Has God Revealed Himself to Man?
So far, we've dealt only with things that we can know about truth from observation, reason, logic, and science. At this point, though, we'll change gears from the realm of philosophy to the realm of divine revelation -- God communicating to us.
It seems very unusual that God would create something and then walk away from it. In fact, many philosophers say that contingent being (e.g. the Universe) can't exist apart from God because all being finds its source and existence in the one, true being -- that which is Being itself.
So, the question isn’t really whether God has revealed himself. Rather, it’s how has he revealed himself.
Since it's not likely that God would reveal himself only to let the message quickly die out, we’ll focus our evaluation on the main religions of the world. These are Hindu, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Historically, these five great religions have been stabilizing forces in the cultures where they're found. They continue to foster ethical standards and self-regulation. Nevertheless, these religions can't all be correct since they hold divergent views that are irreconcilable. This means that the different religions are correct to the degree to which they reflect truth and are incorrect to the degree to which they diverge from truth.
To aid in our search, we’ve reduced the great religions to the basic thrust of their content – What was God trying to communicate if the revelation were true.
Please keep in mind that we're evaluating whether God has revealed himself to a specific religion: we're not commenting on the social value of any religion. All of the Great Religions have considerable social value in the cultures where they're found. This must be recognized and affirmed.
Hindu is the first religion of our review and the oldest of the World’s Great Religions. It’s unique in that it’s highly variable, evolutionary, and doesn’t have a clear origin. It’s an amalgam of wisdom as well as spiritual and philosophical thought that’s been acquired over the ages.
Its oldest religious texts are from the Vedic religion and are considered to be divinely inspired. But the texts are ancient and the circumstances around their creation are unknown. In the fourth and fifth centuries BC, Hindu underwent a major evolutionary development that made the religion more open and malleable. This change also introduced pantheism while retaining the polytheistic nature of its Vedic precursors.
The spiritual aspects of self-denial, good will, and peace are highly commendable. The aspect of self-denial is particularly noteworthy because it was instrumental in the founding of another Great Religion, Buddhism. This, as we will see, will factor prominently in our analysis.
Hindu, however, doesn't appear to be divinely inspired. The polytheistic nature and pantheistic tendencies of Hindu contradict our philosophical knowledge of reality (e.g. God must be both one and pure act). Further, the divine texts are of an unknown origin which makes them unvettable and questionable. Lastly, the continual evolution of its doctrinal content strongly suggests that Hindu is of human origin and not divinely inspired. It’s simply too amorphic to be considered a receptacle of divine revelation.
Nevertheless, Hindu is not without truth. It provides for a very rich study of Man from a sociological and psychological perspective. This is due to its antiquity, survivability, and evolutionary nature. Its polytheism strongly suggests the projection of the Jungian archetypes that are embedded deep in the human subconscious.
Buddhism is truly one of the great religions of the World. It was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. the Buddha) who was born circa 480 BC.
Gautama searched for a way to eliminate his pain and suffering, and he eventually followed several Hindu gurus who practiced an extreme form of asceticism (self-denial). It was during this period that he had a chance encounter with a woman who sparked the idea that his ascetic lifestyle needed to be less severe. By lightening his ascetic load, he encountered a state of Enlightenment or Nirvana.
Enlightenment is a state where a person achieves an extreme level of personal freedom and a corresponding dissipation of pain and suffering. The person also experiences profound peace and harmony with life. With this knowledge, the Buddha set out and created monasteries to guide monks along the pathway of asceticism towards Enlightenment. The secret, he found, was to proceed along the right path – a path that was not too severe but not too lenient.
Siddhartha Gautama originally practiced Hindu during a time when the religion was undergoing a major evolutionary development which included the introduction of pantheism. The Buddha may have incorporated this new Hindu concept into Buddhism.
Over time, many variants of Buddhism have evolved as the religion became enculturated in various countries of the world. Also, different ideas of philosophy and pathways to Nirvana have propagated within Buddhism as well. Some of these appear to be quite faithful to the Buddha’s teachings while others seem to have questionable methods and gimmickry.
We are both impressed and appreciative of the Buddha’s radical devotion to peace. However, Buddhism does not appear to be a vehicle for divine revelation for several reasons. The first is that the Buddha did not receive knowledge of Nirvana by divine revelation but by a fortunate accident. Further, the Buddha, himself, never claimed to have received a revelation from God. Lastly, Buddhist teachings are pantheistic and hold that everything is God. This means that God is a combination of potency and act. As we know from philosophy, this is impossible for the source of all existence.
Thus, it’s determined that the source of this and other teachings were not the result of a divine revelation from God. Nevertheless, the Buddha stumbled upon a truth, and this truth caused Buddhism to flourish. As we’ll see, this truth reappears later and factors prominently in our search.
