Monday, October 6, 2008
Most of us regret things we’ve done in our lives. It seems that the longer we live, the more we pick up sins like a velvet garment picks up lint. As kids, we start out pretty innocent–total depravity assumed, of course. But over the years we hurt others, we do things we shouldn’t, or we don’t do things we should have done. And our consciences become stained with the dye of remorse. Oh, that we could do away with all those mistakes and start fresh! Oh, that we could have a complete do-over, a new life, a new start.
And I would suggest that this yearning for new life is all but universal. It spans across cultures and languages: as members of the human race, we all want to be cleansed and experience new, pure life.
Consider this article from The New York Times as evidence. It seems that legions of Thais are flocking to a Buddhist temple for the chance to be born again. The lure of new life is just too much for many to stay away. In fact, as many as 700 come to the temple on a typical weekend to pay their $5 for a fresh start. When it is their turn, the people come into the temple, nine at a time, and lie down in coffins, directed by a monk wielding a bullhorn. The monks chant a quick dirge, and, presto, the people emerge cleansed of the past, ready to live a new life. Like a circus, temple vendors also sell magic amulets to the highest bidder, promising to bring them good luck and protect them from bad karma.
To me it looks like religious predators have capitalized on the masses’ understandable desire for rebirth. From an outside perspective, it seems that a people steeped in superstition are being taken advantage of with talk of “good luck,” “bad luck,” success, and prosperity.
As a Christian, I recognize that a longing for new life is a part of our fallen condition. We yearn to be made right with God and to be forgiven, not only by God, but by those we’ve wronged. But paying for empty rituals will never be enough to grant us forgiveness and rebirth.
Even the rituals of the Old Covenant, detailed in Exodus and Leviticus, were not able to take away people’s sins. They merely pointed forward to the perfect sacrifice for sins, given once for all (See Hebrews 9:9-10). Endless rituals can never relieve the consciences of sinful people, whether they are sacrificing a bull or paying 5 bucks to lie down in a coffin! So if those are just temporary fixes, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14 TNIV)
When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, he was curious about the nature of Jesus’ teaching and mission. But Jesus cut through Nicodemus’ questions and told him the blunt truth about the way to obtain new life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5 ESV) The good news that I hope everyone–including the Buddhists in Thailand–will comprehend, is that new life comes only through faith in Jesus Christ! By receiving him and believing in his name, we are born again as children of God. (John 1:12-13) No need for strange rituals. No need for shelling out money for someone to “bury” you. And no need for despair. This new life is available to everyone, free of charge.