Incarnated Christ in the pluralistic world
My understanding about Christian ministry especially pastoral ministry during my first year was preaching the gospel of Christ to everyone and helping the people of God to grow in Christ and whoever wants to follow Christ, give baptism and convert them into Christianity. When we were introduced the concept of religious pluralism in the theological methodology class, I was totally disturbed. The concept of pluralism is to acknowledge the existence and presence of truth in every religion without demeaning each other. It says every religion keeps God as centre and considers religions as way of life and every religion leads to God or the Divine. It is as simple as that, get into any religion, you will reach God. This concept indeed has led me to raise several questions, don’t we have to turn people of different faith towards Christ? Are we not called to proclaim about Jesus to everyone? If their religion is enough for everyone then what is the necessity of Christ incarnation? Scholars even gave answers for these. They say, if you want to proclaim about Christ, go ahead and talk about the historical Jesus, his life and his teachings but never go with the intention of converting them. If they are willing to follow Christ give baptism or do all that is necessary to take them in. Some of the convincing statements which the theologians make are you as a Christian follow Christ and be faithful to Him, similarly let others follow their gods and be faithful to them. Liberation theologians would say that the reason for Christ’s incarnation is there was injustice in the society, Christ came and lived for the cause of justice for the marginalized.
But none could convince me. If that is the only reason, it is not necessary for the death and resurrection; it could have been like ten avatars of Vishnu in Hinduism, because those were happened for the establishment of Justice in the unjust world. I felt, there is something more which God wanted to address through Jesus to the people of the earth. The passage which was read to us gave me an insight to understand about God and the purpose of incarnation of Christ. This passage is the speech of Paul in Athens during his second missionary journey. Paul here addressing to the Greek philosophers and they are the people of different faith. This passage is neither an aggressive talk which calls the Greek to convert and be baptized into Christianity nor it is a passive talk of diluting the work of God in Jesus Christ saying you worship what you like but let me just say about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He was offering Christ to them with the bold hypotheses.
On considering the verse 22, Paul began his speech by giving a positive note to them saying ‘I perceive that in all aspect you are extremely religious’. For the word deisidaimon both positive and negative notion can be considered whereas in this passage, Paul uses it as a positive notion rather to condemn their piety by saying they are superstitious. In verse 23 Paul says that he was carefully looking at their objects of worship and he found an inscription on the Altar which says ‘to the unknown God’. Some scholars feel that Greeks did not want to miss anything to be worshiped, so erected one altar for the unknown God so that whichever God they unknowingly forgot to worship will be covered by worshipping the unknown God. However, here Paul took this opportunity to unveil the unknown God and expose Christ to them. Therefore, in this verse he reiterated about the unknown God which he was proclaiming, in fact this word of Paul surely might have caught the attention of the Greek listeners because here is a man who is unveiling the truth of the unknown God.
Today as I contemplate on this verse I also would like to pose a question to all of us, are we bold enough like Paul to talk about the God they worship in other religion. Are we in a position to say to Muslims “Allah whom you worship is the same God I am proclaiming to you. Allah is nothing but God in Arabic. Can we say to Hindus the Brahma you worship is the same I am proclaiming to you Brahma is nothing but a creator. We cannot say like this because we are Christians and they are from other religion. Therefore it is clear that religion acts as a barrier.
