A Few Example Posts:

  • "The End of Faith: A Short Response to Sam Harris"
  • See also:
  • "A Long Response to Sam Harris' The End of Faith, by Neil Shenvi"

  • "Is John Piper the Best Answer to Emergence and Postmodernism?"

  • "Captured"

  • "The Storm is Over"

  • "If Golfing Were the Pursuit of Moral Perfection"

  • 11.06.2005

    A Third Look at Buddhism

    For my third look at Buddhism, I want to quote C.S. Lewis who said the following concerning “Rival Conceptions of God:”

    I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.1

    When reading about Buddhism, I remembered Lewis’ statement. Buddhism seems to begin with an honest evaluation of life, and I agree with it to a point: Life is Suffering. So Buddhism is not “wrong all through.”

    Honest people from all walks of life, religion, or non-religion have to acknowledge--in one way or another-- the difficulties of life. I was saddened for the three children a mentally ill lady recently threw into San Francisco Bay. I feel sorry for the thousands of people killed, displaced, or suffering from post-earthquake issues in Pakistan. People in our own country have suffered from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and all their “fallout.”

    Christians categorize these sufferings under the heading The Problem of Evil. Moral evil encompasses the wrong actions of humans against humans. Natural evil is the disease, disturbances, and distresses of this life.

    The Problem of Evil is a serious and difficult problem. It refuses shallow answers but demands an answer nonetheless. Christians who act like they know all the answers to this problem are either un-tempered idealists or arrogant jerks. Other Christians offer “magic” as an answer. They claim that Christ came to make us healthy, wealthy, and zit-free. The prosperity gospel claims that a simple “word of faith” will make the monsters go away. Preachers of this gospel mislead--and often fleece--people encountering desperate times. These people are just selling a scam wrapped in "Bible." Because of these people, the way of truth is evil spoken of, as the apostle Peter would say.

    The Buddha made an honest attempt in two ways. First he identified the Problem of Evil. Second, he tried, out of compassion, to help people deal with the Problem of Evil. Some Buddhists may challenge my terminology, but I think we’re close.

    Now we come to a parting of the paths. It seems to me that Buddhism is inherently pessimistic. Buddhism appears to see life as fundamentally a place of suffering, delusion, and selfish desire. This life may have some beauties on the surface. We may behold these beauties and appreciate them, but we must let them go and pursue enlightenment. The attainment of Nirvana is the ultimate escape from this existence of suffering.

    Christianity sees life as suffering because we live in a sin-cursed world. At first, God created everything and called it good. The created order was to be a place of blessing. The original view was optimistic. However, man made the decision to sin against God. As a result, this perfect world was cursed. The ground does not easily yield its fruit. Childbearing is now painful. Suffering entered full-force. The universe “cracked” in a sense.

    God’s plan of redeeming man and creation now comes to the front. God sent Christ to redeem man from his sin and promised to restore the created order. He said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation2: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”

    Christ conquered the sin and the suffering of this life by becoming a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).

    This truth is especially important to me. I am vulnerable to the Problem of Evil and know what it is like to doubt God at every level because of it. I knew that this was not the best of all possible worlds! When I came to the conclusion that God is the one who has suffered most (think crucifixion and its spiritual ramifications for the Son) I was able to stay grounded in the faith. God got close. He entered fully into suffering--and conquered it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a Christian.

    Now we wait for a new heaven and a new earth.

    So suffering is not a fundamental element God put into the world. It is upon us like a freeze. Christ will thaw this freeze. In the meantime, we groan. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now (Romans 8:23).”

    We never see the suffering as useless, however. For the Christian, sufferings here compound into an eternal weight of glory later (Romans 8:18-19). We believe in alleviating suffering for ourselves and others. However, we may have to choose suffering for the cause of Christ, not escape it. Christians of the past and present have made this choice. Without Christ, death is the ultimate suffering (for some, dying is a close second).

    Christ conquered death. The good will be restored--and we can experience some of it now. This is our hope.

    Do you know Him?

    1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York; Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952), 43.
    2. thlipsis : This word comes from the idea of “pressure” or being “squeezed” like in a winepress. Nobody likes it. We all seek to escape it at some level. What we really need is a resolution of it.


    At 7:51 PM, Blogger Adam said...

    Thanks for the refreshment. God has been dealing with me about the problem of evil recently and your post reminded me of the things He has been teaching and challenging me with. Thank you again.

    At 6:40 AM, Blogger Joe said...

    There is a basic human need addressed in the concept of "Nervana," the need to alleviate suffering. Thus there is a human connection between Buddhism and Christianity.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you are a Christian), there is only one way to experience a total lack of suffering, that is to live eternally in heaven with God, which is only accomplished through Christ.

    Good series! I have enjoyed it a lot.

    At 6:46 AM, Blogger Vishvapani said...

    I'm a Buddhist and enjoyed your open-minded approach to Buddhism from a Christian perspective. I want to pick up your description that Buddhism is pessimistic though. The teaching that life is suffering is known as the first of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths. But you haven't mentioned the other three. No2 is that the cause of suffering is craving: i.e. the cause lies in our minds. From this follows No3 the cessation of craving is the cessation of suffering; and No4 there is a path from suffering. That is the Buddha's 8-fold spiritual path. Not at all pessimistic.

    At 10:44 AM, Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

    Sound thoughts, John.

    At 1:39 PM, Blogger John Rush said...


    Thanks for your comment on my post. I do hope that I have been accurate in my understanding of Buddhism although we may disagree with my conclusion about "pessimism."

    The best of everything to you.



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