Monday, July 07, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 6:  Escaping the Escapism

We continue to highlight Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question with chapter 6 which compares pantheism with the gospel. I will let Murray speak for himself as he sums up the chapter:

As a worldview, pantheism in all its forms tells us that we have to work to achieve our salvation – that we have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That is not exotic. We’ve heard it all before. Pantheism, especially its Western daughters, has just told us the same old things we’ve told ourselves for millennia, but in more mystical language.

But consider the gospel. It is the only worldview that tells us the sheer, stark truth that we are inherently sinful and that we need to be saved from ourselves. True spiritual transformation happens when our minds are renewed – perhaps even rescued – from the illusion that our works will save us and that we can be free from suffering if we just try hard enough.  God’s renewal of our minds into understanding that we need the unmerited grace of the cross is unique and fresh.

The Hindu philosopher Radhakrishnan says that a suffering God doesn’t satisfy the religious soul. But in a pantheistic view, there really is no satisfaction for the soul that looks for answers in the morally charged, love-ridden question of human suffering. If we are all part of the impersonal, absolute of the universe, the Brahman, then where is true morality?  Doing good things, working off our karma by helping others, isn’t done for their sake but for ours, so that we can attain godhood. It is a self-help system meant to help us achieve a state of unity with the divine, not to help the poor or unfortunate for their sake.

He goes on:

Our deeds portray only the illusion of altruism, but they are really the shadows of self-interest. And so the illusory prison of samsara (the endless cycle of death and rebirth) leads to the very real prison of selfishness, because one is not truly free to act in someone else’s best interests for that person’s sake.  That is ironic, because in Buddhism the only way to escape is to be free of desire. But the entire system is set up so that every action is done out of the desire to be free.  The lack of distinctions between God and self in Hinduism and the total denial of self in Buddhism are what imprison the self to an existence of self-centered conundrums. Strange, isn’t it, that pantheists try to escape the painful cycle of death and rebirth only to be sucked into the vicious cycle of a desire to be free from desire?

In the gospel, however, neither suffering nor good deeds are an illusion, because our minds are renewed to finally see the reality. We see that we are not God. We see that we need God to transform us. And we see that he dealt with suffering on Calvary’s hill. Because he has done so, we can be free to act toward others in gratitude and for their sakes. We do not do good to one another to escape endless suffering. God has already rescued believers in Christ from that eternal pain by embracing the pain of our penalty himself.  The gospel – which tells us that we give, not to get, but because we are grateful – is what can satisfy the religious soul.

It is true that suffering and death remain in this world. But our liberation from it is both “already” and “not yet.” Jesus has already freed us from the ultimate consequence of eternal pain and suffering through his self-sacrifice. We are not yet at the time when there are no more tears and no more death (Revelation 21:4). But that is the ultimate state for those who trust Jesus. The pain in our lives is real and may seem relentless, but the joys of knowing that it has an end and an answer make them bearable (pages 151 – 153).

Once again the gospel provides an answer to a fundamental life question that is satisfactory to the mind and heart.

Stand firm in Christ,

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