While in India, I learned a few things about their culture, their prominent religion, and their politics. All three of these are integrated into one in many townships in India.
Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it has no founder or date of origin. While most major religions derive from new ideas taught by a charismatic leader, Hinduism is simply the religion of the people of India, which has gradually developed over four thousand years. The origins and authors of its sacred texts are largely unknown.
Although today’s Hinduism differs significantly from earlier forms of Indian religion, Hinduism’s roots date back as far as 2000 BC, making it one of the oldest surviving religions. Because of its great age, the early history of Hinduism is unclear.
In the last few decades, the history of India’s religion has also become a matter of political controversy. Many places are banning and controlling Christians because the National Religion is so intermingled in the politics. My host told me you could never go door to door and witness without being arrested. If you get caught spreading any other religion other than Hinduism to people traveling to or from a “worship” center, you are violating the law.
I also found out that you never really know where the worship centers are located. On the roadside all over this country you see Idols, statues, and even large buildings erected to display them. This all started with a small trinket placed on the side of the road, where people would come and worship one of the thousands of gods of Hinduism. Someone else would leave a larger item, then another an even larger one until these “Temple” settings became center pieces for the people. They would often travel hundreds of miles to meet one of the priests on duty and “pray to their gods.”
I was mesmerized at these men I saw walking, who were all dressed in red apparel. They were taking a 40-day pilgrimage in their effort to bear their burden of “sin.” They were not permitted to be with a woman or eat any food prepared by a woman during those forty days. They would even wear the same garments every day. At the end of this 40-day fast, they would carry an object on their heads for a very long distance to go to particular “Hindu Temple types.” There a priest would remove it and claim to forgive all their sins. At the end of this long process, they would shower, change clothes, and return home.
I wish you could have seen their sad faces. Aren’t you thankful that God doesn’t make us go to such extreme lengths to be relieved of the burden of sin? Praise God that Jesus carried that burden all the way to Calvary. Without requiring us to work for it, Jesus “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24). We rejoice in the forgiveness of sins we can access by grace through faith. By simply believing, we can lose the weight of sin and be born again. How tragic to imagine many of these one day standing before God at the judgment and hearing those frightful words: “Depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepare for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). My heart was greatly burdened about the condition of the lost as I witnessed their sincere, but ignorant worship methods.
At the same time I was challenged by the dedication of these Hindu people. They were willing to fast 40 days, laying aside the comforts of this world and the luxuries and blessings we take for granted. They crowned the experience with long travels, going through one last act designed to remove sin. How many Christians hesitate to sacrifice for their Lord, even though He has sacrificed so much for them? We ought to be willing to lay down our lives for the Savior, and we should never hesitate to walk away from earthly pleasures, which so often get in the way of our service for the Lord. Let me ask you a convicting question: What pleasure or even sin are you willing to lay aside to better serve your Master?
Our service and sacrifice for the Lord is not in order to obtain favor of the Lord. The Pharisees thought they were pleasing to God because of their works of self-effort, but Jesus rebuked them: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him two-fold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). The Pharisees and the Hindus missed the key point, that it is not our sacrifice that earns us favor with God; it is Jesus’ sacrifice!
Rather, we “sacrifice” because we have obtained salvation through grace. The apostle Paul describes it this way: “For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:14-15). One look at the cross should remove all feeling of “sacrifice”, and cause us to rather see His life being lived through us as a great privilege, constraining us with a joy set before us.