Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What a Weird Forest

Approximately one month ago, I read a book entitled God's Rivals by Gerals McDermott. This was a great time, because in many ways McDermott eloquently and researchfully (yeah I made it up...do something about it) explained what I think I have believed for a long time about other religions. In brief, he argues that there is truth in other religions, but it is only a part of the whole truth that we find in Christ. While the subtitle (Why has God allowed other religions?) betrays his Calvinism, the content of the book is extremely worthwhile.

All of that is to say that I have been thinking more about the presence of some truth in other religions over the last month. Consequently, I wonder if sometimes our poor interpretation of truth in Christianity leads to other religions having contributions to Christianity from time to time. In the midst of all this thinking, I am doing research on the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Let me paint a little picture for you.

In the average Jewish mind, probably because of the success of the Macabbean Revolt and the subsequent "Pax Romana," the Messiah had come to take on an extremely political bent. The pharisees (who represented the masses) typically hoped for a Messiah who would come overthrow Rome and take over the world in a glorious age for the Israelites. This did not characterize all pharisees, as there was about as much diversity of belief as there currently is among evangelicals. However, this was popular opinion.

In the average Samaritan mind, there was a very different Messianic expectation. Please remember that to most Jews, Samaritans were worse than normal Gentiles because they were half-breeds worshipping a perverted version of Yahweh conflated with other regional from Northern Assyria. The Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch as Scripture, so here is their expectation. The Samaritans expected a Messiah called Taheb. Taheb was not a political Messiah, but a teacher. This is why the Samaritan woman says "I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim (or explain) all things to us." In addition, their expectation was that Taheb would be like Moses, leading them to redemption.

Which version of Messiah sounds more like Jesus? Yet this is not meant to throw Judaism out the window. The author of John has Jesus saying (probably not authentic), "salvation is from the Jews." So Israel is still great and chosen here, but they got their Messianic hopes wrong. Therefore, the Samaritans had a picture of Messiah that was closer to the truth, even the truth still came through God's chosen people, the Jews.

Now fast forward approximately 1910 years (from the writing of John, not from Jesus' encounter with the woman), and what does this tell us? Perhaps we have sweet things to learn from other religions. This is not to say that other religions contain more truth. Instead, when people from other cultures (including religions) approach similar things to Christianity, perhaps we can learn from their perspective on it. For example, research has shown that the meditation practices of some buddhist monks make them more compassionate and empathetic than people from any other religion (I don't know how you research this...Giles believes the researchers went and punched each other and they calculated how many tears the poll participants shed). That research may be bunk and ridiculous, but they notion of meditation that leads to greater compassion for the Other is something we should learn from. There are probably a lot more examples, but I need to get back to work. Thus...in summary...Don't just talk, listen.


Steve said...

Good thoughts, Ry. I would further suggest that part of the reason we can find some truth in most any religion is because 1) we are created in God's image and that has implications for all people as they seek to define the realities of who we are and how we relate, and 2) God's created order (natural revelation) can be explored and studied by anyone, and you don't need to be a Christian to discern the truths in that creation.

Ryan 1 said...

I totally agree.