Paul doesn’t say whatever they worship is God, in verse 24 Paul exposed the idea of the unknown God who was there since the creation. He says that God is the creator of heaven and earth and all that is in it. Paul continues to exalt God by saying that one who makes world and everything in it is clearly far too great to be in confined in temples that humans build. In verse 25 he further says God is the one who gives life and everything else for human beings and how can such a great God be reduced to lifeless idol. Through this he conveys that what you worship doesn’t glorify God but it puts him down. In verse 26 he says through one man God made all the people and he made them to live all over the earth. In verse 27 and 28 Paul says the God who sets people all over the world wanted him to be searched and to be found. It would not be a justice from the side of God if he doesn’t help the people to find. But In the same verse it says God was indeed not far from us. What does Paul mean by this?? Did they find God? Yes they found that there is God the supreme power because people in the earlier times seeing all the creation definitely would have thought there would be someone behind this creation as Rom 1:20 says through the visible creation we can find the invisible attributes of God. God would have been happy that his people have found him and after a while disappointment would have started to occupy God. Because, though they found there is God it was exactly like the story of blind folded men and elephant. When they were allowed to touch the elephant and say what it is, one touched the leg and said it is a pillar, one touched the trunk and said it is a tree, one touched the tail and said it is the rope but no one found that it is an elephant. Similarly some found that God is the one who has no limit and who has no end. So they worshipped all that has no limit and end like fire, Water, Light etc. Some found that God is the image of human so they made idols in the image of humans and worshipped. Some found that God is powerful so they made idols of animals whichever is powerful in their eyes. Though they found the different attributes of God they could not find who God exactly is. Because concentrating only on the particular attribute doesn’t make what God really is. Each one with their understanding started to look God differently and made God as a superior Image as Holy, Powerful, and Sovereign and there by created a gap between God and humans. Of Course each one can understand God with their own understanding but is it not necessary to know what actually God is? Therefore God takes an initiative to reveal Himself.
Till these verses, Paul’s viewed picture of God to the listeners as Pluralistic. When they worshiped idols or the creation, God was patient enough but in verse 30 and 31 says God overlooked at the time of human ignorance. God in order to reveal who God really is, to his people God incarnated and became flesh and dwelt among the creation. Though God is Holy, Powerful and sovereign, Jesus revealed Godself in every aspect of Life and finally died on the cross to show that God is love and love is all that is in God. Death was the option because that is the way people can understand what love is by giving up the life for us. Through this the division between God and human is broken, there is no longer God and human relationship as master and slave rather parent and children relationship was established. So in verse 28 Paul quotes one of the Greek poets who said ‘for we are his offspring’. Through incarnation of Christ, God reveals and says, ‘I see you as my own Children and so you look at me as your parent. I see you as my friend, you also see me as your friend. I see you as my own brother and sister and you see me as the same. But don’t see me as an enemy or the master that I always have something against you to destroy you instead I love you’. Therefore the incarnation of Christ has much broader understanding. If such a love is expressed through Christ why is there still a problem in proclaiming Christ?
The main reason for the construction of Religious pluralism is for the religious harmony. We couldn’t understand the revelation of God in other religion because of the religious boundary. Even the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is also not proclaimed boldly to the people of other faith because of the religious boundary. Do we really need such religion to hold on? Christ revealed God for the people of all the earth. Even Apostles and missionaries were martyrs for the sake of Jesus Christ. We need to understand early Apostles did not strive for the religious movements or for the separate religion from Judaism. All that they strived for is to be a witness of Christ and to proclaim Christ for all the people of the earth. They did not want to convert people in to their religion nor did they just show the greatness of their religion, in fact they didn’t have a religion. Only the followers started to call themselves as Christians and later it has become a closed religion. God dint want to reveal himself only in Christianity. It is the human construct which limited the Incarnated Christ within the boundary of Christianity and created the image that He is the God of Christians. So even if someone wanted to follow Christ they have to cross their boundary and come into the boundary of Christianity. God is not a fool to reveal himself only to a particular community and command the entire world to be converted in to that community and follow God. It is us who constructed the religion and limited the works of God. Time has come for us to acknowledge the presence of Christ in other religion and it is our duty to unveil the hidden Christ as have rightly pointed out the Raymond Panikkar. Even religious pluralism tries to bring every religion in unity, but what ultimately happens is it strengthens the religion and dilutes the work of God. Since Christians own Jesus Christ, we have to liberate Christ out of Christianity so that every nation shall know that he is the revelation of God. As a called out community, ministers of God, are we not responsible to learn and to share the mighty work of God which he has done through Jesus Christ? Are we not supposed to proclaim Christ who is the revelation of God? Are we not supposed to search the works of God in other faiths? Let us be the children of God by proclaiming his work through Christ and not as a religious Christian. God has done a mighty work through Jesus Christ, are we not as a called out community have a responsibility to share with our neighbours? Of course it is a challenging task to come out of religious boundary and proclaim the works of God let us take an initiative to cast out religious boundary and be united as one with Christ in God. Let God grant us power and wisdom to take forward God’s mission. Amen