by Vijay Chandra
This question was often put to me as I was serving the Lord in the mission field. I spent forty years working with Muslims, Hindus, Sikh’s and other non-Christian groups, sitting down with Hindu Priests, Muslim Maulana’s and other religious people and even those who practice ‘faith-healings’, or witchcraft. Many Hindus believe that “all rivers go into the sea.” That simply means that there are many ways to achieve eternal life or all gods lead to heaven. Knowing that I came out of Hinduism by the grace of God, I have been delivered from worshipping hundreds of gods. So here I will answer this question for the Hindus who have been entrapped in the worship of many gods, trying to gain salvation.
No, the Hindus and Christians do not worship the same God, because there is no meaningful correlation between the God of the Bible and any of the millions of Hindu gods. Nor can the God of the Bible be identified with Hindu ‘Brahman’, the Ultimate, Divine essence of the universe in Hindu thought and theology. The gods of Hindus have different names and also different core characteristics. Also, the God of the Bible very clearly distinguishes Himself from the many gods of Hinduism. Hindu gods or idols are made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, wood, etc. The God of the Bible cannot be identified with these gods manufactured by man. In Romans 1:18-19, 20, 21, 22-23, 24-25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30-31, 32, we have an account of the depravity of men. Romans 1:22 says ‘Claiming to be wise, they became fools’. Romans 1:23 says ‘and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things’, Romans 1:24 says ‘therefore, God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves’.
The God of the Bible is not one idol [there is no representation of Him, He is Spirit] and Hindus do not worship the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is a very specific God and not a Hindu tribal god as Hindus see and think in their imagination.
1. The gods as an expression of God.
The diverse world of Hinduism. Hinduism has millions of finite gods, and apart from these finite gods, Hindus worship snakes, monkeys, cows and even humans (gurus who claim that they are the reincarnation of the other gurus who came before them).
Hindu Idols are decorated and kept throughout the world wherever Hindus are. When compared to the Monotheism of Christianity, it is foolishness to suggest that these two religions have the same object of their worship. Many Hindu theologians and gurus claim that all of those gods are just expressions of one Ultimate god or one true divine essence. Behind the millions of local deities is really just one transcendent Being. And many Hindu thinkers believe that behind all the outward difference, Hindus and Christians really worship the same God.
The one, true God of the Bible continually condemns the worship of any other god or any physical images. He also makes clear that they are different [and false] gods, not merely expressions or even misrepresentations of Himself. In Genesis when Jacob is preparing to make and altar and worship God, he addresses those who would go with him:
“Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God”.
The foreign gods are both distinct from and entirely unacceptable to God. Jacob was not overreacting here. We have many other verses in the Bible which declare this: Exodus 12:12, 20:3, 4, 5, 6, 23:12, 13, 14, Lev 19:4, Num 33:4, Deut 8:19.
And with many other warnings, God makes it clear that he and the other gods are not the same and man is not to create and reverence images. To worship them [idols] is to reject the true God of the Bible. God’s people proclaim:
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders” [Ex 15:11]. Joshua says in Joshua 24:16 “far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods”.
Compare Psalm 135:13-18,
Psalm 135:13 Thy name, O LORD, endureth for ever; and thy memorial, O LORD, throughout all generations.
Psa 135:14 For the LORD will judge his people, and he will repent himself concerning his servants.
Psa 135:15 The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
Psa 135:16 They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not;
Psa 135:17 They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths.
Psa 135:18 They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them.
There are accounts of people making images for the purpose of worshipping the one True God by name, and this is considered a great sin [Judges 17]. All of this is a mere sampling of what the Bible teaches about this. The Bible is clear that there is one particular God who forbids us to worship man-made images. It is a big business to make money out of carved idols. These man-made gods then are sold to the Hindus. The God of the Bible is not to be conflated with all other gods of the nations, nor is He to be worshipped the way those gods are worshipped. So the Hindu gods cannot be expressions of the God of Bible.
2. The Trimurti and the Trinity
Hindus believe in a Trinity but not in accord with the Biblical thinking. But others will point out that Hinduism expresses its supreme divinity in a triad of gods usually called “Trimurti” which consists of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. They claim that this is simply another cultures’ expression of what Christians call the Trinity, just different names for the same three-fold God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Trimurti is a triad of three gods [made with gold or silver, etc. by man]. The Trinity is not in any sense three distinct gods. The Trimurti personify or embody stages in the endless cycle of universal creation and destruction. This concept is not entirely unlike other ancient religions who have two or three gods who embody phases of the fertility cycle of the annual seasons [In the O.T. the god Baal was a fertility god but God condemns Baal and his followers [1 Kings chapters 18 and 19].
