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Jesus Christ or Christianity

March 25, 2008

In this post I am going to talk about my journey in coming to know Jesus Christ. It was also a journey of seeing Jesus apart from the religion that is Christianity. The religion of Christianity that the world knows about is predominantly Catholic – very much true about India too. The Protestant movement was not widespread and well-known in India when I was growing up. And the differences are probably not understood even now – mostly due to an extremely secular system that one grows up with. So when I refer to Christianity as a religion – it is mostly what I observed and grew up seeing around me (mostly Catholic). Most of the western missionaries do not understand that when you refer to being a “Christian” or “Christianity” it is mostly understood as the Catholic religion – church buildings, priests, fathers, nuns, mother mary, jesus christ, cross as the wooden symbol with jesus curcified on it and worshipped in churches and homes and sometimes bible as their religious book and so on. Church building is probably in the league of other religious temples and non-christian people might be going to their own religious temples as well as a church – thinking they are just coverinng all their grounds of various facets of god. It is seldom about devotion to the person of Jesus Christ.

One Door to Another
As I embarked on my first job at the age of 22 in July 1997, my family was still together without any logical explanation.

My mom had recovered from her physical problems – but with fewer organs than what she had before. My dad almost wanted to commit suicide given all that he had gone through. My younger brother flunked in 8th grade and we were all wondering what he is going to become when he grows up. I had gone through 4 years of undergraduate studies where all I did was study like a dog so that I could be ranked in the university and make my parents proud. I also went through a major heart break that rattled my world.

I was aware of the financial problems in our family, but was not aware that we have so many loans that it’s a miracle banks were not showing up at our door for money. My dad was juggling all this with a salary that was not even sufficient to pay 2 of the 4-5 monthly payments he had to make. Thankfully, my undergrad studies had not created any additional burden for him in those years as I was using a student loan.

I decided to work hard in my new job and wanted to restore “normalcy” to our family. With recommendations from my boss and friends at work, I consolidated all the loans and then over a period of three years paid everything off. My working hours for those 3 years were 10am-4am on weekdays, 9am-5pm on Saturdays and sometimes work on Sundays. I had not taken any significant vacation in almost 3 years.

Financial situation at home improved. There were no more loans. We were able to have dinner together. But there was one thing missing – love.

Our family had gone through such a struggling time that almost everyone had forgotten to enjoy each other as part of a comforting relation. In fact we had become bitter towards each other – blaming each other for the circumstances – and for me it was easy to ignore all and just focus on my work. My work became my life. My parents never had an enjoyable environment around them, beyond their first 2 years of the marriage since 1975. There was bitterness in the relationship between them due to health and financial issues. But it was my mom who did worked hard to make tomorrow a better day than today. She is a fighter. And I believe the fighting spirit I have, came from her. My Dad was always supportive of her efforts, although he was aware that she is either trying too hard or trying to be far too ambitious than what was possible with what he was earning.

Overall, relationships were watered with trying circumstances and everyone was trying to focus on everything else but each other – the fabric of our family was not only weakened – but rotten.

And here I am – 3 years down the line with no more financial problems – but still wondering what is it that is lacking in our family to make it a “happy” family. Something was missing.

I was still going to my god in all these years – Ganapati. I had to go. At the same time, god was not limited to Ganapati to me. I was aware that he is the object of my worship and my go-to-help idol, but I am receiving strength from the god who was beyond the idol.

I have to confess that I was not driven by a search for god – it was a complex picture of faith – but was working for me. But I was in search of the reason for why our family has no love in it. And so I started looking at other sources.

