The Season of Lent: An Indian Christian Reflection Murala Jagadish, SJ

In the following passages an attempt is made to explain the origin of sin, its result in breaking the relationships between God and humans and among humans themselves. This reflection of relationship is taken from the decree of General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (GCSJ) 35 on “Our Mission.” It states that the Mission of every Jesuit is to establish three-fold relationship, namely, relationship between God and human beings (religious), relationship among human beings (sociological) and relationship between nature and human beings (ecological).

The Church tells us that during the season of Lent one must ponder over the sin and Christ, its destroyer. What do we mean by ‘sin,’ how did Christ remove it, are some of the considerations in this little article. If we ask any Christian about the definition of sin no two persons would give the same answer. It is because each one has one’s own experiences and different outlook towards life and its purpose. Let us put our personal opinions aside and examine the meaning of ‘sin’ and how it entered the world according to the Bible. The book of Genesis tells us how sin entered the world. It came because the first humans (names to them as Adam and Eve were given at a later period in the Bible) ate the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat. Is the disobedience to God the cause of sin or does the sin lie in the fruit itself? Let us consider these points. Let us talk about the disobedience first. We give rules to the children while we educate them. If a child disobeys and breaks the rules what would we do? May be we shout at them; at the most we give them physical punishment. And then, we would forget about the small incident. We do not carry one incident of a child disobeying us throughout our life; it is ridiculous! But in case of the first humans God has remembered ‘one’ incident all ‘His’ life

1

(‘His’ life means from the beginning of creation till the end of creation!). Why does he do that? It is the first point we need to meditate upon. We know from the Bible that God has taken special care to create humans than any other creature (Gen. 1:26-30). There is no much explanation how the other things (both animate, i.e., those having life, and inanimate things) are created. There are two accounts of creation in the Bible. In the second account God ‘fashioned’ human being with His own hands; He ‘breathed’ His own spirit into him (Gen 2:7). In the 27th verse of first chapter of the book of Genesis has an important point: “God created man in his own image and likeness.” It is because of this reason that human creation has been described as the ‘crown of creation.’ It is impossible for humans to show disobedience in this state of life. Being in this state of life humans disobeyed God. This disobedience (in the state of being the image and likeness of God) made a breach between God and humans. Humans have lost the nature of God (‘God-like’ status). There is no right relationship between God and humans. This lack of good relationship can be defined as sin. Coming to the second point: the fruit itself is the cause of sin. What is the specialty of the fruit that was eaten by the first humans? God placed ‘two trees’ in the Garden of Eden. They are the tree that gives life and the tree that gives the ‘knowledge’ of good and bad (Gen. 2:9). These two trees are very special because in the Bible we do not have any account of other trees like where they are placed and the result that one gets by eating their fruits. There is an important point to notice here: God ordered the first humans not to eat the fruit of the tree that gives the knowledge of good and bad; He did not forbid eating from the tree of life (Gen. 2:17)! Strangely enough humans did not choose ‘life’ but the ‘knowledge’ that differentiates good from bad (Gen. 3:6). Coming to the concept of sin, God has seen that everything that was created was good. In six days’ creation he ‘saw’ that it was good ‘six times’ (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 25, and 31)! This concludes that ‘everything’ that was created was good. Then where does this concept of ‘bad’ come from? Therefore, it is sin to differentiate the creation into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ After considering the above two points we can define ‘sin’ in two ways: first, the breach between God and humans (lack of right relationship between God and humans) and the second, to divide the creation into good and bad. To overcome this sense of sin we need 2

to ‘convert’ (change our attitudes – heart) and have the sense of equality towards all creation. To have this attitude of equality is the way of Christ. Christ as well as the Indian Thought have shown us the way to have a rightrelationship between God and humans. The first Christians have come to Christ through their own Scripture, namely, the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament). In the same way we, Indians, need to approach Christ from our own Scriptures. In the Indian Scriptures ‘Vedanta’ has a special place. Three Scriptural texts contain the Vedanta, they are: the Upanishads, The Brahmasutras and the Bhagadgita. Together these three are called ‘Prasthanatraya’ (the three that get us across the ocean of ‘Samsara’ – the cycle of births and deaths). The wisdom that these Prasthanatraya contains was explained and espoused by some scholars called ‘Vedantacaryas’ or simply ‘Acaryas.’ There are six important Acaryas. Among these Acaryas Shri Adi Shankaracarya proposed the way of wisdom (‘Jnana-marga) by meditation on the ‘Nirguna Brahma’ (Brahma without any attributes). The other Acaryas (the establishers of bhakti schools of Vedanta) propagated the way of loving devotion (Bhakti-marga) by meditating and serving the ‘Saguna Brahma’ (Brahma with attributes). There is a similarity among all these Acaryas, i.e., the discussion on the relationship between God (Brahma) and Creation. Shri Adi Shankaracharya proposes ‘Advaita’ (non-duality). According to him the creation emanated from Brahma (like a cobweb from the spider) and so there is no difference between God and creation. The difference is perceived by humans because of ‘Avidya’ (non-knowledge). The rest of the Acaryas agree that the creation has come from God. But they disagree that there is difference between God and creation; there is difference between God and creation because of name, form and time (nama, rupa and kala). When we overcome these differences by the loving devotion to God we reach Him and that is Moksha. In Christianity too it is said that by establishing the right relationship with God we attain salvation. The universe is created by the ‘Word;’ that Word is God (John 1:1). The Word became flesh and dwelt among the humans and that is Christ. He has shown a way to reach God by the example of his own life. That is the combination of Jnana, Bhakti and Karma margas. To establish the right relationship we need to have the conversion of heart (Mark 1:15). By following the religious laws meticulously we cannot attain salvation. That way of following the laws enslaves us. All the laws are made for our benefit; so we need to look into the ‘spirit’ of the law and should not follow them blindly (Matthew 12:1-7). This is the 3

Karma marga. To have love in all that we do and follow is the karma marga that Christ taught us. Bhakti is the perfection in love. There should not be any discrimination or conditions in our love (Matt. 5:43-48). This is the culmination of Bhakti marga. Jnana is the sum total of the affective attitudes of our heart. We should not try to change others’ heart but our own. We should leave the judgment of good and bad to God. This means that we should not judge others (Matt. 7:1). If we turn inwards, to our own hearts and meditate we shall know God. This is Jnana marga. The combined culmination of these three margas is Christ’s way to attain salvation. Missing any one of them we cannot attain the perfect discipleship. The ‘Way’ of Christ is needed for the world peace, and for the sustaining of creation. We come to understand that all problems in the world arise because of the lack of relationship between God and humans. There is lack of right relationship among humans. This results in strained relationships among nations, among the families and finally in disturbing the peace. Christ’s ‘way’ is the solution to remove the disturbance and to establish the perfect peace in us. Let us live in faith that Christ will give us the courage and determination to follow that way.

Murala Jagadish, SJ

4