A lot of, well, weirdness, has been taking place in regard to the Australian visit of the Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader of Tibet has been touring Australia recently, and there has been a lot of rather confused thinking surrounding the event – both in political and religious terms.
The Prime Minister refused to meet with him. I suppose as an atheist that would be expected; and also because she does not want to upset a major trading partner: China. But even more bizarre was the reaction of the Greens’ leader Bob Brown.
He was quite irate about Ms Gillard not meeting with him. He met with the spiritual leader, and said, “There is more to this place than simply people with big money.” The inference is that maybe such things as religion are also important – which would be a strange admission coming from Bob Brown the atheist.
Of interest is all the immense attention paid to the spiritual leader when he comes here – or to other parts of the West. One simply cannot imagine a high ranking, Bible-believing Christian getting so much adoration and attention. Indeed, quite the opposite would be the case.
But the Dalai Lama gets invited all over the place, has plenty of media attention and appearances, meets with all sorts of VIPs, and basically gets a free ride in terms of being allowed to do and say anything that he wants. He is given rock star status alright. He is right up there with Hollywood celebs and other big cheeses.
But why is this? He is obviously a very nice guy, has a great sense of humour, and does not get involved with controversial subjects too often. He of course still seeks a Tibet free of Chinese occupation, pushes various popular causes, such as world peace, and does offer advice and counsel to world leaders and others.
He is quite readily referred to by his title, “His Holiness” – even by secular people. His widespread popularity, avid reception, and near universal acceptance in the post-Christian West is an interesting phenomenon. Why does everyone seem so happy to embrace him and his thoughts, even though so much of the contemporary West is thoroughly secular and anti-religious?
Much of the answer lies in the fact that he is a Buddhist who is also heavily into interfaith dialogue. This is not the place to enter into an extended discussion of Buddhism, but a few general points can be made about it. There are of course different varieties of Buddhism, but it must be recalled that God is not at all central to Buddhism.
Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as a secular religion. Thus this religion or philosophy in one sense offers few demands on people. Unlike biblical Christianity, one has no transcendent being that one is accountable to, and will one day stand before.
Basic concepts of sin and salvation are not found in Buddhism or the Dalai Lama’s thought. No wonder it is so easily digestible. It makes no pressing demands on anyone, and posits no need to be reconciled with a holy and pure God.
Thus the messages of sin, the Cross, salvation, and so on are not found here. There is no need of a Saviour as we are not sinners. There is no need of repentance and turning to God. There is no talk of a final judgment or a lost eternity. There is no hell and the wrath of God.
When all that is dismissed and vague talk of being happy, being at peace, and being nice to each other is instead the message proclaimed, then no wonder everyone in the secular West wants to get on board and embrace people like the Dalai Lama.
Such a message will always be welcome. Sinners can be quite comfortable with that. In contrast the Christian faith tends to repel people as much as it attracts them. Indeed, we often read in the gospels how Jesus divided the crowds by his words, and how many people decided to stop following him because his words were too hard and demanding.
Jesus did not come preaching an easy word, a popular word, a smooth word. His message was very confronting, challenging, and provocative. Indeed, so polarising and difficult was his teaching that the world hated him, and eventually sent him to a horrific death on a cross.
One can simply not imagine how the Dalai Lama would ever provoke such a negative reaction. One cannot envisage angry crowds wanting to string him up because of his radical and unpopular teachings. One will unlikely ever learn that he has become a martyr for his faith.
Thus the simple reception – or rejection – by the masses tells us a lot about the content of one’s message. The message of the Dalai Lama draws the masses, pleases the crowds, and offers hope – albeit false hope – to many. Indeed, it is misleading to refer to him as “His Holiness”.
No one but God is holy. We are all unholy, unclean, impure and saturated in sin. That is why the true Holy One, Jesus Christ came. He came to rescue us from our fallen, sinful and guilty condition. He came to restore us to a right relationship with a holy God who cannot look upon evil or countenance sin.
And the amazing thing is, when we come to Christ in repentance and faith, turning from self and sin, we receive not only his forgiveness, but a right standing with God as well. We in fact become saints. All true followers of Christ are declared to be saints, that is, those who are set apart, sanctified, holy.
Now that does not mean we attain perfection and full holiness in this life. But in the evangelical scheme of things, we have a three-fold state with God in Christ. First, we are fully justified by what Christ has done for us on our behalf. In that sense we are seen as holy and righteous in God’s eyes, because he looks at us in and through Christ.
This declaration of righteousness is then worked out in what is known as sanctification. The rest of our Christian life is spent becoming more like him, and less like our old selves. With the help of God’s Spirit, we grow more into the image of Christ, and gradually weed out the old sinful life.
Finally when we meet him in eternity, we experience glorification. A new resurrection body is part of this glorification process. All this is part of the saving work of Christ on our behalf. That is the good news we all need to hear, and it is not the message – regrettably – that we will hear from the Dalai Lama.
So while we can appreciate some of what he does and some of his humanitarian concerns and activities, there is only one person who we all must turn to, and only one person who truly deserves the title His Holiness: Jesus Christ.