Around this time of year, during Lent eight years ago, I ventured to India.
While there, I learned that Hinduism celebrates about 33 million gods, which fascinated me. 33 million? How do you pray to that many gods? I visited a variety of shrines out of curiosity, and began to feel an odd sort of pity for such a large group of people who seem so misguided.
After all, Jesus said (quoting Deuteronomy), “The Lord our God is one God.” Right?
Not so fast. After only a few moments of feeling sorry for these people, I was convicted by this response from Jesus: “I died for them, too. You don’t get to judge them. You can only see these people–and everyone–through my eyes, and I love them enough to be crucified for them, same as you.”
Gulp. “Sorry, Jesus.” I felt forgiven immediately, but didn’t dare forget the command not to look down on anyone for what they believe or don’t believe. Or for any reason, really. In the loving eyes of my Saviour, I am no better or worse than anyone I encounter, in India or Indiana.
Here’s something else Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Is this how we followers of Christ are known around the world? In the cities where we live? Because of the love we show to everyone around us? Thankfully, there are many glorious examples where this is the case. Going back to India, Mother Teresa lived God’s love into the lives of so many of the poorest people in Calcutta (and incidentally, she said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”) And during this COVID-19 pandemic, in my own community and in communities around the world, people in churches are providing groceries and words of comfort to people at risk or in need. There are plenty of good stories, thank God.
But sadly, we are also known for behavior that doesn’t model Jesus’ love to a broken world. We try to fix people who aren’t asking us to fix them. The only way to get to that point is to have judged them. Jesus warned us about this when he told us to worry about the big board in our own eye instead of trying to take the splinter out of our brother’s eye. We need to leave God’s job to Him alone.
I visited the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi, one of the great Prime Ministers of India. He famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.” Ouch. He also said, “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” It’s hard to argue with that.
Although I don’t believe God caused this pandemic, I’m convinced He will find many opportunities to redeem it through us. He already has. As we move through this, I pray that God will help us to show His love to this fallen and broken world, and remind us as we head toward Good Friday that He chose to die as a sacrifice for each person we meet, whether they came from India, or China, or anywhere else. Here’s another of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes: “It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.”
The current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, called for citizens to switch off electric lights for 9 minutes at 9 pm this past Sunday. He asked them to light candles while standing on their front doorsteps or balconies. In an address to the nation, he said, “Amid the darkness spread by the corona pandemic, we must continuously progress towards light and hope.”
This beautiful message reminded me of something Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Let us follow this Light out of our current darkness to where the streets are paved with hope and each new day overflows with promise.