An excerpt from God of the Untouchables by Dave Hunt
The drums had been beating for over an hour. Looking up from his work, Vankateswami had a perfect view of the goddess Moolamma’s temple facing his house from the other side of the small square. With growing excitement he had watched the farmers and their families—running, laughing children, wives and young women in dazzling multihued saris—arriving in a steady stream through the port gate to his right, gathering in front of the temple, which was far too small to accommodate the large crowd on this annual festival day. In his younger years the executioner’s slashing sword and spurting blood frightened him—but this had become Vankateswami’s favorite religious festival. Certainly it was the most exciting. Perhaps its very gruesomeness and violence made it peculiarly appealing in a society where the devout wouldn’t kill an ant or a fly and everyone was dedicated to nonviolence, inspired not only by the ancient writings but of late by the courageous example of Mahatma Gandhi, who was slowly breaking Britain’s grip on India by passive resistance.
There was nothing passive in this ritual. At last! There it was: the day’s sacrifice, being pulled and pushed by three men through the crowd until they were in front of the image of the goddess, where they held it—a large buffalo, the gray mud scrubbed from its back until it was shining and clean.
Of course, the law of ahimsa was supposed to be followed at all times by Hindus; but, as Vankateswami had already learned, there were exceptions to every rule. What devout Hindu did not revere Kali, consort of Siva, at whose temple in Calcutta animals were sacrificed by the hundreds, ahimsa notwithstanding? Was not Kali’s beauty in her bloodthirstiness? Often pictured with freshly severed human heads and hands hanging as garlands about her, a goblet of warm human blood in her hands, she lived by killing her sons and daughters among men. Who could therefore doubt that a blood sacrifice was what, above all, she wanted? Ramakrishna himself had been one of her most adoring devotees, and who was a greater Hindu or a truer one than he?
Though not as famous as Kali, Moolamma, too, required fresh blood. Often goats would be slain for her by plunging their necks down onto the sharp stake that stood upright in front of her temple. Once every year, however, when the paddy was planted, a buffalo had to be offered, and prescribed ritual followed in order to assure the blessings of Moolamma, goddess of fertility, upon the surrounding fields for another season.
Absorbed in the excitement and intricate ritual unfolding before him now, Vankateswami forgot momentarily the despair that had gripped him since reading in the Bhagavad-Gita that there was no salvation for sinners. Although he had watched this every year since childhood, today again the whirling, frenzied dancers fascinated him as always, and the drums and horns made his foot tap with the steady rhythm. The beat quickened, and every eye was riveted upon the stalwart young sword-wielding farmer who had joined the priest in front of the goddess and the victim. This year’s executioner, as always, had been chosen for his unusual strength, for the thick neck of the pawing buffalo must be severed with one blow.
The highly polished, glittering sword, sparkling like a diamond in the sun, suddenly flashed in lightning-swift arc. A heavy shudder went through the buffalo’s body; then without a sound its knees buckled, and the stricken creature rolled over onto the ground, quivering, the severed head coming to rest a few feet away. Quickly the sacred vessels were placed to catch the precious blood draining from the neck. The chanted mantras and blessings of the priest, accompanied by the murmured responses of the worshipers, were punctuated by the now slowed and softened beating of the drums as uncooked rice was stirred into the warm blood. Farmers pressed forward eagerly to take their share as one by one they left to spread this red-stained offering on their fields. There was power in that blood. Power to bring forth healthy plants from the ground and to assure a good harvest, the special blessing of goddess Moolamma . . . unless the monsoon god, or the god of drought, or the god of blight, interfered with a stronger power.
Several days later a white man he had never seen, accompanied by several Untouchables, invaded the Vaisya community through the port gate and stood in the square in a small group facing Vankateswami’s house, their backs to Moolamma’s now deserted temple. While one of the Indians played a harmonium and two others kept time with a tambourine and a tiny drum, the group sang loudly several incomprehensible songs about a strange God called Jesus. Their drab performance seemed a pitiful contrast to the exciting and colorful ritual that had been acted out on this square so recently. The tall white man was obviously a missionary. Vankateswami had heard of such people but had never come into contact with one before.
Vankateswami knew nothing about Christ, only that there was a community of the followers of this strange God outside nearly every village he had ever seen. Even his own village had a small community of Christians, removed by half a mile from the main settlement because they were Untouchables. It was the law of manu to isolate such people, who were despised by the gods themselves. That was reason enough for every caste Hindu to reject Christ; but, worse yet, Christians called the Hindu gods myths, and ate the meat of the cow, the sacred Mother of us all!
Vankateswami had been absorbed in trying to cover in the books his most recent theft. The loud singing distracted his thoughts and made it difficult to add the figures. Dropping his pen with a grunt of disgust, he straightened up and began wearily rubbing his tired back.
