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Buddhism and God's Grace

Earlier this week, I watched a podcast of a recent Larry King Live interview with Sharon Stone, and I have not been able to stop thinking about two things she said.

Responding to King's question about how she is handling the fact that she does not have custody of her older son, Stone responded by saying, "Well, I’m a Buddhist. I think that helps. I think that in my way of understanding life, that I understand that everybody has their own destiny, even Roan. And so I recognize that Roan has his path in life. When he’s with us, we try to love him up as much as we possibly can."

Interestingly, later in the interview, King asked her about a medical scare she had a few years ago, when her vertebral artery tore and she hemorrhaged into her brain. "At first, they missed it. So I ended up bleeding into my brain for a very long time, nine days, in fact, before they understood what was happening to me. And it was just really very much by the grace of God that I survived."

I was still contemplating her earlier comment about how her Buddhist beliefs helped her accept her son's destiny when I heard her refer to the fact that "it was just really very much by the grace of God" that she survived.

Now, before I go on, I want to point out two things: first, there is no God in Buddhism. And secondly, there is no grace in Buddhism.

So, with that in mind, I began to think about a conclusion I have been mulling over, which this interview strengthened: regardless of their profession of faith, everyone wants to believe in the God of the Bible. They don't often realize it, but at humanity's fundamental core, we all want the God of the Bible to be our God. And I believe that even people who insist they don't believe in the God of the Bible, do.

We want a God who believes in and exercises actual grace.

If you really take time to seek, logically and honestly, you will find that the God of the Bible is the only God who believes in and exercises grace.

The irony (and I'm not trying to pick on Sharon Stone here - she just happens to be the one who got me thinking about this) - the irony here is that, Buddhism isa non-theistic religion . That means, they don't even believe in God. At least, they're not supposed to believe in God. But they do. We all do. Atheists believe there is a God. And when push comes to shove, every single one of us wants it to be the God of the Bible, because that is the only God of grace.

When times are hard, we want the God of the Bible - all powerful, all knowing, loving, grace-filled, slow to anger, quick to forgive, healer, redeemer, savior. And regardless of what faith we profess to have, our core instincts - every human being, I say - is to return to the God of the Bible, in whose image we were made. Just look at how otherwise faithless people respond when there is a tragedy, health scare, custody battle, natural disaster, or the like. We either turn to him in prayer, or we blame him in anger - but either way, we believe. We have to; it's in our DNA. We all know God is there.

I came across this article from the Rime Buddhist Center while I was refreshing my memory about Buddhist teaching today, and I found it to be very enlightening. The writer, drawn to the presence of grace in Christianity, wanted to find such grace in Buddhism. He tried hard, and gave many suggestions about where grace might be found in Buddhism. But then the whole thing fell apart at the end of the article, when he wrote this:

"So you see, we have many examples of “grace” – the big difference in Buddhism is that it is not “unmerited” as in Christianity. As Pema Chodron is so fond of pointing out, us westerners often operate from a sense of poverty. We feel we are not deserving of this or that – and I believe this is especially true when it comes to grace."

You see, Buddhists believe you always get what you deserve, in this life or the next. The only way one could possibly discover "grace" in Buddhism is to change the very definition of grace, and thus be calling a thorn "a rose." Grace is undeserved favor. Grace is the exact opposite of getting what you deserve. And this fellow, this Buddhist, God bless him - he wants that so desperately. We all do. The problem with what he writes here is that he is so utterly mistaken.

Buddhists believe that we always get what we deserve, so when something good happens, we earned it. Likewise, when something bad happens. And while I have been in many conversations with Buddhists, trying to understand their faith, trying to understand their thinking, I have come to the conclusion that even they don't really believe that, and in fact, when they are tested, they revert to their innate DNA - the innate DNA of every human being, made in the image of the God of the Bible.

Why did you survive your brain hemorrhage, Sharon Stone? "It was by God's grace." Not because you deserved to keep living. You know it, I know it - every human being knows it, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Comments

I agree, Sharon's comment is maybe a sign that she desire a loving God. The question for me is why she have a hard time finding him while living in a free country so accessible to all kind of congregations. Is it because there are no good example among God's people? Or maybe they too ordinary than her preconceived idea of what people of God should be or act. Have you came across rethinking Hinduism? Thanks for posting

I haven't come across a good similar example in Hindusim recently, but you've got me thinking about it again... thanks for reading and commenting, Gideon!

