There’s something about the plight of Tibetan Buddhists that tugs at the hearts and souls of people worldwide. The Dalai Lama is a highly regarded spiritual leader, the reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion come to serve the Tibetan people. He promotes peace, compassion, non-violence, tolerance and mutual respect, and he appears to live his life in this sphere. It is no wonder people are drawn to him, his religion, his politics and his people...She begins to answer her own question about why the world seems so taken by Tibetan Buddhism with her follow-up question about why isn't Christianity the religion of peace? Could it be that the followers of Tibetan Buddhism are more Christ-like than many of the followers of Jesus? Could it be that the Dalai Lama, like Gandhi before him, embody the teachings of Jesus in their words and deeds - despite their different religious beliefs - more than most Christians? And if that is so, why should it be surprising that they, like Jesus in his time, attract followers and gain respect from people around the world?
However, there is a flip-side to Tibetan Buddhism. There is work involved, and peace comes with a price. The Tibetan people serve multiple deities, some of whom are full of vengeance. Their religious practices are in part, to appease the deities en route to obtaining enlightenment. Monks create intricately detailed mandalas to house deities and guide meditation. Followers walk the streets of Tibet endlessly spinning prayer wheels in an effort to gain the attention of the Buddha of Compassion. Tibetans perform physical rituals, such as stopping to bow every few steps, in an effort to relieve personal suffering. Street children, widows and crippled men line the streets...
Tibetans are enslaved in a religion where deities are feared and atonement comes through repetitive actions. “Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” Followers of Christ, on the other hand, were set free through acceptance of his sacrificial atonement on our behalf and granted the gifts of grace and peace and hope. Tibetans strive for alleviation of suffering. Christians learn to rejoice in their sufferings, or so we are told...
Here’s where I get stuck.
Christians have been given the gift of true peace through a relationship with the Son of God. We do not have to do good works to earn our salvation, but through Christ’s sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love other people with God’s love. When we fail to live up to the standard Christ demonstrated for our life, or when those around us mess up, there is still grace… grace that reminds us we are human… grace that reminds us we are loved… grace that picks us up, dusts us off, and encourages us to keep going. It truly is a wondrous faith.
Why, then, is it that the world is not enamored with faith in Christ?
Why is it that the world seems so taken by Tibetan Buddhism?
Why isn’t Christianity the religion of peace?
I also am not sure I agree with Ms. Roth's understanding of the essence of Christianity as portrayed in this post. She says, "We do not have to do good works to earn our salvation, but through Christ’s sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love other people with God’s love." I am assuming she is basing this statement on her reading of the writings of Apostle Paul. We are justified by faith not works.
But there is plenty of "works-righteousness" in Paul. Reads Romans 2. Or this:
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12-14, NRSV).Or this:
19For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. 24Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:19-27)Justification by faith not works is absolutely central to Paul's argument that Gentiles have been invited to sit at the same table at God's big party where the Jew's were long ago chosen and privileged to be present. Gentiles do not have to become Jews first to be there. They only have to have faith in Jesus Christ, who paid the price of admission for them. This is Paul's argument.
But I do not think that Paul would then have said, "When we fail to live up to the standard Christ demonstrated for our life, or when those around us mess up, there is still grace… grace that reminds us we are human… grace that reminds us we are loved… grace that picks us up, dusts us off, and encourages us to keep going." I think he might have said instead that even though we are justified by faith, there is still a need to work out one's salvation with fear and trembling. There is plenty of work required to do on the way towards salvation for Paul.
And then there is that other guy, Jesus: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." There is not a word about free grace in that simple definition of Christian discipleship.
So why is the world not enamored by faith in Christ? Because for too many Christians their religious expression - faith in Christ - is little more than a ticket to heaven. Say the words, get your ticket punched. Discipleship is defined as proper belief, faithful church attendance, prayer, and acts of charity. They misunderstand Paul and they ignore Jesus. There is still plenty of room within this definition of Christianity for living rich and gobbling up the world's resources while much of the world is poor, or for launching unprovoked wars that bring death and destruction to millions of people.
Meanwhile, real Christ-like discipleship is practiced by people like the Dalai Lama. It's not surprising to me at all why he and his faith expression inspires respect and emulation while much of what passes for Christianity today does not.