Speaking to friends from other worldviews

(Rini Shaji) #1

What I am going to say below is not so much as a question, rather a musing. I want to talk about two events that happened to me, and the two ways I dealt with. First one, I could literally feel the Holy Spirit put words in my mouth, second one, not so much, and honestly that kinda still affects me to this day. I wish if only I had thought about the questioner than question, it wouldn’t have gone south.

Incident 1:
Jain friend: Christianity doesn’t believe in sin, does it? Since you guys do not believe in reincarnation.
(I didn’t answer that question very well. However I believe the Lord prompted me to ask her another question, which was )
Me: What is your relationship with God?
She: (taken aback) There is no relationship with God per se. (This lead to a fantastic discussion about relationship with God, how karmic cycle does not give hope to the hopeless who believe their current struggles are due to consequences of their past life mistakes.)

Incident 2:
Hindu friend’s mom: What kind of religion is this who doesn’t let you participate in festivals of other religion? Or doesn’t let you have the food offered to other gods?
Me: (In a matter of fact manner, which wasn’t the right approach on second thoughts) Christianity does not let you bow down to other gods.

It’s been quite sometime since these incidents have occurred. But I still feel guilty of the way I answered my friend’s mother, although I knew better about “answering the questioner than the question”. I have realized, it is easier to talk to an atheist than talk to people of another faith about the Christian faith.
I have also realized that when the Spirit of God leads you, the answers are coherent to the questioner. But if it’s pride and arrogance that leads you, then the outcome is not going to turn out right. When I answered my friend’s mother, I was not being arrogant, but I feel I wanted the pressure to be off me to believe in what I did without being cornered. This incident has also led me to think if I have sort of burnt the bridge to her thinking about Christianity ever.

I wonder, how would anyone answer these questions if thrown at you out of nowhere. I fell short of the Bible verse “Always be prepared” (1 Peter 3:15). I am also eager to know if any of the faculty and staff members of RZIM ever feel disappointed with themselves with the way they have answered questions. How did you deal with it?

(Luna) #2

Well the first question truly leads to Jesus and what he did on the cross and speaking about how there are no good deeds you could do to get yourself into heaven. But you seem to have done well in that situation.

With the 2nd question it kind of comes down to what the Christian themselves believe when it comes to festivals and food. But the way I would have explained it to her is that in my faith our relationship with God is taken very seriously and he wants all of our being. Not just sometimes but all the time, not because he needs us but because we need him. How we love others and love ourselves is influenced by how much of ourselves we give to God.

There have been times that I have not been the best person to answer questions. I just got out of a long conversation with someone who felt God was evil for not stopping slavery. While I tried my best to be polite and provided answers they simply didn’t want to accept how slavery was different in the nation of Israel and what was acceptable in those times. They became increasingly angry when I was proving their assumptions wrong with scriptures. I say all this to say sometimes people don’t want an answer cause there is a lot of emotions behind their stance and you are the closest thing they can unleash on since they can’t do that to God technically.

Other times when you mess up answering all you can do is ask God to help you learn what you did wrong and do better next time. If you insulted the person then I would go back and apologize. But for the most part take it as a learning experience.

(Brittany Bowman) #3

It is encouraging to hear of your heart to share Christ with others and also to prepare for future conversations. I think someone like @Lakshmismehta may have more insight on sharing Christianity with someone from a Hindu background. I only seek to be an encourager in not giving up. Sean and Olivia’s thoughts on being representatives vs. rescuers can direct our attention away from ourselves and upwards towards God. 1 Corinthians 13:12 has also been an encouragement in my life- we are only mirrors to the true Light, who will never make mistakes.

(Grizelda Gozali) #4

Thank you for sharing.

Regarding incident #2, I think it comes back to the principle of the person answering. In the context of Hindu and Indian, I think the line between cultural and religion got blurred. Just like Chinese and Buddhism. For me, I would be okay about doing festivals or rituals because most of the times they are more of a cultural thing for the older generation (like our parent’s or grandparents’ generation because they grow up with the belief their entire life) rather than just a religion. Therefore, your friend’s mom’s question might actually questioning your cultural participation instead of attacking Christianity per se.
So, for example, during the case when my grandpa passed away and the family go with Buddhist ceremony for his memorial, I joined the ritual out of respect for him. (The monks require family participation in sending him off to the spirit world, something like that). If I didn’t, then the other family member may question my faith because it doesn’t allow me to pay respect to my grandpa. However, we know better that our spirits don’t worship their gods even when we join in the ceremony.