Christy, your take on the grace of the biblical God is very insightful. This post also illustrates the value of knowing what other belief systems are all about. With such knowledge, not only are we able to see the differences between various beliefs, but we also gain an appreciation for the utterly true and coherent beliefs of Christianity. When someone like Sharon Stone "slips" into language like "the grace of God," it shows two things: she wants to believe in grace as "unmerited favor," and she wants to believe in something that's true.

Thanks for the encouragement, Stan!

I agree with you on this as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Also, it appears that Sharon had a religious "Freudian Slip"! LOL!

Great post. When Sharon Stone lived in San Francisco, I used to read that she attended Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. The language of Christianity must still be in her head.

PS My "Angry Conversations" book arrived today. Thank you again!!

Well that's encouraging. And insightful. God always seems to find a way to plant seeds of truth... And to cause them to grow. He makes all things beautiful in its time.

What about the bad things that happen which are apparently undeserved? The diseases people are born with, the earthquakes and famines? If God gives undeserved grace to us, mustn't we also argue that He brings undeserved evil?

You might say that we are all sinners and deserve punishment. But that doesn't explain why some people are "punished" so much more than others. Most of us have been born into comfortable circumstances. But what about children born in the developing countries who starve through no discernible fault of their own? Why aren't they given God's grace? If Sharon survived the haemorrhage by grace, why doesn't everyone survive them by grace?

Thanks for commenting, Oliver.

You asked, "If God gives undeserved grace to us, mustn't we also argue that He brings undeserved evil?" My response to that is, in short, no, because if He allows evil in our lives, it is not undeserved in the same way grace is undeserved. Grace is undeserved anytime it is given to us, because we actually DO deserve the evil - all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That's my theology, and I realize that it is A) controversial, and B) not universally shared across Christendom.

You raised the question of why some people are "punished" more than others... I think the real question is, why are some people NOT punished as much as others? And the answer to that, I think, is what the apostle Paul said when the same issue was posed to him. It is explicit in Rom. 9:14-24:

"What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

I think that some people are punished less than others in order that those who are shown such mercy see that they have been shown mercy and glorify the one who shows them mercy. Many people today hate this theology, but I see it so clearly in scripture (here and in other places) that I have to either submit to it, or stop trusting the Bible as the best thing to teach me about God.

You asked, "...why doesn't everyone survive... by grace?" Everyone does not survive by grace because God does not show the same mercy to everyone, and he is not unjust in doing so AT ALL. He is God. He is the "potter" - we are the clay. He may do whatever He wants, and He is only, always, and ever holy, righteous and JUST.

You also asked about children born into horrible situations through no fault of their own, and asked why they aren't given God's grace. My question to you is, have you spent any time with impoverished children in developing nations? I ask that because I have, in Nigeria, El Salvador and China, and I have seen grace OOZING from their lives. Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20). I have seen deeper faith, joy, hospitality and generosity among needy people than among those who are in relative wealth. I have seen deeper relationship with God in the lives of those who have suffered than in the lives of those who have not. Do they suffer? Yes. But there are simply far too many stories about people in poverty, in prison, in chains, in need, in war, etc. who talk about God's mercy and goodness and kindness and favor... who are we to judge those who experience tremendous grace in the face of such worldly suffering?

I am well aware that many Christians do not embrace this theology. I didn't for many years, and it is only after several years of really struggling with this whole issue that I have come to this worldview. That said, I believe it is biblical, and in my life the Bible, at least in as much as I can understand it, more than anything else (even my own sense of what seems best) informs my understanding of God, justice, etc. Might there be more to this than how I understand it? Certainly. I am continuing to wrestle with this and other hard issues. But I have to say, for the past 7-8 years or so (which is when I first started to wrestle with this particular topic), the more I read through the Bible, the more I see this as the prevailing explanation for the question of theodicy.

I recommend the following for more on this:
The Reason for God (Tim Keller) (the chapter on suffering is excellent)
Evil and the Justice of God (NT Wright)
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (John Piper/Justin Taylor)

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your comments/challenging questions.

