Posted by Tejdor Tiewsoh, on February 1, 2017
Topic: A Slice of Infinity
Not long ago, Chandrababu Naidu, a well-known Indian politician and the current Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, South India, made a very interesting observation. The state he leads has been going through a financial crunch, and yet, surveys reveal an unprecedented increase of wealth in shrines and temple collections over the past one year. Observing this, Mr. Naidu remarked, “People are committing sins and to be rid of them, they are going to temples and offering money.”(1) In other words, what he is trying to say, though perhaps half jocularly, is that the increase of wealth in the temple is proportionate to the increase of sin in the society because, for many, hefty donations to the temple fund has become a means of assuaging a guilt-ridden conscience.
This brings to mind the words of Christ who, while cleansing the Temple courts in Jerusalem and chasing away the money lenders and traders bargaining and haggling for profit, said “you have made my house a den of robbers.”(2) Jesus was quoting the Prophet Jeremiah. In those days, it was a common practice for robbers to hide themselves and their loot in desert caves till the hue and cry dies down, resurfacing after a while to steal, kill, and pillage all over again. The dens and caves literally became safe houses and a refuge for these thugs, protecting them from being caught or discovered. During the time of Jeremiah, the moral and spiritual values of God’s people degenerated to such an extent that people were living double lives. Flagrantly indulging in lawless acts and exploitation, they would simultaneously observe all the rites and rituals of their faith rigorously, perhaps, to shield their misdeeds and appease the conscience. Religion, symbolized by the Temple, became their ‘safe houses’ and a haven to camouflage their guilt.
What a striking parallel to our contemporary context! Irrespective of what faith we belong to, we still use religion as a subterfuge and justification for many of our crimes and misdeeds. We blow ourselves and others up, without a qualm; whole cities and civilizations are reduced to rubble; precious human and animal lives are sacrificed at the altar of vengeful gods and goddesses who must be appeased at all cost; fighting and war is prevalent, as we force our beliefs down people’s throats. All done in the name of religion! We have turned God’s house, literally, into a den of thieves and murderers! Ravi Zacharias said, “The temple binds us to the reality of our own hearts, making us think we have done all we need to do to be right with God. But the God who made us can see what is in our hearts beyond the sacrifices we have made and the laws we have kept in his name.”(3)
We cannot fool God and we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we can bribe our way into God’s heart, neither can we buy God’s forgiveness and favor with money, gold, or token performances of rituals and ceremonies. As God reminded the people through the prophet Isaiah: All these meaningless and empty offerings are ‘detestable.’ Even when you offer many prayers, God told them, I am not listening, for your hands are full of blood.(4) Instead, God urges them to soul-search, to repent, to turn away from their evil ways and seek God with a genuine heart. Ultimately, the worship and sacrifices that are most acceptable to the holy and incorruptible God of the universe is a heart that is broken with anguish and recoils with horror at its own sheer capacity for evil. “A broken and contrite heart, oh God! You will not despise,” says King David in Psalm 51, for God’s primary interest is on the worshipper and not the worship.
Tejdor Tiewsoh is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Shillong, India.
(1) Vijay Awada, “Temple income grows by 27 percent, CM Naidu attributes it to ‘growing sins,’ Indian Express, May 25, 2016.
(2) Luke 19:46.
(3) Ravi Zacharias, Why Jesus (New York: Faith Words, 2012), 239.