In the stifling heat, I set out today to visit a Buddhist temple. Buddhist temples are not hard to find in Kathmandu. They dot the landscape of most high places. Religion is everywhere you look. Hinduism and Buddhism have filled the city with their idols.
Up the steps I walk, passing the vendors, the incense, the numerous statues of Buddha, and the prayer wheels that people turn. Some are tourists taking their pictures. Others are worshippers, looking to find enlightenment, personal power, and spiritual protection. It all seems so sacrosanct. But there’s nothing really sacred in all of this. At least to me. It’s all rather lifeless and empty, just like the statues carved from stone. I watch people prostrate themselves, and I think of the words of the Psalmist–
“Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats. Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them” (115:4-8).
People are looking in the wrong places. I grieve at what so many of these people are missing—a God who does hear and see and feel and touch. A God who speaks into our souls and feeds us with his words.
Proverbs gives a clear choice. Both wisdom and folly take their stand on the high places. Both call out to those passing by. But for those who go after folly, i.e. false gods and goddesses, they do not know that the dead are there (9:13-18).
It’s no different in the West. We may not have as many temples, but we have a similar, growing deadness. In our hyper-individualism, we have turned to worshipping ourselves. And this, as Jonah Goldberg puts it, “strips men of their chests, leaving them ill-equipped to defend what requires defending and hungry for some kind of meaning.” Like the stones, we are not up to the task of being God. We too end up lifeless. We are wallowing in feelings and entertainment, chasing after all manner of stimulation. But like a patient in pain, “we need more and more of the morphine drip just to get a fraction of the satisfaction.”
There’s great irony in the fact Jesus came to offer life—life in all of its fullness—but the world both East and West—seems disinterested. Here in Nepal, Christianity is hardly recognized. Places to worship God are not even accorded official status. Tomorrow I will be in church with about fifty believers, and I have been told to keep it really simple. I will invest this week in training seventeen doctoral students in global leadership. Will it make a difference? Is God really in control? It can feel like rowing across the Atlantic in a sink.
Still, I go back to the same 115th Psalm to another part, really the best part: “Our God is in heaven, and he does whatever he wills” (v 3). And his will is perfect. That’s all I need to know.