Our last section ended on a frightening note. We saw God’s Wonderful plan for us, by which we should live for a time in the midst of this world that he had filled us with such great gifts for our use. He wanted us to show that we really accepted Him as our Lord, and that we should give Him our love. If we proved ourselves in this way, then He would take us to Himself to live in complete joy and happiness in His company forever and ever.
But our first parents rejected God’s plan. And I myself have approved of their refusal of love by my own sins. Thus we have cut ourselves off from God. We have separated from Him. We are like the younger son who went his own way and found himself completely alone.
What are the possibilities for me in this terrible state of being dead to God’s friendship and love?
One possibility would be that God would allow me to finish out my life on this earth, and then when death came, I would simply cease to exist. When my body was reduced to dust and ashes, my soul would also cease to exist. But God has planted in me such a real hunger for immortality that it is not possible that I should cease to exist. My own individual personality is so strong and so real that non-existence for myself is not even imaginable. This hunger for immortality is so strong that it can only have been planted in man by God who does not contradict Himself.
Another possibility has been thought out by men whose minds have considered the problem deeply. The have produced the theory of Karma and Rebirth.
These men were deeply aware of the fact of sin. They clearly saw that sin cuts a man off from God. They felt deeply the problem we are now considering. And they concluded that a soul passes through a series of births in different forms - rising or falling in dignity - according to the good or evil deeds done, until finally liberation or Moksha would be gained.
But the philosopher, Shankara in his commentary on Vedanta-Sutra (3, 2, 38-39), shows that reward or punishment for actions can come only from the Person served or offended and not from the actions themselves:
“There arises.” Says Shankara, “the question whether the fruits of actions spring from the actions themselves or from the Lord. The Sutrakara (Badarayana) embraces the latter alternative on the ground that it is the only possible one……Actions themselves, which pass away as soon as done, have no power of bringing about results at some future time, since nothing can spring from nothing…..”.
A further clarification is provided in Shankara’s commentary on Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, 3.8.9: .
Indeed, what we observe in this world is that the reward of service is obtained from the person served; and since, just like service, sacrifices also, alms, fire-offerings, etc., are acts, it stands to reason that the reward of their performance should come from those in whose honour they are performed, namely, the Lord.”
Shankara makes a very important point. My deeds, once finished, are finished. If I have offended someone, no deed that I can perform can change my relation with him, unless he himself forgives me.
My sin is an offence against God, and no action of mine - prayer, penance, pilgrimage or ritual bath - can be of any value unless God agrees and accepts me back, like the father of the younger son. Nothing that boy could do would have been of any value unless his father welcomed him into his house again.
Only if God himself, whom I have offended by my sins - only if He stretches out his hand to me do I have any hope.
The most vital and important goal in the religious search of any man or woman is to discover whether God has, in fact and in history, in this way stretched out His hand to man. We must try to discover whether God has, in fact, offered us a second chance after we rejected His first offer by our sins.
This is such an important matter for me that it calls for a serious effort. I cannot easily and without examination believe what anyone tells me or writes in books about it. I cannot take for granted that what I have always believed is the full story. I can always grow.
I must make an honest and sincere effort to see if God has really stretched out His hand to me and where His hand is to be found. Our important task is made more difficult because we can only consider what other have said or written.
But one factor will help us: if God’s hand is really present in a certain direction, in certain set of historical events, then I will be able to see Him there. For if it is only men acting or talking, then I will not see beyond their weaknesses. But if God himself is present in the events described, I shall be able to see His presence there – on condition that I keep an open mind and remain completely honest.
Another help for me will be this. If God has once more stepped into the history of the human race that he established in the beginning with such love and care, then it is because He wants all of us to come back to Him. If He really wants me, He will call me. It will be possible for me to hear His call and follow.
This points to another condition for me in my search – I must listen for God’s call. Otherwise, I may fail to hear it.
