by Rob Lundberg
I find it fascinating that when I post a blog to a Facebook Group or my wall, people answer the question being answered in the post, before reading the blog post. That is rather humorous to say the least. However not too long ago, I received a text message from one of our students in our Student ministry at church. His text was asking for my thoughts regarding his friend toying with the idea of leaving his Christian faith for another religion. The religion, that his friend was dabbling with, was Buddhism.
One thing that this student knew, that many others do not know, is that there is a vast difference between the Judeo Christian view of God, and Buddhism. And springboarding off this thought, if there were no difference there would be no need of leaving one for the other. So let’s get down to the real issue on this subject.
Knowing the Difference
One of the easiest ways to understand the differences between the major world religions and answer the objections to religious exclusiveness is understanding three clarifying statements presenting the separate the views of God. Those statements are as follows,
1. God made all (Theism): The religions that fall under this statement are the theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While Judaism and Christianity might have the same God, there are differences in understanding what God is like. When it comes to the contrasts to the Judeo Christian God and Islamic monotheism there are stark differences of key importance that I will treat in the next section.
2. God is all (Pantheism): The religions that line up with this view are the pantheistic religions of Hinduism and the pantheistic aspects of Buddhism. While there is an understanding of pantheism, meaning “all is God,” there are broad differences in the understanding between the two religions
3. No God at all (Atheism): This is where atheism and the skeptical views of God’s existence or nonexistence come in. This goes without saying. Let me also note that the idea of no god at all has allusions in the concept of Chi found in Zen Buddhism.
Putting the Three Worldviews Under the Microscope.
By taking a quick look at each of the above worldviews, we can find that there are vast differences from each of them, as well as a difference in the theistic views.
A quick look at the theistic religions will show that there is a difference between the Judeo Christian God and the Islamic view of God. For the sake of space I will only list a few.
The difference between the Jewish view of God and the Christian view is that while both believe in the same God, Jews reject the triune nature of God by rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. Both faiths believe God is personal, and loving and can be known in a relationship, Jews do not believe in a strong relationship. Both religions believe that God answers prayer, though there may be different understands of what that looks and sounds like.
The difference between the Judeo Christian view of God and Islam’s teaching on who God is. Jews and Muslims believe that God (YHWH and Allah) are a monad, meaning one. The Christian understanding of the oneness of God is found in the unity of the Persons of the Trinity, which Islam accuses Christians of being polytheistic.
While Muslims consider Allah personal, in that he is prayed to, Muslims will tell us that Allah does not answer prayer. There is no personal (I/You) relationship despite Allah being Beneficent and Merciful in the Qur’an. If there is no relationship then, there is no love between Allah and the created human worshiper. In fact, the attribute of “love,” found in the Judeo Christian faiths, is nowhere found in the Surahs of the Qur’an.
God Made All vs God is All
This takes us from the thoughts from the introduction of this post to where the issue presents itself. What is the difference between the view of God in Christianity and Buddhism? Since this falls under the category of “God is all,” let’s throw in the other religion, Hinduism. What is the difference between Christianity and Hinduism? What do these eastern religious views of their deities have in common if anything? Do the eastern religious views line up with the Christian view of God? Let’s look at a quick answer to these questions.
In order to know the real from the counterfeit, it is important to get familiar with the real before one can detect anything fake. To do this, let’s deal first with the essence of the Judeo Christian view of God.
The God of the Judeo Christian faiths is the personal, timeless, immaterial, First Cause of the existence and design of the universe, revealed simultaneously in God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. Biblical Christianity is monotheistic, meaning one God; and God is the transcendent Creator of heavens and the earth, but He is separate from His creation.
Looking at the eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, allow me just to give you a quick snippet on how different they really are in their nature(s). Most Hindus are pantheistic and because there are over 300 million deities many Hindus for the most part are polytheistic.
Pantheism is the belief that all is god, and god is all. In Hinduism there is a pantheon of over 300 million deities (polytheism – many gods). At the same time there is a diversity within Hinduism which allows for other concepts, including monotheism, henotheism (one god among many), and monism (only one eternal reality exists and everything comes from it). Hinduism’s most popular gods are Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu, who have come to earth in various incarnations avatars) to aid human beings.
For Buddhism, it is different. While Hinduism believes in many gods, making up “the One,” Buddhism is a response to Hinduism in that it is a belief system of those who follow “the Buddha.” The Buddha is “the Enlightened One, given to its founder. There is no personal transcendent Being, known as “God” with Buddhism, which in essence makes it “atheistic.” There is no personal relationship with the Buddha, or any past saviors who have forgone nirvana to help others achieve it.
There you have it, in “a nutshell.” The view of God from the Christian worldview is different from the views of the “divine” in both Hinduism and Buddhism. So when a “nutty” Humanities professor tells you that “all gods are the same and they are really just called different names,” remember this posting. I hope you have been encouraged, equipped and possibly challenged to stand firm on the view that not all religions are the same, at least in their views of God.
Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a confused, chaotic, “brave new world.”
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