vilest criminal and Mahatma Gandhi have equal access into God's presence to receive a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26)

That seems to be exactly what Gandhi wanted--to say with the psalmist, "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." (Psalm 119:32) He wanted the chords of sin and death to be broken.

"Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

1 comment:

JannyPanny said...

The behaviour of Christians does not change what Christ did on the cross; by His shed blood, He provides forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God our Father and restoration of our souls. We either choose to believe this by faith and accept our inability to save ourselves or like Ghandi, choose to believe in our own self-righteousness and think we can be saved by our good works. Christians are not perfect, just redeemed!

Paul, the most admired apostle talked about having to die daily to his own flesh. This means, the man sinned even though he was saved
Romans 12:2
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:1-3 (in Context) Romans 12 (Whole Chapter)
2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (in Context) 2 Corinthians 3 (Whole Chapter)
Revelation 12:11
And they overcame him (the devil, the father of lies) by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus is the lamb of God) and by the word of their testimony, (Christians' testimony of faith in Jesus and His blood) and they did not love their lives to the death