Judaism is the first of the three great monotheistic religions. It claims to have received divine revelation. Although very small compared to the other great religions, its truth is so powerful that it gave birth to two other great religions: Christianity (directly) and Islam (indirectly). What was this truth? It is that God is one, is present to his creation, and seeks a relationship with Man. In the case of Judaism, God likened the Hebrew nation to be his first born among the nations.
Judaism formally started when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt circa 1200 to 1500 BC. Shortly before this event, God revealed himself to Moses by the name "I am who am" (Exodus 3:14). This name is significant because it refers to a being whose essence is to exist.
This is, metaphysically speaking, the ideal name for God yet it was revealed 1000 years before the advent of Aristotle and Greek philosophy. It also was from a people who had no known metaphysical knowledge. Further, Judaism was founded in a vast see of polytheism where monotheism was a new and foreign concept. It seems that something new and different happened here.
All of these points are significant which makes Judaism the first religion of our review to have a viable claim to have received divine revelation.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world and the second of the great monotheistic religions. Like Judaism, it claims to have received divine revelation. It originated as a Jewish sect but was ejected from Judaism in 70 AD. Christianity fully accepts Hebrew revelation as well as its own revelation.
So, the obvious question is: What makes divine revelation different in Christianity than in Judaism? The answer is its founder: Jesus of Nazareth. Contained within Jewish revelation is the prophecy that a man would come who would liberate the Jews from their oppressors. This prophecy got increasingly louder over the centuries until the birth of Jesus.
Many Jews felt that these prophecies regarded a temporal champion who would liberate them from their enemies (e.g. the Romans). The Christian Jews, on the other hand, held that the prophecies were about a spiritual champion who would liberate them from another enemy, spiritual death. According to Christianity, Jesus destroyed spiritual death through love and transformed and perfected the covenant made with the Hebrews. In short, Jesus came to reveal God and his unquenchable love for Man.
Christianity is unique among the Great Religions in that its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, claimed to be God, himself. This idea is both novel and significant for a Great Religion. While it’s true that delusional megalomaniacs and charlatans have made claims of divinity, such people don’t behave the way Jesus behaved. Also, the ideas of megalomaniacs usually aren't sufficiently refined to birth a Great Religion. More importantly, making such a claim in ancient Israel was counter-productive because it would merit a death sentence. Consequently, there’s sufficient evidence to consider the claim.
There’s the question of the human body of Jesus having potency and act. As we know, God can’t have any passive potency. This isn’t an issue in Christianity because Christian dogma holds that the human nature of Jesus was not part of his divine nature: it was in addition to it. In other words, there was no mixing of the human and divine natures of Jesus.
If Christianity is true, this is the fullest expression of divine revelation that can be made: God, himself, speaking and walking in person. Christianity is the second religion of our review that has a viable claim to have received divine revelation.
Islam is the last of the world's great monotheistic religions. Like Judaism and Christianity, it claims to have received revelation from God. Islam was founded by Mohammed circa 610 AD in Mecca. He is said to have received a revelation from the angel Gabriel that directed him to start the religion. Why did he receive this revelation? According to Islam, the divine revelation given to Moses and Jesus was true but had been deformed early on by men. The errors in both religions were significant, and Islam is the religion that God had intended to found.
To correct these errors, God gave a final revelation by direct dictation in Arabic. This revelation is called the Quran. By having it dictated in Arabic, the message was both direct and could not be changed. Islam contains Jewish and Christian elements but resembles Judaism in its overall practice. Although Mohammad is not a Jesus-type figure, he’s considered to be without sin and the prototype of human behavior.
Islam was instrumental in civilizing the ancient nomadic populations of Arabia which had proven resistant to being civilized. Islam considers itself to be a correction to Jewish and Christian oral and written revelations and does not introduce any new significant concepts or ideas. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a candidate for having received divine revelation.
Review and Summary
In looking at the Great Religions of the World, it can be difficult to spot the true receptacle of divine revelation. To aid in our search, we reduced the great religions to the basic thrust of their content – What was God trying to communicate by this revelation?
We determined that two of them can’t be true because they hold basic views that conflict with our knowledge of reality and truth. The remaining three, though, will be more difficult to discern. All three claim to have received divine revelation, yet it’s difficult to discern what God would say or do.
Despite this problem, we’ve noticed certain noteworthy elements or trends that shed light on the issue. Here’s how we’ll gain clarity: Once we’ve made our tentative choice based on our best powers of discernment, we’ll then focus on key elements of the selected religion that will confirm our choice with clarity.
Banner photo by Eva Darron from Unsplash.com
Ocean photo by Dylan Luder from Unsplash.com
Photo in the Hindu section by Max Ravier from Pexels.com
Photo in the Buddhism section by Alexander from Unsplash.com
Photo in the Judaism section by Cottonbro from Pexels.com
Photo in the Christianity section by Josh Applegate from Unsplash.com
Photo in the Islam section by Rumman Amin from Pexels.com
Symbols of the Great Religions are from Pixabay.com