So in answering older generation I think we should think of the line between culture and religion too because it have been blurred in the mind of many older generations.

I hope my writing is clear. Hahaha

Also regarding failing to answer, we all have to start somewhere. So take it easy on yourself. :slight_smile:

(Lakshmi Mehta) #5

Dear @RiniAndrews,

Thank you for starting this conversation which gives other members an opportunity to learn from your experience . Thanks @Brittany_Bowman1 for calling my attention to this discussion! I think Rini, you handled the questions very well considering the little time we have to process our thoughts in a real life conversation. It seems like both conversations ended well without putting any strain on the relationship. That’s positive! Praise God for the zeal you have for His gospel. More than what we say, maintaining a posture of love for the other person prayerfully and willing to be led by the Holy Spirit, as you also mention, has made a world of difference in how my words are received in my past experiences as well. What we say, really depends on the responsiveness of the other person too. I think there are many ways to steer the conversation and hear are some thoughts I have. I don’t think I would have all my thinking straight either in the midst of the conversation but hopefully this will help for future conversations.

Incident 1: Christian’s don’t believe in sin as they don’t believe in reincarnation. In this statement, we see the underlying assumption that man is sinful, man must pay for sins and that man pays through additional lives. I think we can first acknowledge the common ground we share with other faiths. In this case, we can clearly see that your friend has some idea of sin. I think what most Hindus or even Jains may struggle with is differentiating between specific sins and sinful nature. Here’s what I may say -

“You are absolutely right that Christians don’t believe in reincarnation but what may surprise you is that it’s not because we think man is sinless but because we think just as you do that we are utterly sinful. We also believe that sin needs to be paid for. The question however is, does man have the ability to pay for his sin? Will another chance at life on earth help him overcome his sins? Where does goodness begin? In our heart or in our actions? We know from experience that man can fix some sinful actions but only God can heal a man’s sinful heart. We can say sorry to someone for our wrong actions, but only God can remove the burden of guilt. Man may want to do right but he is without hope as all goodness resides only in God and only He can erase our guilt. The bible says, a good tree bears good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruits. If a bad tree must bear good fruit, it must be grafted in with the good tree. Similarly, we believe that man’s sinful nature needs to be grafted in with God’s Spirit for man to do any good work. Man has to come to a state of repentance for turning against God’s will. So instead of rebirth on earth where we are still separated from God , we believe in a new birth that makes us acceptable to God because of His goodness deposited in us. So because of God’s intervention, there is no need for reincarnation. I am glad to explore this further with you as I too want to believe something only if it is true”. (Then I might share about John 3 or the incident where Jesus says, why do you call me good? Mark 10)

Incident 2: What kind of religion is this who doesn’t let you participate in festivals of other religion? Or doesn’t let you have the food offered to other gods? In this statement, I think there is the underlying assumption that all gods are forms of the same God and there also seems to be some level of frustration about Christians in her statement. She could be thinking it is unloving for the Christian to not follow in the traditions of other gods. I think, here it may be important to extend our love first in ways they can see and speak only if the person is open. I have in the past accepted the food offered to idols acknowledging their love and I just hold it in my hand if they are not family members. I avoid eating offered food in front of unbelievers just as 1 Cor 10 tells us to. I might however sometimes eat it after prayer, if it was merely given in an act of love. If it’s a family member who is giving me the food for my sanctification, I try to convey that it is not what goes into the mouth but what comes of the heart that has value in sanctification and that I do appreciate their love and their desire to see me sanctified. Here’s what I might say with a friend and I am not quite sure if it will be well received in an Indian context where even asking questions of elders is considered disrespectful.