I started going to the Sri Ramakrishna Math (not math from arithmetic, but a place) – a sanctuary that was on my way to work. I had always wondered what goes in there. So I went one day – and met some of the disciples who work in that place. I purchased some books from their shop – and read them over few months. I was not a regular visitor but did go there once in a while. One day I was talking to a disciple and asked him some questions about how he came there and his family. He refused to answer the questions and said – “We who are disciples here have forsaken our families and all connections with our relatives and have set ourselves apart to serve in this place and study the scriptures that our Guru’s – Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda – have written for us.” I could see the disciples point in that he was on a spiritual journey that goes beyond the bindings of family life and he was able to set himself apart for that journey – and commit to it. He had sacrificed a lot to get where he was – and he was fine with it. Visiting the place on a regular basis and studying with them may transform me – but I could not see how my family would benefit from it. May be, if all of us in the family started going there, we might have changed. I stopped going from then on – I was looking to re-build my family and not forsake them. I was not ready for an individualistic spiritual journey and was not sure if my family will join me in it. The act of setting myself apart and also devoting my life to studying the scriptures of the Guru’s was not an attractive reason either – I lacked the understanding of the purpose of that action. Was it to discover god? Was it to become a better person? Was it to realize that there is god in me and I can become one with it?

Next was a person named J. Krishnamurthy. I do not recall how I got introduced – maybe I was browsing some books at an exhibition and picked one up, read it and bought it. His writings intrigued me. There was something immensely deep and philosophical in them. After reading a few of his writings, I started to understand that he does not believe in any religion or god. His focus was “self”. He wrote a lot of about that – and he wrote about relationships. How to analyze them, why they are the way they are and what is needed to make them better. Honestly, it was always difficult to understand what he is proposing for me to do. I was trying hard to understand what exactly I need to do to experience what he is saying. May be, I was not reading more of what he has written. The little I read of J. Krishnamurthy, I confess that I had to give up on going any deep with it. I gave up because the writings made me question everything – including myself – but leaving me confused on what the answers to these questions were. There were lot of questions already – I did not need any new ones – especially the ones that I did not have answers for. May be, I needed to change the way I looked at things – and people. May be, I needed to start with myself. May be I did not have the brains to grasp all that J. Krishnamurthy was saying and accept that it is not for my level of intellect and move on. I stopped reading J. Krishnamurthy’s writings. My faith in god was too strong to be shaken by his writings and my intellectual capacity was probably falling short of what was needed to agree with him.

The storm named Jesus Christ

In all this, there were a few bright spots – especially at work. I was working hard – and was getting rewarded with salary raises and more responsibility – making me busier. There were also some friendships at work that served the emotional needs I had.

There was one extremely bright spot that came on the horizon – Uma Joshi (I’m married to her now). She joined my company towards the end of 1999. We were introduced by a mutual friend and she was sitting in a nearby cubicle – we did not communicate for almost 6 months after the initial introduction. Later we became good friends, and soon she was the one I was confiding in – she was the listening ear I needed most. And she was patient.

A year later, one afternoon while we were coming back from a game of Badminton, Uma told me about Jesus Christ. I do not recall the exact context of our conversation – but it was something around joy and peace in life. Her statements were on following lines: that her joy is in Jesus. And she calls him the Lord of her life. And she kind of lived for him. The disciple whom I had met few years ago came to my mind. I was wondering if this is same as the Guru thing at the Ramakrishna Math.

And most importantly, I was perplexed about why she was telling about her faith in Jesus Christ to me? Why now?

I listened quietly and then we parted.

I remember not meeting Uma for a week after that. I was thinking on what she had said. I decided to purchase a Bible and so bought the Quest Study Bible, after browsing through various books in the shop. I decided to purchase that particular bible because it had questions and answers on the side margins. Uma had mentioned the bible, but not much about what to read and where to start. All she kept talking was about Jesus – Jesus this and Jesus that. And I wanted to find out who this Jesus is.

I started reading from the beginning – chapter one Genesis. My first reaction after reading the first chapter was like – you must be kidding me! This book was telling me that this entire world was created in 7 days – just by speaking some words. I knew this world was complex than what was described in the first chapter. I could see it all around me. How do I believe this book if the first chapter itself makes me keep it away – for overly simplifying things? And then there was all that I had studied in school about evolution and all – where we studied all the years that were needed to get where we are today. And this chapter ignored all of it and made it happen in 7 days.

There is one thing I decided to do differently than what I had done earlier. I wanted to question everything from the beginning – but then I realized I will never finish reading – I will not get answers and so it will defeat the purpose of reading this book – and so I decided to continue reading even if I had questions. Although I was in a similar boat now as I was when reading J. Krishnamurthy and giving up on reading his material anymore, I cannot explain fully why I decided to continue reading the bible, when I had decided to stop reading Krishnamurthy’s writings. If that reading left me with questions, the bible is doing it right in the first chapter itself.

