[The author Radhika D Shyam is a published author of books and writes regularly for the Deccan Herald. She is also a dear friend and classmate, and our friendship goes back a long ways, almost 50 years. Her latest piece in the Herald is called Prayer and Spirituality.]
As a serious student of Christian doctrine, I usually steer clear of most religious articles. [I am even more selective around Christian articles, because shallow content, gullibility, mediocrity, and poor logic disappoint me deeply, while dishonesty in writing makes me angry.] But Radhika’s piece, which came to me in my Facebook newsfeed, piqued my curiosity, and I decided to read it. Just as I began to read, I made a mental note to read it as if it were a general piece, as against a religious one—to read it as I would an article about Insulin or the solar system—something that I would not need to critique and analyse—something that I could just sit back and enjoy. Although I did not mean to be contrary, my views were so different, that I was automatically washed over to the side, looking in from the outside. And yet, surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed the clarity and simplicity of the writing. Wanting to somehow convey my appreciation, I commented below her post saying: “Although my take on the matter is different, I appreciate the clarity with which you have written this piece.” That would have been end of story, had not Radhika very sweetly come back with: “Would love to know your take on this,” hence this post.
Radhika’s article describes the importance of communicating with God—and the need for our spirits/souls to communicate with God. She goes on to recommend the method of chanting, for its healing and soothing effects, concluding her article by pointing to the wisdom in remembering God at all times instead of calling out only in times of distress.
‘Spirituality is the medium that connects the Aatma with the Paramatma.’ I’d like to use this simple sentence in Radhika’s article as my launching pad.
Different people can understand the word ‘spirituality’ in different ways, much like how people perceived the photograph that did the rounds on the Internet of the dress, which some saw as blue and others as gold. But I don’t think I am too far off the mark in assuming that Radhika is referring to the spirit-to-spirit, soul-to-soul, heart-to-heart connection with the Maker. I am reminded of the Biblical text in John’s gospel where Jesus is having a conversation with a Samaritan woman and says: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
‘Spirituality’ could well summarise what transpires between aatma and Paramatma—between our souls and God. And the Bible has much to say about the dynamics of this access to God and and about communing with Him. On the one hand, the Bible tells us that the reason for this urge in our spirits is because we are created in the image of God, and consequently, as someone has said, we all have a ‘God-shaped hole’ in our hearts that only God can fill. On the other hand, the Bible tells us that, because of sin, there is a chasm between God and us, with no access across to Him. This gloom is a great leveler, including as it does every human being under heaven of every skin colour, nationality, religion, and status.
This is where the light of the gospel cuts through the thick darkness and gloom, announcing to the world that through Christ—the Prayashchit/the Propitiation—a way has been made, and is freely available to anyone who would let go of all other lifelines and come to Christ in faith. The expectation and longing for such a Propitiation is as old as the hills, as is the idea that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.
Now, let’s say someone lets go of everything, and runs to Christ, what happens next? Well, many simultaneous changes happen and some of the salient ones that come to mind are:
- The sin account is erased. Our tattered and filthy garments are removed. (Erasing of the sin account)
- We are covered, as it were, with the righteousness of Jesus, clothed in vestments that allow us to enter into the presence of a holy God.
- We are adopted into God’s family as sons and daughters.
- We are promised eternal life, which means that we have a glorious continuum to look forward to, beyond the veil of death.
- We have direct access to God’s throne room in prayer.
- Knowing that we are frail and need help, we are given the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts, and this Holy Spirit who indwells believers, does a number of things for us
- The Holy Spirit illuminates the scriptures for us, so that we are able to absorb what we need for our nourishment.
- The Holy Spirit helps us to live holy lives. (Living holy lives)
- The Holy Spirit helps us pray correctly. (Divine help in prayer)
I would like to elaborate on three items in this list.
Erasing of the sin account
The article mentions the Karmic account, saying, ‘There is no escape from our karma through our actions, thoughts and deeds.’ Now, Karma only makes sense in the context of reincarnation, but because the Bible says that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgement, I will use the term ‘sin account’ for our purposes. Moreover, the sin account as described in the Bible is so much like how Radhika describes the Karmic account—with no escape by means of our efforts—it just gets worse and worse for us, like getting stuck in quicksand.
When everything seemed bleak, and it looked as if evil had the upper hand, through a means that flabbergasted even the hosts of heaven, the Sacrifice was made, and bang in the middle of history, God’s Lamb was killed on a Roman cross, creating a way out for the children at great cost, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. This ancient, nondescript Doorway, the One who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” still beckons the weary sinner in. When sinners walks through the Door, they get new clothes. They now have access to God, but they cannot come before the Father dressed in their tattered and soiled garments of sin. Instead they are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and then stand justified before God, just as if they had never sinned.
Living holy lives
Believers are called saints in the Bible, simply because they stand before God, clothed with Christ’s perfection and righteousness. But something else is going on inside the hearts of believers, where the indwelling Holy Spirit gradually strengthens their spirits and consciences, helping them to start taking baby steps in the path of holiness. Over time, they become more and more holy on the inside, moving towards the perfection of Jesus’ righteousness that covers them on the outside. They are promised that when they pass through death, this process of holiness will be complete.
Oh, and the other wonderful thing about this is that believers do not take these steps in the path of holiness under duress or fear. Heaven is theirs unconditionally, for the transaction is over—the Prayashchith Lamb has taken away their sin account in its entirety, sins of past, present, and future! So they follow in this path, even to the death if required, out of sheer love for the Lamb, knowing the joy that lies ahead. (Herein lies the sad difference between true children and those who are merely nominal.)
Divine help in prayer
This is the point that has direct bearing on the central theme of Radhika’s article—the spiritual communication between aatma and Paramatma—and the issue of access that the Bible raises. I know that Radhika herself would be familiar with the triune nature of the Godhead, but it is still good to mention it, for the benefit of other readers. The God of the Bible is one Being in three Persons—Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are told that this has always been their relationship from eternity past. We don’t break our heads over this too much, because we don’t believe we will be able to understand it, this side of heaven anyway. Suffice it to know that the Son—the Prayashchit Lamb—is part of the Godhead and so is the Holy Spirit who indwells believers.
This indwelling Holy Spirit helps believers to pray in a way that is acceptable. It may be helpful here to quote from the scriptures: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
So when believers pray, the Spirit who indwells them, takes their pathetic attempts at prayer and dignifies and formats them with the right words and the right protocol and so on.
As if this were not enough, at the other end, Jesus, the Son, performs a mediatory, high priestly role and intercedes for believers. I will close with a quote from the New Testament about this matter that has been of great encouragement over the last 2000 years. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”