The words ringing across the square were offensive to anyone who adhered to ahimsa, as every Hindu must:
Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood . . . the precious blood of the Lamb!
Not only was the song offensive, but it made no sense. A lamb was much smaller than a buffalo. Obviously white men knew nothing about the goddess Moolamma. Trying again to concentrate upon his work, he was distracted by another song:
O the blood of Jesus, the precious blood of Jesus!
O the blood of Jesus, that cleanses from all sin!
Blood that cleanses from all sin? He could understand the logic of bloodstained rice bringing fertility to the land it was sprinkled upon, for the rice itself was of the soil. But how could the blood of a lamb cleanse from sin? And this Jesus . . . was He after all a lamb and not a god? It hardly mattered—the God of the Untouchables was no god for him. And with millions of gods, why should any Hindu want another?
The singing stopped. Vankateswami picked up his pen again and tried to concentrate on his work. The missionary’s loud, booming voice made that impossible. He was waving a black book in his hand and shouting to the whole world that it was the revelation of the true and only God, the Creator, telling the way of salvation. Opening it, he began to read:
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; . . . (1 Timothy:1:15)
To save sinners! Vankateswami was hanging onto every word, his work forgotten. Could there really be salvation for sinners? For him? A small crowd had gathered, perhaps 30 or 40 Sudras and Vaisyas. Even a Brahmin was hovering near the edge of the square, trying to look as though he wasn’t listening. The stranger with the pale skin was explaining that this Jesus was the very god that created the entire universe, yet He had come to this earth as a man to save sinners. There it was again—to save sinners! He had lived a perfect, sinless life, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, teaching men to love even their enemies—but He had been hated. Men had nailed His hands and feet to a cross, plunged a spear into His side; and there He had died as a sacrifice for our sins willingly because He loved us. On the third day He had been resurrected—not reincarnated—and had gone back to heaven, but was coming again to this earth to set up His kingdom.
“There is power in the blood of Jesus to deliver from sin’s penalty,” the missionary explained. “Sin is rebellion against our Creator, taking our own way instead of living as He intended. God said the wages of sin is death . . . [see Romans:6:23]. We rebel again and try to escape this righteous penalty, clinging desperately to life, afraid to die. But Jesus was willing to die for us all. He said: Follow me to my cross, accept my death as your very own, die with me, and you will share in my Resurrection, for I will live in you [see Matthew:16:24-25]. You need have no fear of hell. The penalty has been paid. Believe this good news and you will have the peace of those who have been forgiven.”
For hours after the stranger left, his words were still ringing in Vankateswami’s ears. It was too good, too simple, to be true. According to the Bhagavad-Gita, salvation was much more difficult than that. Krishna would not save the sinners, but they might save themselves, for he had said to Arjuna, “Even if thou art the most sinful of sinners thou wilt cross over all transgression by the raft of divine knowledge.” But there was no clear explanation of how to attain this knowledge, and the gurus gave many interpretations. It was thought to come by yoga, for Krishna had said again, “There is no purifier on earth equal to divine knowledge. A man who becomes perfect in yoga finds it in himself in the course of time.” Yet yogis who had practiced all their lives still sought oneness with Brahman. If Christ’s offer seemed too simple, surely yoga was too difficult. Self-realization was attempted by many, but who had ever really achieved it? Certainly no one in his village, nor anyone he had ever heard of, not even the priests, nor Jaigee’s younger brother. Would simply believing that Christ had died for his sins give that inner peace that he had sought unsuccessfully? It seemed preposterous. And yet, if God would forgive. . . .
Indeed, if there was forgiveness, then karma was obsolete, and the whole idea of reincarnation was meaningless. The cycle of rebirth into future lives was only a means by which karma could exact its due. But, if God could forgive sinners because Christ had died for them, then karma had nothing to exact. His head throbbed.
Closing the books, Vankateswami walked outside, leaving his father and uncles absorbed in their conversations with customers. The smell of jasmine was thick in the air. He breathed deeply and watched two blackbirds pursue a squawking crow out of sight. There was only one thing to do. He must read this book for himself. Clapping his hands, he called a servant and sent him to the Untouchables’ village to borrow a New Testament.
At first he read secretly. Much he didn’t comprehend, but it took no great understanding to see that the main message of the New Testament was salvation for sinners through Christ’s death and Resurrection. The more he read, the louder his conscience seemed to say, This is the salvation you have been seeking. Why don’t you receive it? Krishna came to save the righteous, but what salvation did they need? Who will save sinners—like you—if not this Jesus? He wrestled with that question for weeks.
