Which God is real?
There wouldn’t be such a thing as counterfeit gold if there were no real gold somewhere.
Some viewers of this website may inclined to ask: OK, assuming that there is a God, how can you be so arrogant as to believe that YOUR God is the true God and that every other concept of God is wrong?! How utterly closed-minded, ethnocentric, naive, and parochial!! Further, what evidence do you have that Jesus is who he said he was? The testimony of some writings from 2000 years ago?!
Well, the first crucial point is that the Judeo/Christian concept of God has emerged throughout history in far more instances than just in Judaism and Christianity. In fact, the Judeo/Christian concept of God is utterly transcultural and transhistorical:
Roy Abraham Varghese notes in his book The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of Jesus:
“No one has chronicled the belief of…primeval peoples in as much detail as [Wilhelm] Schmidt in his twelve-volume The Origin of the Idea of God. Schmidt points out that the African and Asiatic Pygmies believed in a supreme being. The same is true of the Bushmen in South Africa; the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego in South America; the Aboriginies of Australia; the Samoyeds, Koryaks, and Eskimos of the Arctic; and major Native American tribes. The notion of a supreme being is truly global. The names most commonly given to the supreme being, says Schmidt, denote his ‘fatherhood, creative power and residence in the sky.’ The primeval peoples also highlight key attributes of the supreme being:
1) Eternity, 2) Omniscience, 3) Beneficence, 4) Morality, 5) Omnipotence, 6) Creative power,
7) Giver of the moral code, 8) Author of moral rewards and punishments.”
These same above eight attributes are the crucial attributes of the God of the Bible. Considering this, one would be inclined to ask: If the concepts of God emerging in separate cultures have the same attributes, by what means could one reasonably argue that these cultures are referring to anything other than the same God?
This phenomenon of the one true God revealing himself to all peoples is further described by Christian missionary Don Richardson in his book Eternity In Their Hearts: Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World.
Among the many examples that Richardson cites is that of the Karen people of Burma (now known as Myanmar). He cites Karen hymns as evidence to this fact:
One such hymn extolled the eternity of Y’wa’s being [Y’wa being the Karen name for God]:
“Y’wa is eternal, his life is long. One aeon–he dies not! Two aeons–he dies not! He is perfect in meritorious attributes. Aeons follow aeons–he dies not.’”
The Karen story of man’s falling away from God contains stunning parallels to Genesis chapter 1:
“Y’wa formed the world originally. He appointed food and drink. He appointed the “fruit of trial.” He gave detailed orders. Mu-kaw-lee [Satan] deceived two persons.”
“When Y’wa made Tha-nai and Ee-u, he placed them in a garden…saying, ‘In the garden I have made for you seven different kinds of trees, bearing seven…kinds of fruit. Among the seven, one tree is not good to eat…If you eat, you will become old, you will sicken, you will die…Eat and drink with care. Once in seven days I will visit you…’”
“After a time Mu-kaw-lee came to the man and woman and said, ‘Why are you here?’
“Our father put us here,’ they replied.
“What do you eat here?’ asked Mu-kaw-lee
“Our Lord Y’wa has created food for us, food without limit.’
“‘Show me your food,’ said Mu-kaw-lee.
“…Our Father, the Lord Y’wa said to us, ‘Eat not the fruit of this tree. If you eat, you will die.’
“…Then Mu-kaw-lee replied, ‘It is not so, O my children. The heart of your Father Y’wa is not with you. This is the richest and the sweetest…If you eat it, you will possess miraculous powers. You will be able to ascend to heaven… If you will eat the fruit as a trial, then you will know all…’”
In the paragraphs that follow, the man, Tha-nai, refuses the enticement and walks away. The woman, Ee-u, lingers, succumbs to temptation, eats the fruit and then entices her husband, who also eats.
Richardson goes on to describe how these Karen beliefs about Y’wa almost certainly “predate both Judaism and Christianity.” Later in the book, after detailing many other cultures with concepts of God strikingly similar to the Judeo/Christian God, Richardson laments:
“How tragic then that Christians in general have been told almost nothing of this worldwide phenomenon of monotheistic presupposition underlying most of the world’s folk religions! Many theologians — and even some missionaries whose ministries have been tremendously facilitated by the phenomenon — have nervously pushed this mind-expanding evidence into the closet.”
