I came from a Buddhist background which says yes there are gods/deity/angel and one supreme God who says I am the Creator of the universe and desires for the welfare of humanity; but also, there is this devil entity called Mara who rules over earth and wants every human to be its slave, although specific karma is what it counts in the end.
In Christianity, it says you reap what you sow. But the concept of grace or unmerited favor is hard for me to understand.
I have a Buddhist background where its taught to question everything before accepting by heart, so please don’t mind my enquiring nature. Some points of Christianity I have accepted, but I have difficulties understanding other points. My purpose is not of debate but to gain understanding.
Your approach of questioning and first seeking to understand before accepting any concept is healthy and correct. For only by carefully examining everything, and trying to reconcile it with our deep intuitive sensing so it forms a logical whole, do we inwardly come alive and gradually develop the right type of faith, i.e. living faith. As your questions are worthy and come from a sincere heart, I will do my best to answer them.
Mara (Buddhism)= tempter,
Devil/Satan (Christianity)= tempter
Both ideas appear to be man’s imaginative attempts in various traditions to capture and represent the personality of the mysterious one called “Lucifer”. In both, he seems to have a field of activity towards the developing human spirits on earth in that he uses distorted concepts through the principle of temptation to try and test man, in order to redirect his spiritual volition towards the sole pursuit of earthly desires, which has the consequence of derailing his spiritual development. In other words, he relentless works toward the destruction of all that is weak, so only who is strong remains. His activity is spiritually like that of a virus which attacks the physical immune system and compels it to either fight it off by developing a strong defense, or succumb to it and perish.
There is a close relationship between temptations and weaknesses that must be observed. Namely: temptations attack and expose the weakest points in the human soul, the same way a rodent will enter a property through an opening in the fence, i.e. a weak point. Ergo, temptations reveal the points in the human soul where true knowledge is incomplete, missing, or weak, and thus where there is an opening for spiritual derailment and mistakes. It shows the vulnerabilities that prevent him from unfolding his greatest strength and thus where he needs to close gaps in his knowledge. Consequently, once temptation is recognized and successfully engaged with the right attitude, then it can unlock and release immense powers that were hitherto dormant within the assailed one. But if we succumb, it will produce the opposite effect. Examine the case of Jesus: when He faced and successfully overcame the temptations of Lucifer, the full potential and recognition of the powers of His Divine nature were released. From this point His knowledge was complete, He became unassailable, and thus fully ready to begin His Earthly Mission. All true prophets, forerunners, and called ones—including Buddha—have faced temptations. In the latter case, it was in the steadfast struggle of successfully overcoming it that he attained spiritual enlightenment.
Where do sowing and reaping and karma fit in this picture? Simply: The trajectory of man’s development—upward toward maturity or downward to destruction—is set through the use of his free will that occur through the universal mechanism known as sowing and reaping, of which karma is a part. The latter are just mechanisms that act according to man’s free will. Picture a man entering an elevator and can press any button to determine his destination. Once he presses, the elevator will react accordingly. The man is the human spirit, the movement of his hand in pressing a button is the activity of his free will, and the elevator mechanism with the corresponding driving belts and metal cables that react accordingly is the law of sowing and reaping and karma. As he presses, so the elevator moves and carries him—either upwards toward the heights of spiritual perfection, or downwards to the depths of spiritual damnation.
Whether you say karma or sowing and reaping, in the end, all these are just incorruptible systems and inviolable vanguards of orders that impartially distribute justice.
Now to grace as unmerited favor.
The commonly held definition of grace is limited, for it does not allow the human spirit to clearly see its responsibility. To obtain a more comprehensive concept, a new definition is needed. Hence, let us contemplate the statement “Grace of God”. Upon entering the deep meaning, the following picture emerges for me: the power bestowing opportunities and provisions for salvation and a spiritual flourishing through the Laws of God.
God’s Grace is given within and through the Laws of God that are fixed and immutable. Consequently, if a human being wishes to obtain grace for himself, which is tantamount to obtaining salvation, then he must use his free will and adjust to the Laws of God.
Buddha was an enlightened spiritual envoy who gave his recognitions of the Laws of God; similarly, the apostles of Jesus gave their recognitions and accounts of the Laws of God. However, Jesus was a Divine Envoy who Himself was the Word of Truth in flesh. Ergo, Jesus carried the Laws of God within Himself, whereas all other prophets and enlightened ones carried only the ability to receive some insights of the Laws of God. So, when Jesus is reported to have said [John 14:6] “I am the way, the truth, and the light, no man cometh to the Father but by Me”, we must understand it within the context of grace. That is, the statement implies that adjustment to the Laws of God in the Universe as revealed by Him, which collectively express the Love of God (which He is), is the way to the Father. Thus, the Laws of God are the road man must travel to “cometh to the Father”.
To get a coherent picture of this, think of the guidelines a parent might leave the babysitter that is meant to govern their children’s code of conduct. The guidelines are a complete system of managing the children to maintain order, and they come with precise instructions for activities, as well as the distribution of reward and discipline. In truth, there is no separation between the guidelines and the love of the parents. How? The guidelines are only a means to an end, for they just collectively express the love of the parent to keep the child safe and happy! It all communicates one thing: My love for you speaks through these guidelines that promote your safety and happiness! In this example, to express “love” for their parents, the children have to follow their guidelines. Similarly, for the human spirit, the Laws of God are the Love of God. Hence, for a man to receive grace and unite with the Love of God driving all universal mechanisms, he must first adjust to the Laws of God. Ergo, “no man cometh to the Father but by Me” means to follow the Laws of God that express His Love.