I remember continuing to read further in Genesis and then reading about Adam and Eve and their sin of eating the fruit. That story also trumped me. They were punished for eating a fruit – that was not supposed to be eaten. But what was the big mistake in that? I kept reading. Then came the pages and pages of names of various people – he begot him and so on. It seemed like having no end – and so I flipped pages to find the chapter where the list of people ended.

Soon I read through the story of Noah – and that was another hard pill to swallow. One ark that will hold a large number of animals, including his family – with none of the animals becoming wild during their ride on waters for 40 days and 40 nights – with Noah having enough food on-board for the entire crew!

After few chapters, I read about the animal sacrifices – wondering how anybody loving and caring can ask for killing of innocent animals.

I stopped reading the Bible.

I met with Uma after a week. We did not talk about Jesus or the Bible and resumed our friendship as if nothing had changed. After few days, I asked more about her Father and Mother. She told me that her Dad had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord after studying the Bible for almost 10 years, arguing with his friends and family. Uma came from a Brahman family – this is similar to being a Priestly family when one looks at the Jewish system. It must have been very difficult for her father to abandon his Brahman identity and become a Christian – but so I thought. She did tell me that most of her father’s relatives had kind of broken their ties with him when he decided to follow Jesus. And he never asked her to read the bible or ever took her to the place where he used to go every Sunday. It was almost like a secret personal relationship with Jesus.

This intrigued me.

The bible was on the book shelves and I would pick it up from time to time and flip the pages and read from anywhere. Soon I started reading the book of Psalms randomly. Whenever I read anything from the book of Psalms, it was immediately comforting. The struggles of the author were so similar to a lot of what I was going through and I learned that the author of the Psalm somehow got back to depending on or trusting in God. In fact, I used to read the Psalms randomly before I started going to work and it used to affect my day. I soon started emailing Uma what had read and sometimes she would respond.

One day, while flipping the pages of the bible, I came to the book called Book of John. I read first few verses and it was as if I was reading the book of Genesis from the beginning. Therein was the greatest concept that initially thought was a well planned story – the Word being personified and involved in creation of the world!

I remember coming back from work, and continued reading the book of John. The language of this book and the way it was presenting pieces of information about Jesus – it was more of a curiosity than anything else – because I was getting to read something about this person named Jesus Christ.

Soon the chapters became more and more challenging – with an increasing tempo of the exclusive claims Jesus was making. Things like he was born of a virgin, claims like he is from heaven, he performed miracles like healing blind people, feeding five thousand people from a few loaves of bread and fish and such. The hardest claim to come to terms with was that Jesus is THE way, truth and life.

Given my faith in god and my understanding that there are many gods – given my upbringing of tolerance to other gods – I found this exclusive claim by Jesus extremely arrogant. As if, unless you accept him, you have no access to god.

Which god was I talking to then when I was talking to the idol of Ganapati?

Slowly I also grasped the concept of God in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I had seen this triune god concept in the stories I grew up with – with god being the creator, sustainer and the destroyer. But eventually it was becoming clear that God is becoming exclusive in the person of Jesus Christ. He seems to be the only person who is rightly related to God in the Father and the only way for me to be rightly related to God. His mediation was of utmost necessity – outside of him there was no relationship with God. This was extremely hard for me to accept.

But I continued reading while still struggling with this and other questions.

And then one night I read the chapters that depicted how He was crucified and how he was raised. I doubted his resurrection, not his death. How can someone be raised from dead? I had never heard any such thing before. It was impossible.

The description of his suffering and the way he was killed was something I could not grasp. I kept asking – Why was his death necessary? And why in this manner? I assumed there is really something so important to God that Jesus had to be sacrificed. And so the story of Abraham came to my mind – which I had read about in Genesis. It was about sacrificing his own Son – which was a test for Abraham. And I could see that even though God provided a replacement back then when Abraham was being tested – there was no replacement when he sacrificed his Son. I kept wondering what is it that caused God to not provide a replacement.

