by Sarah Beth
Hinduism has many gods, holy writings, and beliefs. There is no single definition of Hinduism. Hinduism is an evolved and ever-evolving faith. Within Hinduism there is an incredible mixture of diverse ideas, myths, stories, and concepts – some of which are even contradictory. These contradictions do not bother them the way they do us, as their view on absolute truth is vastly different. Hindus do not really think of their religion as a religion. They think of Hinduism as a total way of life. A Hindu is not made; a Hindu is born. Many say, “To be Indian is to be Hindu.” There is no separation of church & state history in this culture. Everything flows together.
Just as you need to have to translator to ensure clear communication between one language to another, there needs to be some “translating” between cultural and religious backgrounds for clear communication. The goal of this guide is to help the Western Christian connect clearly the truth of the gospel with the Eastern Hindu. Just as Paul traveled to a town in Acts 17, saw a statue of an unknown god, and proceeded to tell the people of how he knew this god & could tell them all about them, let us do the same. Let us take what Hindus have heard and redefine it correctly for them. Otherwise, what we are saying to them and what they are hearing can be dangerously different. Let us both meet them where they are, using their language and understanding their mindset, so that the truth may be clearly heard and understood through us as best as we can possibly make it so.
Tips to bridge the cultural/religious gap between Western Christians & Eastern Hindus
- The Bible Clarification: Hindus are taught to respect ancient & holy writings. When sharing Bible stories or verses, explain that you are sharing a TRUE story from history that is written down in an ancient and holy book called the Bible. Though it may seem repetitive to you to do this every time, it won’t to them – let them know whose Word you are sharing! And that is a true story. Hinduism is full with stories and there are many who believe they are true and many who believe they are just stories. We are not sharing just stories to make a point, but historical events.
- The God Clarification: Hinduism has many gods. As a team, pick a single clarification when you are talking about God to use consistently. You want it to be clear to your audience which god you are talking about. I recommend using the title “The Most High God.” (from Gen 14:20) to emphasize we are not talking about just any god – but THE God! It may also be good to explain when you are talking about Jesus Christ, that He is both the Son of the Most High God and a part of the Most High God Himself.
- The Creation Story Clarification: When first living in Nepal, I sat down with a group of about 20 Hindu women I’d been living with and a few Buddhist and Muslim woman joined us as well. They had come to love me sharing stories from my holy book, so I asked them if I could share and they eagerly said yes. I read to them the story of the fall, Genesis 3:1-15. I explained nothing to them except that this was a true story from the holy book of the Most High God. This time, I decided to ask them questions. I asked them what the story said about the Most High God & the serpent. They said that the Most High God was bad and the serpent was good. I was shocked!! Not the message I was trying to share! I asked them to explain why they thought this. They explained that in their minds the serpent was trying to help man achieve knowledge, which is good. They also explained that God punished the serpent and mankind for this, so that was bad. I realized in their worldview, gods are both good and bad. Also, one of their main three gods has a snake around her snake and snakes can be seen as holy and good. I had to back up to clarify – as I urge you to when you share the creation story – that the Most High God is good and the serpent is a deceiver. That when man disobeyed the Most High God sickness, death, hardship, and suffering entered the world. It is of vital importance this is explained so that those hearing you will understand!
- Eternal life clarification: Realize that in a Hindu mindset – people die and come back to life all the time. It’s called reincarnation. In their mindset, everyone does that. It’s important to share how Jesus’ resurrection is different. Emphasize how Jesus came back to life in the same body – still with the scars from the nails on the cross – to prove that He was God over physical death and He is above the reincarnation cycle. (Note: though we as Christians don’t believe in reincarnation, it’s important to meet your audience where they are – actually say that Jesus, son of the Most High God and a part of God Himself, conquered death and is above reincarnation. As Christians we can honestly say that because we believe reincarnation to be false. If someone is further along in their understanding/hearing about God, it may be the right time to talk about how we actually only have one body and one soul on this earth with them – however, if they haven’t heard much about Christianity, it may be too hard for them to understand this. Pray & ask the Holy Spirit to lead you!
- Salvation clarification: Further on the reincarnation cycle, sometimes the way we talk about having eternal life through Jesus can be misinterpreted by Hindus, because in their mindset every soul has eternal life. The cycle of reincarnation and eternal life can even seem daunting and hopeless to those who have been taught to believe in reincarnation. When we explain we have salvation in Jesus, it’s important to share how salvation breaks us free of the cycle of life and death. The closest term for a Hindu to understand is moksha. Moksha is a freedom from infinite selfhood and a final realization of truth – the ultimate goal of every Hindu. For the Hindu, Moksha is reached in many lifetimes by a way of works, knowledge, love and devotion. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with Hindu adults was when I told them that my God, the Most High God, offers His people moksha during this lifetime to all His people who follow Him & forsake other gods.. I explained we called this moksha salvation, and that when our bodies die our souls rise above the earth, not to return, and go to live with the Most High God in a perfect, happy place called heaven. This message helps connect the true freedom and hope that comes with salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ! Not all have believed, but many have heard and gone away thinking – and I pray God allows those seeds to grow in their hearts!
- God vs. gods clarification: In Hinduism, gods act both good & bad, loving & mean, truth & untruthful. Their gods’ character changes all the time – the Most High God’s character does not change. The Most High God is never petty or selfish. Hindus pray to one god for health, another for wealth, etc. Our God is kind, true, powerful and loving ALL THE TIME and you can pray to Him for help in EVERY AREA. The thought of a God being all these things all the time is foreign & revolutionary to Eastern Hindus! Share it with those you are sharing the gospel with!
- The Works Clarification: In Hinduism, people make sacrifices to gods to prove their devotion, ask for blessings, and ask to be spared from wrath. In Christianity, our God has sacrificed Himself for us. Yet again, the thought of a God making a sacrifice to show His love for His people – foreign and revolutionary. We do not earn our salvation/moksha through our own works, but through faith in the Most High God. Explain how there was a gap between man and God – because The Most High God is perfect and mankind is not – so the Most High God sacrificed His Son & brought Him back to life in the same body to prove He was the Most High God, He could offer freedom from the cycle of death, and to bridge the gap between mankind and The Most High God so that anyone who accepts Him as the Most High God and forsakes all other idols will become free from the cycle of life/death and reach moksha/salvation and their souls will go to live with the Most High God in heaven upon their physical death.
- Forsaking other gods clarification: This seems to be the biggest stumbling ground for Hindus. For many to forsake their gods would also been being forsaken by their families and possibly their places of employment. In the early 1900s, Christian missionaries wrote of Hindus killing family members who accepted Christ and forsook all other gods. In their family members minds they were being merciful, because the ultimate sin for a Hindu is to forsake their gods – and at least by this death a little penance would be paid towards their next reincarnated life. However, the Most High God is clear that His followers should not worship other gods or have idols. We see this all over the Bible, including the first two of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. If you have the opportunity, try to build a relationship with those you are sharing with before you share this truth so that they may be more likely to receive it. Also, sharing the Bible story of Elijah & the prophets of Baal is a great story to share to soften the ground of understanding before explaining this (1 Kings 18:17-39).