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Monday, January 10, 2011

The God in Me?

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3: 16-17a NIV 2010)
 Christians teach that God dwells in the hearts of believers, and Hindus teach that part of their god is in each of us.  These two teachings are being gradually blended and confused (especially through the influence of many New Age groups), and lately I've begun to see them gaining a foothold in the U.S. Christian community.

If you need evidence of this, turn on your local Christian radio station and listen to several popular songs with lyrics like, "we are divine,"  "the God in me," or imagery of Christians joining God like rivers flowing into the sea.  Now, let it be known that I don't speak against Christian radio or specific artists when I say I reject those things.  I love Christian music, but I listen with the same critical thinking and caution that I use in a regular church pew.   I am always concerned when I hear non-Biblical teachings being passed around among Christians.

We claim in Christ that we have the truth, and that He is the only way to Heaven (John 14:6); therefore, let us reject anything else that claims to be the truth, even if it seems at times to resemble it.  Even when the line appears faint, I firmly believe that the light of the Gospel will show us where it lies.  So, let's get down to investigating the truth.  I will begin by presenting non-Christian teachings, trying to relate the facts without critically analyzing them until the end, so please bear me out.  Here is the central question for today: What is the difference between the indwelling of God and the godhood the Hindus and New Agers preach?

God in Us--The Hindu Way

Hinduism is a vast, complex maze of teachings, so trying to narrow it down to a few central concepts can be difficult, even for those who practice it.  There are a few consistent teachings, however.  One is that the god behind all things in existence is a force called the BrahmanI taught about this last week if you feel the need to review.  It is like a tidal pool that creates and destroys everything on a cyclical time line that takes eons to complete.  It is also a force in all things, both what we would call living things, like people and animals, and non-living things, like the sky or rocks.

Now, the Hindus teach that all these things have a piece of Brahman in them, called atman.  These pieces of Brahman are described as being like raindrops falling on the ocean.  That raises one other significant aspect of the Hindu belief system.  Ultimately, they believe that the individual (atman), through many reincarnations, will ultimately rejoin the Brahman and lose individual identity in it.

The ultimate goal of Hindus is to lose their identity (atman) completely in the god-force (Brahman) they believe in.  In the meantime, however, they are teaching that in this life, we are part of god, and in fact carry divine power around inside of us.

God in Us--the New Age Way

New Age religions (such as Christian Science) meld the teachings of pantheistic religions from all over the world with a humanist worldview that has developed through Western secular philosophy.  Man is central, in humanist teachings, without any real god aside from himself.  In many branches of New Age teachings, however, humanism melds with pantheism.  Man is believed to be spiritually connected with, and equal to, the rest of the universe.

I've heard several New Age practitioners teach that we are a part of god, putting the Hindu Brahman/atman connection into a new, more humanist setting.  This blend of beliefs claims that people, as sort of mini-gods, each have the power to change their own lives, destinies, or surroundings.  Human will becomes divine, and human action becomes a spiritual and supernatural action, as people "draw from the power within themselves" to create change.

God in Us--The Christian Way

As seen in the Scripture passage at the start of this post, the Bible does speak of God living in our hearts and empowering us through the Holy Spirit.  "Isn't this the same thing as all this other stuff?" some might ask.  Well, not really, if we examine it closely enough.

Although the Bible speaks of God being present and involved in everything that happens in all creation, a basic assumption that appears throughout the Bible is that God is distinct from Creation.  Though His power is visible through all that He has done, these works are not actually a part of God; rather, they are separate and subject to God (see, for instance, Genesis 1; Job 38 and 39).  This stands in direct contrast with the Brahman/atman concept in Hinduism, and it opposes the notion that people have supernatural power over their surroundings, as New Age teachings hold.

Furthermore, the Bible speaks of each of us as having our own, individual soul, distinct from each other and from God, even after death.  Again, I spoke on this last week.  I shared a passage about how God will punish the individual for his wickedness, or reward the righteous for his righteousness.  It is impossible to read that passage from the Hindu or New Age points of view, because it neither supports the doctrine of blending with the Brahman, nor does it support the humanistic idea that we can create our own circumstances and outcomes.  Like it or not, from a Christian and Biblical perspective, we are all inescapably under the sovereignty of God and we alone will bear the consequences of our choices.  We are not gods, but servants.

So, if Christians speak of this power and indwelling of God, what are they talking about, really?

As a child, I had a great deal of difficulty understanding passages like the one from Ephesians that I began this post with.  I imagined God coming down from Heaven, shrinking Himself, and sitting inside my heart like it was a control room from which He could pull levers and switches to do His work through my body.  This thinking, carried through into adulthood, might have turned me into a Hindu believer.

Then, I realized that the concept of God living in my heart was a metaphor.  The real meaning is revealed in this passage:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6: 5-9 NIV 2010).
Is the Bible merely saying that God should become a constant topic of conversation, or that His words should be an integral part of our clothing and decorating?  No.  The Bible is saying that God should become the central focus of our lives, and His commands should forever, and at all times, be at the forefront of our daily activities.  Likewise, when we ask God to "live in our hearts," we are asking Him to become the ruler of our lives, at the center of our focus and directing every action we take through the laws set down in His Word.  No, God does not become a part of us; rather, He becomes a part of our lives, and we imitate Him until we have become more like Him than our former selves.
As for this power of God that we see demonstrated in a Christian's life, it does not spring from some "power within us," that we merely need to tap into.  Miracles, signs, and wonders come from God, through His power and choice.  Christians (along with any other person) cannot summon up the power of God like a parlor trick (see Acts 8: 9-25).  Similarly, the power of God does not take over our bodies and deny us free will (see my past post on this topic).

When God's power is demonstrated in a Christian's life, three things must have happened first: (1) The believer called on God to work the miracle (1 Kings 18: 22-39), and (2) The request was in keeping with God's plan (Mark 10: 35-40), and (3) God was pleased with the one who made the request because it was done with an attitude of obedience (Genesis 4: 3-7).  Clearly, we see that the power of God is never under the control of man, or equivalent to human will.

I will elaborate more on this, especially if the comments warrant it.  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy!