Friday, July 15, 2011

Self-Transformation? – Bah!

Christianity is exploding in India. By some estimates, the Indian sub-continent now hosts 58 million Christians; by other estimates, 70 million. This growth is taking place mainly among the Dalits and other “untouchables.” Tim Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today, explains:

• To be Dalit is much worse than being poor, for no matter how much education or wealth a Dalit accumulates, he or she remains polluted, a shame on the face of the earth. Dalits are like biblical lepers, except that in mainstream Indian culture, they cannot be healed. (CT, July 2011, 29)

In practical terms, it’s no surprise that Dalits would be attracted to the freedom, forgiveness, and cleansing of the Gospel. One former Hindu and now church-planter puts it this way:

• “The Gospel is a message of deliverance, not just for heaven. It is a message of freedom. The truth is that God made man in his image.” (32)

However, the Dalit embrace of Christianity cannot be explained by just the appeal of the message. Underneath the message is a self-sacrificing God who came to die for us. While the proud and arrogant refuse to look outside the box, Christ came for the poor, rejected and marginalized (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

One Dalit woman had been barren. A Christian mysterious showed up at her door and prayed for her. She subsequently conceived a son and daughter, and when her daughter was “severely jaundiced, passing blood,” the Christian once again appeared, prayed and the daughter was healed. She confessed to Stafford that,

• “I realized that Jesus is the living God…We used to drink and every day we would fight, fight, fight. Jesus Christ brought peace to our family. I have no fear, because I have come to know the living God. I trust in him.” (29-30)

It is through the lens of weakness and desperation that our priorities can fall into place. Weakness is a canary in a coal mine. It detects the presence of gas sooner than we humans. Likewise the despised Dalit knows that their hope isn’t in meditation, psychotherapy or in any other form of self-help. It is only the “living God” who can help!

It took me years to learn this lesson. Two decades of severe depression drove me to Israel as a Zionist. I had seen five highly recommended psychologists, and each had left me worse off than the previous one. I had convinced myself that once I had immersed in Zionism, I would find meaning and purpose, and this would pull me out of my depression. Well, it didn’t, nor did my pursuit of the ideal community or lifestyle.

It seemed that only God was left. Consequently, I plagued every religious person that I met with a series of question. Finally, one friend suggested that I spend some time with an evangelistic, orthodox community, which was completely devoted to God and to bringing confused Americans to Him.

Even there, no one could answer my questions to my satisfaction. Finally, a convinced follower assured me that there was a Tzadick (a highly esteemed rabbi) in Tel Aviv who could answer all of my questions and also prove to me that the Torah was the Word of God.

This sounded like just what I was looking for. The next evening found us awaiting the Tzadick to enjoy a private consultation – a great privilege! My heart was beating uncontrollably. We sat in silence for the first minute while he studied me. Finally, the verdict came:

• “You’re not ready to study the Torah yet. There is too much confusion and restlessness in your life. Find yourself a good orthodox Jewish community, study, live the life and relax, and then we’ll talk again.”

I hadn’t even opened my mouth, and the consultation had come to an abrupt end. Even though I thought he was right about my “confusion and restlessness,” I also knew that such a prescription couldn’t address my problems. They were just too deep. Evidently, I was a loser, and I knew that I couldn’t change myself. But it seemed that neither could God. The Tzadick was of the opinion that I had to first get my life together before God could help me. If that was the case, then there was no hope for me. I left totally dejected.

Thankfully, being a “Dalit” isn’t the worst thing that can befall us. In fact, I’m now proud of it! Years later, I learned that,

• If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

My psychotherapists and the Tzadick had all been wrong. Life didn’t depend upon my transforming myself but upon an incredible Savior, who can reach down and rescue us from whatever “pollution” we might find ourselves. He is the “Living God.”

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