Many Echoes But Only One True Story
We all know periodic moments in which, suddenly, we seem to see clearly---as if a veil lifts or a bell rings. I recently experienced such a moment while traveling in Indonesia with my husband. Before our visits to a number of Christian schools, we spent a couple days in and around the ancient capital of Jogjakarta in central Java.
The moment came as we toured the impressive ninth-century Hindu Prambanan Temple. First we climbed the steep, uneven stone steps of a shrine encasing a huge statue of Brahma---who turned out to have four heads with four distinct faces. I had been studying Revelation 4. So a picture immediately sprang to mind of a heavenly throne room, with four living creatures surrounding the throne, the first like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with a face like a man, and the fourth like an eagle in flight. In Ezekiel's corresponding vision, each of these four living creatures has four faces. As we were climbing back down, our guide explained some of the carvings in the walls around us, one being a portrayal of a great flood, with a floating ark held up by a fish, an avatar of the god Vishnu.
The clear sense of biblical echoing brought back some of the stories we had heard the previous day, touring another huge ninth-century stone temple---a Buddhist one, called Borobudur. There we had seen even more intricate carvings and heard from our guide the corresponding stories: for example, of the immaculate conception of Buddha, through a white elephant who entered his mother's side during a dream . . . of evil spirits attacking babies in the womb, because they heard about a god to be born who would destroy all evil.
I commented to our guide on the remarkable correspondences of such stories in various faiths. He enthusiastically agreed, mentioning that he himself was Muslim but found it enlivening to carry all the versions of such tales in his imagination as he conducted his tours to the various temples. He could find good in them all. As we stood there and chatted, the loud afternoon call to prayer began to ring out from the tall, shining minaret of a nearby mosque. There we stood, having been enfolded by sights and sounds of Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths.
Echoes and Fragments
The bell ringing for me in that moment was the remarkable echoing of the Christian faith in all directions. Through their prayers, their temples, their carvings, and all the associated stories and beliefs, these religions have not been able to create something new. They have in large part echoed, fragmented, and revised the truth. Satan and his forces ultimately lack creativity, not replacing but perverting the one true story of the universe revealed in the Bible. The very fact that many religions and myths involve sacrifices to appease the wrath of the gods points to a universal sense of sin and guilt---and a universal need for the perfect Lamb of God who offered himself as a sacrifice for us.
What emerges, from a biblical perspective, is not a group of parallel religions but rather a remarkable set of evidences for the one true one. Echoings of the true story validate that story in the end and point to the futility of trying to construct another. If the Bible speaks truly, then those dusty, shadowy ancient temples---and the shiny new mosque next door---represent false, futile attempts to rewrite the story revealed to human beings by our Creator in his inspired Word. They ultimately reject the Word made flesh, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It helps to remember that we Christians don't in the eyes of heaven represent one seat at a worldwide table of competing powers. There is only one true temple, only one God in the heavenly throne room surrounded by those four heavenly creatures that evidence his reflection and dominion in every part of his creation. There is only one continually echoed story, the one that starts in Genesis and reaches through Revelation into the hope of eternity with God himself.
Such a remembering, such a moment as this one for me, makes the communication of the good news of Jesus Christ not only more urgent but also most reasonable . . . the one true story of the universe written and revealed by our Creator Redeemer God, for all the nations of the world and ultimately for the glory of his Son.