Now we can go ahead and see the history of God’s second attempt to save us. It is like the father of the younger son who ran to meet the boy as he walked along the road. You must judge for yourself whether you can believe what is described here. You must decide whether God is speaking to you calling you through these events. No one can make that decision for you.
It is such an important matter for you personally that it would be good to pause here for a minute to ask God in a simple and sincere prayer to give you His light to see what path or “marg” He wants you to follow.
As we said in the beginning we are not studying mathematics or geography. We are considering the way to the Father. We are considering as to what is really the most important thing in the life of a man or woman. It concerns what will happen to me in that terrible moment after my death.
After the failure of Adam and Eve, sin spread in the world, among their children. As men multiplied and began to fill God’s wonderful world, sin and evil spread with them. For all of us know from our own experience that there is a struggle within ourselves, a tendency to sin, to worship my own self and my selfish desires instead of God, my true Lord and Master.
But in spite of this, God did not forget the human race which He had created and loved so much. After many years and long preparation, He stepped into human history – at a certain place and a certain time, for this is the only way one can meet men.
God sent His message to a man in Ur, an obscure place in Arabia midway between what we call today East and West. This man’s name was Abram. He was old and had no children, for his wife Sarah was barren. But let us follow the story in the Bible’s words:
“The Lord said to Abram: `Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you: I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.’
“Abram went as the Lord directed him and with him went his nephew Lot. Abram was seventy five years old at the time……He took all his possessions and set out for the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12,1-5).
Abram followed God’s call – even though it meant setting out for a strange land. God told him he would bless him and He was true to His word. Abram and his family found great prosperity.
God made further promises to this man of His choice: “The Lord said to Abram: `Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and south, east and west: all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever. I will make you descendants like the dust of the earth, past all counting. Set forth and walk about in the land through its length and breadth, for to you I will give it. Abram moved his tents and went on to settle near the Terebinth of Mamre, which is at Hebron. There he built and alter to the Lord”. (Genesis 13, 14-18)
But God’s promise was not only for material prosperity. It went far beyond that. It may be what we have been booking for – namely, God’s hand stretched out to lift up fallen man, sinful man.
Let us hear God’s words to Abram. They are very solemn words, God’s own words. So I shall read them with great care and reverence:
“I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and be blameless. Between you and me I will establish my covenant, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”
When Abram prostrated himself, God continued to speak to him: “My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations. No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations. I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; Kings shall stem from you. I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of you descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17, 1-8)
But the difficulty remained-Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and had no children. How could they be the founders of a new race, God’s own people?
“Abraham prostrated himself; but in his heart he said, laughing at the thought. `Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Or can Sarah give birth at ninety?…’ God said to Abraham : `Your wife Sarah is to bear you a son, and you shall call him Isaac. It is to him and to the race which shall follow him that I will make good my promise.” (Gen. 17, 17-19)
Sarah too laughed when she heard the message, knowing well that she was old and no longer subject to lot of womanhood.
“But the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, and say, `Shall I really bear a child, old as I am?’ Is anything too marvelous for the Lord to do?’ At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son’. `I did not laugh,’ Sarah said, lying because she was afraid. But he replied, `Oh yes, you did laugh” (Genesis 11, 13-15)
God had stepped into human history again. Abraham’s son, Isaac, was born. And over long years his descendants grew into a numerous people. They had times of prosperity, and they had hard times. But God was in the midst of His people, preparing them for the special task that He would perform through them.
This is a good place to pause and ask myself whether the story of God’s call to Abraham strikes a note in my own heart. Could this really be God coming to help us again after the failure of our sinful rejections?
One thing I admire in Abraham is the courage with which he followed God’s call. In the beginning, he was asked to leave his family and travel into a strange land. He did not know what lay ahead of him. He simply followed God’s call. It was the same at every step of his life: he followed God, trusting in him-not knowing where the journey would lead him.
God’s call always comes to a man or a woman in this way. At times he asks us to do something that seems quite impossible to us (a son to be born in the old age of Abraham and Sarah). God wants us to trust in Him—simply to follow, one step at a time.