Eventually he began reading the New Testament aloud each morning when the office opened for business, just as he had once read the Bhagavad-Gita. His father and uncles paid little attention and made no complaint. Customers would linger on and listen as long as he kept reading. Villagers, and even strangers, crossing the square and hearing his loud voice, would come and stand in front of the house, seemingly drawn by the story of Jesus.
In contrast to the Bhagavad-Gita, which had seemed mystical, obscure, and at times contradictory, this Jesus spoke so simply and directly—and not of religion or philosophy, but of Himself: I have come to seek and to save the lost. . . . I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to Father, but by me. . . . I and my Father are one. . . . Before Abraham was, I am. . . . Search the Scriptures, for they testify of me. . . . Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . . If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. . . . I am the good shepherd who gives His life for the sheep. . . . I am the resurrection and the life. . . . The hour is coming when all that are in the graves shall hear my voice and come forth. . . . And then many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, haven’t we done miracles in your name?” And I will say to them, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” . . . For not every one who merely calls me Lord will enter into the kingdom, but those who do my Father’s will. . . . And this is His will, that you believe on me.
Jesus was not preaching a path of knowledge, nor of difficult works, nor self-realization through yoga and endless repetition of the syllable Om. That was abundantly clear. His statements were staggering in their simplicity and frightening in their blunt directness: Judge not, lest you be judged. . . He who hears my words and obeys them not is like a fool building a house without foundation on sand. . . The words I have spoken will judge you in that day. . . . I am the light of the world.
All men stood condemned in His presence, yet He forgave those who repented and believed in Him.
Everything Jesus said contradicted the religion Vankateswami had been taught, and that troubled him. The truth of truths for every Hindu was that he was God; but Jesus taught that He alone of all men was God, and every other man was separated from God by sin. The great objective of Hinduism was God-consciousness through divine knowledge; Jesus urged men to receive the benefits of God’s love through faith in Him. Yoga was a set of methods for looking within oneself to find God; Jesus said that men must admit the impossibility of saving themselves and accept His sacrifice for their sins. Krishna had taught Arjuna that everything but Brahman is illusion and assured him that it wasn’t wrong to kill because one only kills the unreal body and not the Self, which cannot be killed. But Jesus taught men to love even their enemies and to lay down their own lives, not to take the lives of others.
Weeks stretched into months and still he read the New Testament aloud each day, now thoroughly convinced that Christ and Krishna were not merely different manifestations of the same God. Hundreds of gurus in India claimed to be the latest reincarnation of the “Christ spirit.” They couldn’t all be right. Were any of them? Not according to this Book, which claimed that Christ’s birth through a virgin in Bethlehem had brought Him for the very first time to earth, not as an avatar, but as God becoming man only once to die for our sins, finishing the work of salvation once for all.
Jesus claimed to be the only way . . . and if that was true, then Krishna was wrong. They couldn’t both be right. Vankateswami mulled over that for weeks, seeking desperately to escape the logic of it. Gandhi had admired Jesus while remaining a Hindu. Pondering that deeply, Vankateswami concluded that, as much as he respected Gandhi, it didn’t make sense. If Jesus was just another god, then why bother with him at all? Hinduism already had more than enough gods. It was His uniqueness that made Jesus desirable. He alone had died for our sins, been resurrected, and promised forgiveness and eternal life to all who would believe in Him. There was no other god like that! If Jesus was who He claimed to be, then all the rest were frauds.
That was the rub. It was bad enough to embrace the Untouchables’ God. But, if accepting Jesus’ death for our sins was the only way, then the perfect practice of yoga, holy baths in the Ganges, offerings to the idols, the pursuit of mystic knowledge and god-consciousness through meditation could only be what Jesus called “climbing up another way, as a thief and a robber” (see John:10:1). It was like dying to accept this Jesus, dying to life as one would have lived it. No wonder Jesus had said that to be His disciple one must deny himself, take up the cross, and follow Him. Vankateswami was afraid. To accept this Jesus would cost him everything.
Great crises are often resolved in unexpected and simple ways. He was reading aloud from the New Testament as usual, with several customers listening, and had reached the eighth chapter of Hebrews. The twelfth verse, like a number of others throughout this book, had been underlined by the owner in red ink. Vankateswami read it twice because it seemed so important. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” He let his eyes run over the words again, and something inside him said, Yes, I’ll believe that. God can forgive me because Jesus died for my sins.
“I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, . . .” He had struggled so long and so hard to become righteous, without success. How he needed God’s mercy and forgiveness! He needed a salvation that didn’t depend upon his own merits but upon the sacrifice of one who had been able to die in his place. “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” That promise took away his fear. It had been settled forever.
“Thank you, Lord,” he said under his breath. “Thank you.” The crisis had passed almost without his realizing it.
Part One of Paul's story: http://www.thebereancall.org/content/february-2016-extra-in-search-of-salvation