“Why? If you belong to a tradition which has been teaching Christians for centuries that the rest of the world sits in total darkness and knows zilch about God, it becomes a little embarrassing to have to say, ‘We have been wrong. In actual fact, more than 90 percent of this world’s folk religions acknowledge at least the existence of God. Some even anticipate His redeeming concern for mankind.’”
“…No other message on Earth has an inside track already laid for it in the belief systems of thousands of very different human societies!”
In Finding God in Ancient China: How the Ancient Chinese Worshiped the God of the Bible, Chinese Christian Chan Kei Thong notes how the same God described in the Christian and Hebrew bible revealed himself to the ancient Chinese:
“When we look at what the ancient Chinese knew of Shang Di and at the kind of relationship they had with Him and He with them, we can say with confidence that Shang Di parallels the Creator God of the Hebrews and Christians. The picture that emerges dovetails so neatly and corresponds so closely with the One described in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that we can recognize Him as one and the same.”
Chan goes on to list the attributes which Shang Di and the God of the Bible have in common: He substantiates these common attributes by citing biblical passages and corresponding passages in ancient Chinese writings. These attributes include: sovereign, eternal, immutable, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, infinite, loving, holy, full of grace, faithful, good, merciful and compassionate, just and righteous, and wise.
Regarding Jesus, one crucial point is that Jesus’ life and purpose (to serve as God’s self-sacrifice in human form as a remission for human sin) was foretold before his birth. The 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible, written 700 years before Jesus birth, is perhaps the most prominent of these prescient Hebrew scriptures:
1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Perhaps most Christians reading this will already be familiar with the above prophecies. But, much less known is the fact that Jesus’ arrival was foretold in the Hindu scriptures. That’s right, Hindu scriptures *. Sound like a bold claim? Decide for yourself:
Roy Abraham Varghese cites excerpts from the Hindu scriptures known as the Vedas and Upanishads, which predate (by hundreds of years), and very convincingly seem to prefigure, the life and mission of Jesus, in his book The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of Jesus. The Vedas date to at least 1200 B.C. and the Upanishads to around 500-400 B.C. Below are a few of these passages:
“The Supreme Creator took a perfect human body (Nishkalanka Purusha) and offered it up as a self-sacrifice (Brihad Aranyak Upanishad 1:2:8).”
“If you want to be delivered from the sin, which you commit through eyes, mouth, ears and mind, bloodshed is necessary. Without shedding the blood, there is no remission for sin. That must be the blood of the Holy one. God is our creator. He is our King. When we were perishing, He came to save us by offering even his own body on our behalf.” (Tandya Mahabrahmana 4.15).
“The redemption is through shedding of blood only and that blood has to be through the sacrifice of God himself.” (Taittiriya Aranyaka, verse 3).
“This [sacrifice] is the only way for the redemption and liberation of mankind. Those who meditate and attain this man, believe in heart and chant with the lips, get liberated in this world itself and there is no other way for salvation too.” (Yajur-Veda 31:18)
“The Purusha was above sin, and only in knowing him does one attain immortality.” (Chandogyopanishad 1:6:6-7)
“After giving Himself as the supreme sacrifice, this Purush resurrected himself.” (Brihadaranyakaopanishad 220.127.116.11-5; Kathopanishad 3: 15).
“The purpose of this sacrifice is to provide the only way to Heaven and the only way to escape from Hell.” (Rig-Veda 9:113:7-11; 4:5:5; 7:104:3).
“His hands and legs are to be bound to a yoopa [a wooden pole] causing blood shed.” (Brihadaranyakaopanishad 3.9.28; Aitareya Brahmana 2:6).
“The sacrificial victim is to be crowned with a crown made of thorny vines.” (Rig-Veda 10:90:7, Brihadaranyakaopanishad 3:9:28).
“Before death he should be given a drink of somarasa [sour wine made of an herb called somalatha].” (Yajur-Veda 31).
“None of His bones must be broken.” (Yajur-Veda 31:; Aitareya Brahmana 2:6)
Please review this article from the Indian newspaper The Hindu, which makes the same points as Varghese.
And contrary to misunderstandings in the west (that have resulted from cultural mistranslations), Hinduism (at least as presented in the Vedas and Upanishads) is a largely monotheistic, not polytheistic religion. Varghese explains that “the tenth book of the Rig-Veda says, ‘The One Being is contemplated by the sages in many forms: Ekam santam bahudha kalpayanti.’”