Christy

This is where we differ. I cannot believe in a God who is partial: who forgives some and doesn't forgive others. That is unfair. We couldn't say that such a God is just, only that He is powerful. Neither can I accept that some people are made for mercy and noble purposes, while others are made for common use and destruction. That is a cruel belief.

People can be happy and grateful even in the worst of situations. But that doesn't change the fact that many children are not able to be happy in the midst of suffering because they die. Through hunger, through natural disasters; it isn't right for us to have so much grace and them not to.

If we accept something like the law of karma, then these apparent injustices make more sense. But if we believe in undeserved mercy given to some but not to others, then the world no longer makes any sense.

Many Christians during the first century struggled with this too... hence Paul's efforts in Romans 9 to explain (clearly his readers did not all share his view!). I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and yes, it just boils down to us seeing things differently. I think the law of karma makes far less sense than the doctrine of God's sovereign choice, but many disagree on this. Grace to you, and thanks again for reading/writing.

I believe that it is illogical for either Christians or non-Christians to base their beliefs on how a particular idea makes them feel or even whether it makes "sense." It didn't make sense to people for thousands of years that the earth should go around the sun instead of vice versa, but apparently it does.
It is interesting to ask ourselves where our concept of "fairness" comes from. Most non Judeo-Christian belief systems do not have any requirement of their god to be "fair" if they have a god at all.
I would submit that "fairness" is derived from how we are told to treat others in the Bible, so we would like to impose this standard on God in reverse. To deny the existence of the Judeo-Christian (Muslim?) God is to undercut the values derived from these monotheistic religions and their scriptures. That then leaves one without the value that was used to object to the existence, power, goodness of God. There is some circular logic involved here, but I think to accept the value system without accepting the God behind the value system is not logical.
doc

Thanks for your input Doc! Always wise and thoughtful. I appreciate you reading.

Sorry if my comment isnt as articulate as some of the others but Im 17 so cut me some slack. You can call me ignorant because of my age but heres what I got from your comment: so basically what you are saying is that everyone is just like what Jim Carrey said in Bruce Almighty, that God is just like some kid with a magnifying glass and we are all ants and he just decides at random who he wants to burn to a crisp or break our legs off just because he can? Well doesnt that mean that it doesnt matter how much compassion and love that we display and how many good deeds we do because God will just throw us whatever he wants and despite what kind of people we are God can make an example out of us at anytime dealing us the crappy cards in life because he feels like it? It sounds like he gets some sick satisfaction out of watching us suffer like some crazy gym teacher who makes you run till you puke just because he has that power over you. Well I guess God's philosophy is a lot like my mother's "I brought you into this world and I can take you out!!!!"

This is my first visit to this site, and just wanted to say that I appreciate the intelligent discussion and civil tone of the posts. Keep up the good work!

Your image in the upper left isn't a Buddha figure. Christians need to learn respect and can the arrogance.

It still surprises me how ignorant some christians still tend to be.

As a practicing buddhist, the christian sence of god's grace is meaningless. If I do something "sinful", something that causes other pain or sorrow, it would be meaningless for me to sit down and pray to make the sin go away. It's my own damn fault, and I am the only one wo can fix it (by saying sorry or make it up to whoever I hurt). Not some christian god, or muslim god or a jewish god. That's what buddhists think.

You, as a christian are entitled to believe whatever you want, that we all are subjects to god's grace. But where was this grace in Haiti during the earthquake? In Sudan and Ethiopia during the drought? And all the parts of Asia and Africa during the 2004 Tsunami? Well, do you believe they had it coming?

I cannot understand why Sharon Stone thinks this way. She is not all there in her head. She needs to make some changes in her life. payday loans

Buddhism is a unique religion as it provides just the list of recommended rules unlike many others religions. hyip monitor hyip monitor

the overall feature is so much interesting.

Oh hey I wanted to take the time to say I really like reading your blog.

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A New Yorker for nearly ten years, Christy Tennant rides the Staten Island Ferry several times a week. She never tires of the boats in the harbor, watching seagulls in flight, the Statue of Liberty, and the Manhattan skyline.