“ I really appreciate your respect for different faiths and your desire to be inclusive of everyone. But you see, even when we try to be inclusive, there will always be certain things that we are not able to fully accept about other faiths. We are only able to accept that which matches our way of thinking. So, I think exclusivity is actually a characteristic of everyone’s faith, something we cant escape from when there are contradictions in faiths. All gods are inclusive of only some aspects of another god’s teachings. For instance , just as a devout hindu may not be comfortable in eating food that is not offered to idols in honor of their god, a Christian is not comfortable in eating food offered to idols in honor of his. In such situations where different faiths have contradictory positions, we are forced to exclude one choice. I think the best practical solution is to be loving without going against our convictions the best we can. I really do appreciate all the love and hospitality you always show toward me. This is my view. What do you think we must do when we see contradictions about the same subject in different faiths?”.

Hope this helps. May God give you supernatural guidance as you speak to your friend.

(Rini Shaji) #6

This helps a lot. I really appreciate your insight. I somehow feel that trying to reason out with people of other faith is more difficult as compared to doing it with an atheist. With an atheistic worldview, its presence-absence argument that we have to present. But with other religions, it’s more of a “I know the truth but you dont want to or you dont know” kinda stance.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #7

Thank you Rini… I am glad it was helpful. I agree with you. I too have found that people are willing to follow tradition even when reason says otherwise. I remember one time someone said, “I believe in evolution and don’t know if Shiva, Vishnu , Bramha exist but I observe the festivals as it has been practiced for generations in our family and it builds community”. Or what I also hear is, “Ok that sounds good but I am not smart enough to figure out which religion is true and you could be wrong. I am just going to go with what has worked in my family”. We can agree with them that, Yes, God is beyond our human reason but is not beneath human reason. We may then want to pursue further how their faith has helped them and how they are convinced of it’s truth. We all do things for a reason. Isn’t their conviction based on some reason? Then as their needs/understanding becomes more visible, we may probably be able to figure out what to focus on emotional, physical or intellectual aspects of the gospel. I can tell you it was very slow process for me too… took about three - four years before I accepted Jesus even though I met these Christian friends several times a week. In my case, my friend’s prayers, love and most of all verses from the Bible that drew me to Christ. Look forward to hearing if there is further development in your conversations in the future!

(Lynne) #8

Your responses are amazing. How many of the RZIM courses have you taken? You explained everything in such a clear, spirit-filled way and in such understandable language. I am a Christian and I got so much out of your answers. Thank you

(Lakshmi Mehta) #9

@Lynne, Glad you found the responses helpful. There were so many good responses, was not sure who was being addressed in your reply. As for me, I have only completed the Core curriculum but would love to take more of the courses in the future. The extra reading recommended in the core class is helpful to think through.

(Anitta Trotter) #10

Hi Luna,

My brain connects slavery and power, but slavery in Israel was part of the economic system, also used among many indigenous peoples in North America, and many others.

Today’s “slavery” is (in my opinion) called employment. In the USA you are fiscally punished for taking time off to have and care for an infant.

The common expression is “the golden handcuffs” - meaning you earn so much or you owe so much or you have such great benefits that you cannot leave your employer (or you have been with the same employer so long that you are unemployable elsewhere, as with some union workers).

(Albert Paul Devanand) #11

Dear Rini Andrews,

I understand the embarrassment we face when such instances arise in attending functions of our friends of other faith as I too encounter similar questions from them.

The answer for your first friend is that Christianity firmly believe in sin and God sent His only Son to pay the price for sin and redeem all those who believe in Christ, the Son of God. It is written that the wage of sin is death. Also in Hebrews 9:27, the scripture says that it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this judgement. So every individual would be judged and not spared as and according to his deeds.

Secondly, I think it is for the person who encounters with such instances when offered with the food or any eatables committed to idols to take decision on that. Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:20 to stay away from those that are committed to devils. Taking them would be like having communion with devils. But in the same epistle chapter 8:4-13, Paul says that an idol is nothing and there is only one God (Please go through the scripture as this would clear your doubts). And anything we do should edify those who are weak in the (Christian) faith and should never make them stumble.