Thus, there is no separation between Law and Love. The greater the Love, the firmer the Law.
Consider the following passages [John 14:15; 21; 23] that are variations of “If ye love me, keep my commandments”. The word “keep” is not to store the physical words and admire them, but it means to do, obey, and follow. To spiritually bring to life and integrate into one’s being. Thus, the concept described above [John 14:6] is represented here in that the way to the Love of God is through adjusting to the Laws of God, i.e. “if you love Me, do what I say.”
It goes like this: find, understand and adjust to the Law = find grace = find Love = find the Father.
When mankind is wallowing in darkness, it is grace when God sends spiritual envoys to help the various peoples strive to recognize and adjust to the Laws of God. Thus, man is given the opportunity for salvation and provisions of help. But the birth of Jesus was an immeasurable Act of Love that stands by Itself in that the Truth Itself incarnated on earth. Hence, this was a Grace of God for humanity. A grace because through the Word of Jesus mankind was given the opportunity and provisions for salvation, i.e. a resurrection to new spiritual life, in order to eternally flourish.
However, I urge caution here. The opportunity and provisions are not the salvation itself. Believing in the transmitted words of Jesus does not give man salvation. Why? Since grace also requires the action of adjusting to Truth, it follows that man must use his free will and actively live this Truth in order to eventually obtain salvation for himself. Remember, faith without works is dead. As the key to salvation is genuine faith, it follows that faith through the lifestyle of oneness with Truth is the way to obtain the Grace of God through abiding by His Laws in the Universe. What logically follows is a new concept of being “saved”. Anyone who tells you that you can inherit eternal life and be completely liberated of all sins through the profession of a mental belief in Jesus or one movement of an inner volition in accepting Him, without first adjusting to the Divine Will, offers you stones for bread. A man in a burning building is saved only when he uses all his energy to follow the exit signs and finally stands outside the conflagration. Similarly, human beings trapped in the burning fires of their sins are saved only when they follow the Laws of God leading to liberation and live in oneness with the Divine Will, thus outside the conflagration of human passions and desires. Man must save himself through the Word, no one can do it for him.
However, belief in the sense it is used today is a good first step, but it is insufficient to bring salvation by itself. Think of a doctor and sick patients. Imagine there is a sudden deadly outbreak of a plague in a nearby village that is claiming untold lives, and the best physician on earth with every possible medical provision decides to undertake a mission to help the villagers. He sees everyone and, in his wisdom, gives specific diagnoses and prescriptions. The villagers are overjoyed and trust in his wisdom, believing they have been saved from the illness.
Consider: belief in the doctor’s diagnoses and prescriptions will not heal their illness; for, without committed action, a belief still guarantees they will succumb. Why? The healing is only the final consequence of the committed action of following the doctor’s orders by faithfully adhering to the prescribed medication. The idea they are saved from the illness by believing in the prescription is a delusion, and will only guarantee they succumb to the plague if this belief is not accompanied by works. So, to receive the grace of healing in this sense is to completely adjust to the doctor’s orders. If the patient wishes to fully convalesce, not one dose can be skipped.
The same principle spiritually holds for human spirits in relation to the Grace of God in the Mission of Jesus. Mankind was given the opportunity and provisions for salvation through the prescriptions and diagnoses of the teachings of Jesus. But to receive this grace of salvation, human beings have to faithfully and fully adjust to the Word. Hence, salvation is the crowning consequence of the works of fully harmonizing with the Laws of God that Jesus sought to explain. Ergo, belief in the teachings of Jesus alone is insufficient. Belief can only give the human spirit the courage and impetus to follow the Laws of God, to the adherence of which grace can be obtained.
Consequently, God cannot redeem and save humanity from its sins, but only provide the opportunity and provisions through the Laws of God, after which it is then left to the human spirit whether or not to use its free will to actively adjust to this Truth, in order to attain salvation and redemption for itself. This adjustment requires the living works of his spirit in the vibrant use of the free will through the universal mechanisms of sowing and reaping and karma. The mechanisms that are an expression of the Love of God. It is in this picture that we obtain a broader concept of the Grace of God, and what we must do to obtain it.
But there is a problem. Mankind did not truly understand the teachings of Jesus, not even His disciples [John 16:12]. Ergo, the true meaning was distorted over the course of endless translations through the imperfect human memory and limited understanding. Jesus (who never wrote a word) saw all this and, as a help, promised the coming of the Son of Man, His Divine Brother, who would incarnate on earth and once again bring to mankind the true knowledge of the Laws of God [John 16: 12-15; Matthew 25:1-13]. As this Son of Man and the Son of God are two different Personalities, yet being one in the Father, it follows that everything the Son of Man gives will harmonize with the true teachings of Jesus, but not the misunderstandings originating from the human mind. Hence “He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” [John 14:25]. This constitutes a new Act of Grace of God, who thereby provides anew the opportunity and provisions for salvation through a new revelation of His Laws, to the recognition and adjustment of which is then left to man’s free will.
The Almighty continues to provide countless opportunities and provisions for salvation and a spiritual flourishing. Countless helpers in the past and present have come to educate us about the immutable Laws of God in the Universe. Yes, that is a Grace of God. But to obtain this grace for oneself, each person needs to first recognize and then adjust their lives to these Laws, for the Laws are the Love of God. Only when we do this will we eventually receive salvation and eternally spiritually flourish in the Luminous Realms of God.
I hope this answers your questions, as well as addresses the different layers and clarifies the interrelated concepts. I hope you are equipped with a broader understanding to embark on the next stage of your spiritual journey. It is in this I wish you well.
~Ikenna Q. Ezealah