So the Hindu trinity has no connection to the biblical truth that one God exists as three coequal, coeternal persons, whose relationships are in no way defined by the functions or cycles of creation. Indeed, Father, Son, and Spirit all shared in creation, they all share in redemption, and they will share in the final judgment of men. The Trinity is not polytheistic personification; it is the reality that the monotheistic God is more personally complex than are His mere human creations.
Hindus believe that behind the expression or manifestation of the three there is one ultimate essence, but that is not what we as Christians think concerning the Trinity. It is not that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are mere manifestations or differing conceptions of the one. God really does exist as three simultaneous, equal, and eternal persons. This is who and what the one true God really is, and there is no other proper way to conceive of Him. For my Hindu friends, God does not have body parts but in your religion how come your gods have bodies? If they have bodies, why do they have to be carried around by men? They have legs of gold, silver, or wood but they cannot walk; they have eyes which are completely shut; they have hands but the hands cannot be used by the idols. They have mouths but they cannot speak, no blessing comes from them. In sickness, they cannot help you at all because, my Hindu friends, you cannot talk to your gods because their ears are shut.
The Hindu Trimurti all have consorts who are also objects of high worship. These are female goddesses. They have the names ‘kali’ (the destroyer), ‘Latchmi’ (the goddesses of money), and ‘Durga’. Most of them have more than one consort.
This is an entirely different idea than what Christians mean by “God” or by the ‘persons of the Trinity’. It also shows that even the concept of ‘three’ in Hindu theology is a bit loose at best. Indeed, in the Smarta Tradition, five gods personify the cycle rather than three. At any rate, even if Hinduism was firmly and strictly committed to the picture of three figures in a set triad, the accident of the number three is hardly a significant parallel.
3. Brahman and the LORD
In much of Hinduism, there is one ultimate reality to which everything else owes its existence. This supreme essence is known as ‘Brahman’. We or someone can say “Sure. The many gods, idols, and spirits worshipped by Hindus are a corruption, and that even the Trimurti cannot possibly be the biblical God, but behind all of that there is just Brahman! Can one not say that Brahman, the Ultimate source and being of reality, is just the Hindu way of expressing the God of Christian Monotheism?”
The answer is No, but the long answer, if we are not careful, can get very long and difficult. Among Hindus, there is no consensus as to who or what Brahman actually is. We can explain, for example, that God is personal while most Hindus believe that Brahman is impersonal. We can state that God is entirely separate and distinct from His creation. The Biblical God does not dwell with the creation, water, cows, stones, wood, earth, moon, sun [these are the created things which Hindus worship or give their reverence with offerings].
But Brahman is the actual essence of all things in the universe and is thus not distinct from creation at all. All things are said to be Brahman, but no created thing is God. The response, however, again will be that some Hindus believe that there is a distinction between Brahman and the universe. Because there is no one, universal definition of what Brahman even is, it can take a very long time to walk through each conflicting definition and show that none of them could be describing the biblical God.
To make it short, we will take a shorter approach. Let us say for the sake of argument, that there are Hindus who believe that Brahman is the personal, transcendent, Almighty, eternal Creator who is distinct from and sovereign over creation. Let’s say for the argument’s sake that they believe that Brahman is perfect, good, the lawgiver and the definer of all morality and will one day judge once and for all the living and the dead. I, being former Hindu, never heard this, but Hinduism is large and diverse. So let’s just suppose that such a Hindu exists. Would that Hindu be talking about the same God as Christians? No, He would not.
An example. Muslims and Christians describe their respective God’s in many very similar terms and even attribute to them many of the same historical acts in the days of men like Noah or Abraham. Still, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. How much more then must we say that Hindus, even Hindus that say very similar things about their gods as we say about our God, do not worship the same God that we do.
One final consideration, of course, is the unique and essential quality of the Biblical God of Christianity
The LORD, the great I Am, is Triune in his personal nature. He is Father, Son, Holy Spirit. He is not the Father, brother, sister, etc. He is also not a mere awful unity behind the façade of plurality. He is not an impersonal essence, not simply a singular Person like me and you. Unique above all gods of men, The LORD is personal but also above mere personhood as we experience it. He is not bound by our personal limitations nor does He sink below them into something impersonal.
Among the Hindu gods, there are divisions, strife, cursing, and judgments which different gods create. Hindu gods are not holy at all. They have female wives (goddesses) and each god fights to get his female consorts back from another god who has kidnapped them.
The Hindu religion has no concept of salvation by grace but is bound in reincarnation, etc. Hindus have only one hope to have eternal life and that is through Jesus Christ [he is the way the truth and the life, John 14:6]. Christ is not the reincarnated god Krishna who was only human, a playboy going after the girls who were shepherding their cattle.