I recently was surprised to hear someone I thought was a traditional Christian enthusiastically quote and endorse Mata Amritanandamayi (or Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, or just plain Amma), a guru in India. I wondered why a so-called Christian would look to an Indian guru for wisdom, rather than referring to the deep riches of wisdom we find in the Bible. A pearl of that wisdom (something Jesus said) can be found in John 8:32: “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It seemed to me this person was a bit confused about the truth.
In John 18:38 Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?”, responding to Jesus who had just said, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judaea from AD 26 – 36. His interview with Jesus was to weigh the charges made against him by the Sanhedrin.
Did Pilate ask Jesus to clarify what he meant? What did “bear witness to the truth” mean? Who did Jesus refer to when he said “Everyone who is of the truth”? These seem to be crucial questions. Yet, in the context of this Biblical passage, Pilate did not wait for an answer. John 18:38 continues, “With this he went out again”. So Pilate’s famous question was rhetorical. Rather than seeking an answer, Pilate was implying a statement, that truth is something up for grabs, a matter of opinion, subject to one’s interpretation or viewpoint.
Today it’s popular to espouse world views that consider truth relative, not absolute, in the sense that Jesus intended. Many people today see truth the way Pilate saw it two thousand years ago. They see absolute truth as dead, while relative truth is “living”. It grows. It evolves. It changes. They liken the idea of absolute truth to the simplistic convenience of “one size fits all”. And in order to ensure truth is the right size, they believe each person should be empowered with the authority to judge for themselves what is true.
So, take a moment of honest introspection. In terms of spiritual reality, what do you believe is “truth”? Do you believe it is absolute or relative? Obviously, Jesus considered truth absolute, because a relative truth renders the phrase, “of the truth” meaningless. So, do you consider yourself a person who is “of the truth”? Do you believe in the God of the Bible? Do you believe he will welcome you into his heaven when you die? And if so, what is the reason you deserve to be rewarded with eternal life in God’s presence?
These questions are primarily addressed to those who claim to be Christians yet exchange sound Biblical doctrines for a variety of non-Biblical beliefs. A myriad of religions and belief systems outside of Biblical Christianity provide different responses to these questions. Inevitably, those who are Biblically ignorant, misinformed, disenchanted or deceived will accept many non-Biblical teachings as attractive options to unsatisfying dogmas.
For instance, karma and reincarnation are teachings that are not found in the Bible, and in fact undermine Christian theology. However, it is not difficult to find professing believers who include those teachings as part of their faith. But the problem with this phenomenon is that in order to include karma and reincarnation as part of your faith, you have to reject the Bible as being the foundational authority for your beliefs. You end up making yourself your own authority, because to you, truth is relative. This is mainly accomplished by relying on feelings, rather than the examination of a premise.
The appeal of karma and reincarnation is that they allow for an ever-unfolding progress toward spiritual perfection which can apply to anyone. While the reality of cause and effect produces consequences for everything we do, that’s not karma. Karma is like a spiritual tally sheet of rewards for doing good and punishments for doing bad. The idea of reincarnation gives everyone unending time and opportunity to develop the good, overcome the bad and move up the spiritual ladder. These feel-good doctrines are critically flawed and overlook a fundamental spiritual realization. They are impersonal forces that are part of the fabric of existence, the cycle of life. And as such, they obviate the need for a personal Savior.
The gospel, in a nutshell, is this: Sin separates us from the infinitely perfect, holy God. No amount of our own efforts to do good or do penance for bad can ever make us holy enough to have fellowship with God. So, in order to restore that fellowship, God provided the perfect sacrifice of his only Son to atone for our sin, that whoever receives him, that is, believes in his name, should be given the right to become children of God (see John 1:12).
If karma and reincarnation are “truth”, then there was never a need for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Christianity is gratuitous. But the Biblical reality is that God loves us and desires fellowship with us. There is no love with karma or reincarnation — no need for a personal God at all. Is it not crystal clear that our view of “truth” has critical consequences?
The Bible says, “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:7). We must meet God’s expectations, live up to God’s standards, and answer to God’s authority because we are subject to God’s judgment. Do you believe that? Do you believe that God created us? Do you believe he has sovereignty over us, requiring our obedience? Do you believe you are accountable to him? Or do you think that somehow you will eventually, by some long, protracted, hit-and-miss method drift closer and closer to heaven? What exactly do you believe?
The Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). (Notice that Jesus referred to himself as “the truth”. Don’t you find that interesting?)
Right about now someone may be labeling me a “Bible thumper”. Please note, I am making the claim that the Bible teaches the truth, as opposed to Hinduism, New Age thinking or any other religious system. If I’m guilty of “thumping” anything, it’s the truth. And it is that truth that offends the ears of some. It sounds like a thump to them because they do not know the truth. It assaults the edifice of their fantasy. They are annoyed by the truth because it thumps against their relativity. Thump, thump, thump. Truth, truth, truth.
As fascinating, complex and diverse as Hinduism is, it is a far cry from the truth the Bible teaches. If you reject the truth of the Bible, could it be because you don’t want to admit you are a sinner who will stand before God’s judgment? Is it because you don’t want to answer to an authority higher than yourself? Is it because you want to be free but have forgotten that in order to be free, we must accept our responsibility to God? Freedom isn’t just being our own boss or doing what we like. It’s the relationship we have to God in Christ.
PS Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). He didn’t say look to karma or trust in reincarnation.