If I can follow God, my loving Father, with the faith and trust of Abraham a wonderful new land with a wonderful new life for me and my family is certain. God himself promises me this.
God’s call to a person is the certain promise of a rich new life. But it does not mean that there will not be trials and difficulties on the way.
Abraham’s descendants over the centuries grew into the Jewish people, (people of Israel). They lived in the territory of Egypt, and as they grew more and more numerous, a certain Egyptian King saw them as a threat and danger to himself. So he took away their freedom and brought them great suffering. They lived in slavery and forced labour.
The persecution and trial of God’s chosen people grew worse and worse. But God had not forgotten them. He prepared a young man called Moses, who was to be the Gandhiji of the Jews.
One day Moses was minding sheep in the fields and has very strange experience which the Bible records:.
Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not burnt up. So Moses decided, `I must go over to look at his remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned’.
“When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out him from the bush, `Moses Moses’. He answered, `Here I am.’ God said, `Do not come nearer; remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your Father,’ he continued, `the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob’. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the Lord said, `I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and lead them out of the land onto a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So, indeed the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come, now I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
“But Moses said to God, `who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” He answered, `I will be with you”. (Ex. 3, 1-12)
But Moses, like Abraham – and like each of us too if we are honest –felt himself too weak to do what God asked from him:
“If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, `Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Go, then. It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say” (Exodus 4, 10-12)
Moses had received a personal call from God; he followed, and God was with him. But Moses had no easy path. His own Jewish people were slow to follow him, and the Egyptians checked and threatened him.
God gave remarkable signs to accompany Moses’ words. But the Egyptian king did not allow him to lead Jews to freedom. God, however, had one final sign. He said to Moses:
“One more plague will I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. After that he will let you depart. In fact he will drive you away” (Exodus 11, 1).
Then Moses went to the king: “Thus says the Lord: At midnight I will go forth though Egypt. Every first born in this land shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh on the throne to the first-born of the slave girl at the hand mill, as well as all the first-born of the animals. Then there shall be loud wailing throughout the land of Egypt, such as has never been, nor will ever be again. But among the Israelites and their animals not even a dog shall growl, so that you may know how the Lord distinguishes between the Egyptians and the Israelites. All these servants of yours shall then come down to me, and prostrate before me, they shall beg me, leave us, you and all your followers’. Only then will I depart.” With that he left pharaoh’s presence, But the Lord made Pharaoh obstinate, and he would not let the Israelites leave his land (Exodus 11, 4-10).
The king refused to believe Moses’ words, and as was foretold, all the first-born both man and animal died. Grief throughout the land was great, and Pharaoh told Moses to take his people with their herds and flocks and go. He wanted to be free of them and have no more trouble.
The book of Exodus in the Bible describes in detail how God liberated his people. It describes further difficulties and trials on their way. But the point to be noted clearly is that God is interested in His people. When they are slaves and crushed by suffering, still God can lead them to liberty and a new life.
It is not an experience unknown to me to find myself a prisoner of what seems an impossible situation - my material needs, my daily problems, my health, my sins and weaknesses. I feel that I cannot escape.
In fact, the whole of society seems to be enslaved by evil powers which we cannot escape despite our hopes and desires - corruption, quarrels, jealousy, immorality and war.
We feel so weak and helpless. Is there any hope? Can I believe that God is interested in these details of my life? Can I hope that He will deliver me? Can I dream that He will call me who am so weak like Moses who said:
“If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue”?
Lord, I am a slave to many things:
To my financial needs, to my family problems,
To the one who exploits me and treats me unjustly,
To my passions - to my anger, to my jealousy;
I am a slave to my own special weakness,
I am a slave to my sins.
I cannot help myself. I cannot liberate myself.
Only You can.
You have shown your concern for men and women – in so many ways.
Please liberate me, Lord.
Please deliver me.