Another cross-cultural encounter leaves me wondering why Western Christians are so drawn to the gods of other faiths. A friend recently returned from a business trip to India where she visited a temple to Shiva, a primary god in the Hindu pantheon.
Shiva is a complex being in Hindu theology: a malignant and terrifying destroyer of what is evil at the same time as he is a benign or auspicious ruler who brings favor to those who are good. In short, he is not the Lord God of the Old Testament but it seems he should be no easier to understand for those who object to our God’s full-ranging character and temperament.
Our God is a Complicated God
People find it very hard to understand that the God of the Old Testament, who destroyed entire nations to prevent them from polluting his beloved family with destructive ways, could be the same Old Testament God who promised a way for every nation of the world to join his beloved family. They find it confusing that the God of the New Testament, who sacrificed everything in a battle with evil to rescue us, could be the same God who tells us to sacrifice everything in our battle with evil.
And so they turn to gods who seem easier to “touch” — Shiva, for instance, who is both ascetic monk and a householder with a consort and children who are themselves gods. His son, Ganesh, is recognized for providing strength; his consort, Kali, is most known as a destroyer but her role in much contemporary Hindu theology is more subtle: she destroys what is evil to provide room for the good to grow.
Our Bible Warns of Many ‘gods’
When you read the New Testament attentive to such things, you note that the writers are very aware that their world is full of gods and demons. Our post-scientific seekers after mystery are beginning to realize the same. As faithful followers of the God above all gods, we can’t afford to be reductionist. We can’t afford to reduce the Word to a collection of words bound into a book. He is living and active and more powerful than all of the gods of the nations.
Our God lived on earth and was yet God. Our God is God and still lives among us.
And yet, Shiva seems so much easier for friends to understand than Jesus, Ganesh than the Holy Spirit, Hinduism than Christianity.
Why do you think that is?