In The Wonder of the World, Varghese cites the great Hindu scholar B.N.K Sharma who declares that, also contrary to misinterpretations, Hinduism* is theistic as opposed to monist (theism teaches that God and the universe are separate, monism teaches that they are one in the same). Perhaps most remarkably, it is a monotheistic religion with echoes of the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. Sound like more bold claims? Hard to believe? Read the book.
Further, the God of the Bible apparently revealed what he was doing with the sacrifice of his son Jesus to the ancient Chinese. Chinese Christian Chan Kei Thong writes in Finding God In Ancient China: How the Ancient Chinese Worshiped the God of the Bible:
“The Bible recounts a dramatic astronomic phenomenon occurring at the cruxifiction:
It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23: 44-46)
Note that this solar eclipse lasted for three hours — from the sixth to the ninth hour, which is roughly noon to 3pm in modern timekeeping–before Jesus breathed His last. At that moment, the veil of the Jewish temple was supernaturally torn in two: a dramatic symbolization that the barrier between God and man was removed once and for all.”
“Once again, this event is corroborated in the Chinese historical documents, which record a highly significant solar eclipse occurring around the time indicated in the biblical account:
In the day of Gui Hai, the last day of the month, there was a solar eclipse, [The emperor] avoided the Throne Room, suspended all military activities, and did not handle official business for five days. And he proclaimed, ‘My poor character has caused this calamity, that the sun and the moon were veiled, I am fearful and trembling. What can I say?… Anyone who presents a memorial is not allowed to mention the word ‘holy’”.
“Another entry made a short time later, referring to the same eclipse, said:
Summer, fourth month [of the year], on the day of Ren Wu, the imperial edict reads, ‘Yin and Yang have mistakenly switched, and the sun and the moon were eclipsed. The sins of all the people are now on one man. [The emperor] proclaims pardon to all under heaven.’
This solar eclipse was recorded in the Record of the Latter Han Dynasty, Gui Han was the last day of the third month in the spring, during the 7th year of Han Emperor Guang Wu (reigned A.D. 25 – 57). That corresponds to A.D. 31, which means that this major eclipse happened 34 years after the astral events involving the magi! “[At the time of Christ’s birth]
“Even more incredibly, a commentary in the Record of the Latter Han Dynasty, said simply,
‘Eclipse on the day of Gui Hai, Man from heaven died.’
The man from heaven died! Could there be a more apt description or a more accurate understanding of the Cruxifiction?
God’s love extends to all the nations of the world, and in some unique and unknown way, He gave special insight to Chinese astronomers to understand what He was doing. We are all sinners, even the emperor, but God laid all our sins on His only Son, Jesus Christ.”
Thong then goes on to describe how the Record of the Han Dynasty records that a rainbow encircled the sun three days after the eclipse, which corresponds with the day of Christ’s resurrection.
Perhaps these are contributing factors to the phenomenon of China already having more Christians than Communist Party members!
By all of this do I mean to suggest that the concepts of God presented in all of these religions are basically equivalent and that one should be free to pick whichever religious tradition best suits one’s taste? Certainly not.
My main point is that the God of Christianity has not chosen to reveal himself exclusively to Christians. Rather, the God of Christianity, far from being the tribal God of white skinned westerners, is an utterly transcultural and transhistorical God that used the focal point of one man, at one point in history, to accomplish his self-sacrifice as atonement for human sin. And, in modern times, Christianity is truly the most global of all religions, with large numbers of adherents in all of the inhabited continents.
Galatians 3:8, in the Christian Bible states, “All nations will be blessed through you.”
*Please click on this link for a more in-depth understanding of what I mean by “Hindu scriptures” and “Hinduism.”
For further reading on the phenomenon of Jesus, please read the following books:
1) Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. When Morison, a British journalist, set out to write this book, his intent was to prove once and for all that the story of Christ’s resurrection is false. In the process of researching for the book, however, he came to the opposite conclusion.
2) The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.
3) A Case for the Divinity of Jesus by Dean Overman. The author was a Templeton Scholar at Oxford University and is absolutely brilliant.
4) C.S. Lewis’ Case for Christ by Arthur Lindsley. C.S. Lewis was an atheist Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University. His encyclopedic knowledge of mythology, coupled with his conversations with his friend J.R.R. Tolkein (author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings) led him to conclude that Christianity is a “true myth.” Please read my essay Isn’t Christianity a Myth to explore this subject further.
5) The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Like Morison, Strobel was an investigative journalist and an atheist. When he set out to investigate the claims surrounding Jesus, he did so with the intent to disprove….but came to the opposite conclusion.