There must be something that God has either lost that needs to be re-claimed and so the sacrifice. And then it occurred to me. God revealed his nature and desire to replicate himself via the creation – especially through creation of the man and the woman. He wanted a people for himself – those who will love him and worship him with all their heart, mind and soul. And so he created the world. But then, this world became what he did not want. It forsook him. And it followed all other gods but not the one who created them. Maybe one of the reasons his people forsook him was because they had his spirit, but not his identity yet – they were created in his image – but they were not in him. And so God wants them back – but this time he wanted to recreate them. And the only way he can do that is by sacrificing his son – who will live a human life and experience the human life and die as a human being – but be raised as a glorified being. Through his death, he will make the human race that forsook God to die in his eyes (to be nullified of their abandoning of God) and he can look at a new people – those who are now being re-created in his son. Those who decide to follow his son – will enter the process of re-creation. So to start the re-creation of the people God knew will love him and worship him, he had to start with the Word again. And Jesus Christ was that Word. This is exactly what the book of John started with.

Then this meant – what do I do now? Do I follow Jesus Christ – which means I will become so occupied with him in my life – that everything else will becomes insignificant. And how was this different than the disciple I had found in the RamaKrishna Math?

Over next few months it became clear that it is not about me – it is about Jesus. God does not want me to become a good person – he is all concerned only about his Son Jesus Christ. It is him that God has loved. Even though it was hard for me to accept that I am not at the center of God’s desire – it became clear that Jesus Christ is. Which meant – I needed to be in Christ. Which meant I needed to accept that Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life? And I did. Because only in him I saw the love of God poured out for all humanity – but again – it was not about me – but about his Son.

Just to grasp this small concept of God’s love was so liberating – I decided to take the plunge even though I did not have all the answers. I took the leap of faith – which called for some great surgeries that I will be going through in next few years (now looking back) – but I was excited about following this new God. For the first time I had an understanding of God that went beyond who I was. And God became personal to me – in the person on Jesus Christ.

Most of the times our spiritual conquest (if there is a genuine desire) will lead to one of the three – become an atheist, contiue in our parents or family religion and traditions, or become self-focused and start finding the god within. Seldom it ends at a person. And in my case, it ended at a Person – that is Jesus Christ.

Then the next question came. When I follow Jesus, what happens to my religious identity and my day to day life? Well, the answer came soon. I had to completely devote to Jesus or to forsake this new found way. There is no middle ground. And so I decided to change my ways. I told my parents that I am going to follow Jesus – which meant abandoning my religious identity and take on a new identity – follower of Jesus Christ. I made it clear to them that I am not becoming a Christian or changing my religion. I am abandoning my religion and adopting a no-religion stance – just devoted to the person of Jesus Christ.

Here is why I did not want to be called or become a Christian – I was aware of the Christian religion that was a small inescapable percentage of the social fabric I grew up with. It was mostly the Catholic religion. (Over the years I learned that the Christian religion I was exposed to was more of the Catholic Religion and that Catholicism and just a Bible based faith are not the same). There were churches in our city and there were parts of the city where the Christians lived in pockets. I had seen small churches in our cities and even visited one in the US when I was on a business trip. I was exposed to Christian festivals like Christmas, Easter and Good Friday. I had seen some of the Christian people in a different part of the city and knew they dressed differently, especially the women. And I had noticed that most of the Christians worshiped statues of Mary and Jesus and also lighted candles in their homes and the churches. This was not what I was reading in the bible. There was no worshipping of a status or picture of Jesus or any special position given to Mary or even the burning of candles. And I was not going to change my name either – which was common when people became christians or got “converted”. I was not going to start visiting another building – called church – which in some ways was no different than going to a temple that I used to visit before.

But the kind of people I was exposed to via Uma and her bible study group were not the same christian people I was exposed to while growing up. They did not meet in any special building called Church but were meeting in a house. Over next one year as I visited them often on Sundays and other days of the week, I discovered that they do not worship Mary in any special way. They worshiped Jesus Christ and believed that he is the only true and living God. There were some different things I did notice about their gatherings (more about that in the future posts) – but those were peripheral aspects. Jesus Christ was the main thing.

So I was basically debating this question in my mind: Christianity or Jesus Christ?

And I went after Jesus Christ. I did not want another religion.

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