Thanks for this question @susanwade . I have responded in two parts below.
“I think my biggest hurdle is getting people who “want” to know more. I have a Russian friend who said , “I cannot believe in a person like God.” She says she is a Buddhist, however she is extremely depressed and self-centered.”
I realize I am not in this relationship and therefore have a limited scope on the conversation, but just from what you wrote I have some ideas for questions I would likely ask your friend. You could use these as an immediate response, but also, don’t feel the pressure to think you have lost your chance to have this conversation if you can’t think about anything at the moment. We can always go back to conversations anytime we want. All we have to say is something like, “I was thinking more about our conversation the other day and a question came to mind…” then ask your question. Here are a few ideas on how to respond to the comment you quoted above:
Real-time Conversation response: “Why is that?”
Revisiting the topic later: I was thinking more about our conversation a few weeks ago and you said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. You said that you cannot believe in a person like God, but I never asked you why that is, and I am curious to know why you feel you couldn’t ever believe in a person like God?
- When you say you can’t believe in a person like God, what is the God that you could not believe like? Can you describe your concept of God?
- It seems like you have an idea of God in order for you not to believe in him/her/it, what is God like to you?
- Have you ever had an experienced that made you think that God exists?
- There usually is if they are being reflective. Ask them to tell you the story.
- Then ask: So how do you reconcile that experience if God doesn’t exist?
"My daughter, living in Vietnam is attracted to Buddhism because of the calming, “lets get along with everyone”-type of surface philosophy. However, it get people to want to go deeper, is a challenge.
I realize that you cannot force people to think deeper. I guess I am wanting to attract people and follow more of Jesus’s model. Any suggestions?"
I must first admit that I have very little expertise in Buddhism and most I have learned comes from talking with Buddhists and reading others like Ravi Zacharias and Douglas Groothuis. As I have had conversations with people who consider themselves Buddhist (or are flirting with Buddhism) I have found one approach to be most beneficial. Let me share my approach and see if it helps you at all. I feel like we have to show the beauty of Christianity, while respectfully challenging Buddhists beliefs. One way to do this is to take a question or a set of questions and to put them to each worldview to respond to. This allows you to compare the response of each religion to a particular question and see the results. Os Guinness is known for saying “contrast is the mother of clarity”, which I think is very true.
This could get much more in depth, but I want to give you something that you can easily remember for when you are comparing worldviews. Two questions: What is the problem? How do we solve it? Every religion has a diagnosis for the problem with how things are in our world (problem) and all of them offer liberation from this problematic state (solution).
There are some people who try to argue with this and say that there is not a problem with humanity, but I think this is a very difficult objection to uphold in light of history and, well, reality. All you have to do is open up the newspaper or log onto the internet and you will see that there is something seriously wrong. Sometimes all you have to do is walk outside. There is a problem with the human condition, so what is it and which worldview provides the most satisfactory answer. There are different sects of the Buddhism, but I am just going to cover the broad worldview.
- PROBLEM: The Buddha saw the human condition as stricken with suffering which is brought about by unfulfilled desires. He did not teach that we can satisfy our souls, because we do not have souls.
- SOLUTION: The solution to the human condition is to cease from desiring through a rigorous discipline. If a person did this successfully, then they could attain Nirvana. Nirvana is not a person or place, it is a state. Salvation in Buddhism is freedom from rebirth, through Nirvana.
- PROBLEM: Christianity teaches that on earth mankind was created in the image of God. But due to sin they fell from this relationship and the outflow of this rebellious decision is death. God could have left humanity on our own, but instead, he graciously and continuously offers himself to us. The problem with humanity is not a lack of education and not enough money, it is an issue of a broken human heart. We can’t even live up to our own standards let alone God’s. So out of God’s gracious love, he becomes a human and encounters life as we do, but he does not forsake his Father and although he is tempted Jesus lives in perfect union and obedience to God. Then he unjustly dies on the cross to take the penalty we deserve, conquers the grave, and he offers us eternal life and reconciliation with God if we follow him.
- SOLUTION: Spiritual liberation comes not through a concept, philosophy or ultimately through a set of teachings. In Christianity, spiritual liberation comes through a person. Through a relationship with a person. It is only Christianity that you can have a relationship with the creator of this world and this is partly because it is the only worldview that offers it.
Buddha points to an eightfold path to follow, but Jesus points to himself. We follow a person who claims to be the solution.
Also, I highly suggest Ravi’s small and easy read, The Lotus and the Cross . I also suggest Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics where he lays out this comparative framework in greater details and includes other religions.