I think there are much difference between the sacrifices made unto devil and that of idols. Animals are sacrificed and the blood is sprinkled all over when it comes to devil but in the other case, the eatables are just kept before the idols and taken away for distribution. In my opinion it is better to avoid both politely whenever we come across the situation.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #12

@AlbertPD, Good thoughts! I would just like to add one distinction about the idols. Yes, it is true that an idol is nothing but they are representations of the false gods and I know experientially that some of these false gods are real spirits. Animal sacrifice is offered as a form of appeasement to the false gods. Food is offered to the idols for asking the false gods to partake of it (though they really can’t) or to ask the false gods to bless it. In some sects it is even believed that offered food somehow sanctifies a person of bad karma. Generally, the understanding in any Hindu family, is never say no to food offered to idols (prasadam/prasad) as it is blessed by the gods. So, we have to really see what impression the unbeliever or a new convert gets when we eat the food whether it’s animals sacrifice or any other food. Both portray a form of fellowship with the false gods that the idols represent. For most idol worshippers, if a Christian eats food offered to idols, it gives a picture of Christian being inclusive of the false gods or their practices. So the exercise of our rights puts a stumbling block to the unbeliever. For practical reasons, in our family where ‘absolutely all’ food is offered to the idols, I eat it as an idol is nothing, but do bless it and inform my beliefs to my family members. In some other cases, there is really no opportunity for conversation as it can get contentious especially when we hardly know the person, so I just politely decline or take it but I dont partake of it. I deal with it later if I am asked a question about why I didn’t eat it. If an idol is really nothing at all, Daniel should not have had a problem bowing down to an idol in the Bible. It comes down to what we project to others with our actions and not an excuse for fear. I have read 1 Cor 8-11, Acts 15, Rom 14 again and again to give proper guidance to new Hindu converts to Christianity and to know for myself as my family is steeped in religion. I think Christians being allowed to eat food offered to idols is more of a concession rather than unequivocal acceptance of food offered to idols, which I think you agree as well. Salvation is by grace alone and not by keeping a law, but we must be careful that our old practices don’t interfere with our testimony or growth in the Lord.

@RiniAndrews, there’s also another thread which may be of interest, where I have shared my view about food sacrificed to idols in some more detail.

(Albert Paul Devanand) #13

@Lakshmismehta, Yes, I do agree with you and thanks for your reply. I am sure you know better about the things involved in pujas and other rituals.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #14

@AlbertPD, thank you for your kind note and appreciate your input. What I am speaking is mostly from my own experience that I have commonly encountered. With the varied family traditions and scripture among Hindus , it can be hard to know. This highlights again the importance of questions to speak to each person individually depending on where they are, a skill we get to practice safely here on Connect! :slightly_smiling_face:

(Rini Shaji) #15

Thanks for your reply Albert. I agree. As a kid, when people offered me the food, for some reason, I felt it easier to refuse. But now as an adult, I feel it’s getting harder to say no. I wonder why.

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(Rini Shaji) #16

I loved the way you have explained this whole idea in so much detail. I thank the Lord for your wisdom. I was wondering, you have mentioned a few commentaries such as David Gardener, Dennis Gaertner and James Burton Coffman. Is there an app that you’re using or did you buy these commentaries?

(Lakshmi Mehta) #17

Thank you @RiniAndrews, Coffman and Gaertner are commentaries on Acts and are books. I found the David Garland commentary excerpt online on the book of Corinthians which is in the attached thread. Here’s the link for the whole volume-

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(Albert Paul Devanand) #18

@RiniAndrews, Our fervent prayers for other people (of other faith), unchanging love and affection towards them will change their understanding about us. This may take time but the Lord shall perform His work in their midst. As you know we are the Light, Fragrence of Life and Taste of Christ unto this world. Our Lord shall help you in providing you all help in this mission.

(Albert Paul Devanand) #19

@Lakshmismehta, I would like to hear your testimony in accepting Christ as the Lord. Whenever possible please share with us that it will be useful for every one here.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #20

@AlbertPD, Glad to share what God has done in my life. I have bits of my testimony many places here on Connect. Here are a few places I have shared before. There is some overlap in the three threads but gives different angles to the testimony - emotional, theological and supernatural. I should compile it together sometime. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.