This is a letter I just wrote to an organization promoting Sikhism, the youngest of the so-called “world religions.” Encountering some Sikh beliefs in a recent editing project, I became curious, visited my local library, and checked out the Sikh Religion book identified in the letter. (To be precise, I put in a request for the two books on the subject listed in the library system’s online catalog, received notification that one text was missing (so no longer available), received notification that the Sikh Religion book had arrived at my local library, then visited my local library and checked out the book.)
Readers will learn from this letter that, when I consider the various forms of theism in existence, as I’ve noted that all people who care about their own well-being should do, I deem Christian theism to be superior because of its doctrines of the Trinity, hypostatic union, substitutionary atonement, and particular atonement. Because many professing Christians today do not accept all these doctrines (particular or limited atonement, in fact, is a minority viewpoint), the Christian theism that many Christians embrace is less superior, or not at all superior, to alternative viewpoints. I continue to believe that both the traditional doctrines hammered out over long years and the specific doctrines of Reformed (Calvinist) believers merit Bible believers’ support. I also continue to believe that those who would call these into doubt dangerously lower Christianity to the level of other religions. What point is there to debating American exceptionalism when Christian exceptionalism is so widely abandoned by professors of the faith?
It’s possible, as I admit in my letter, that I misunderstand some Sikh beliefs, as I may learn when (if) I receive a response. Since I’ve called the lowering of Christianity to the level of other religions dangerous, I should note that I nevertheless respect adherents of such other religions. As I admit in the letter, I think that the religious thought of such people has helped me better understand Christian truth. God’s common grace limits how far into error even non-Christian religions usually go—though God does permit some religions, or factions within religions, to go very far into error and evil, since only by doing so does he keep us aware of how depraved we humans are when freed from his restraint. God’s common grace also ensures that those he has gifted with a penchant for spiritual insight will have true and useful insights even though they use those insights to prop up false religions through which they evade the fullness of truth revealed in the Bible and personified in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:18–21, John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:16–17, John 14:6, John 1:9).
David M. Hodges
[my postal address]
14 June 2018
Sikh Missionary Center
P.O. Box 62521
Phoenix, AZ 85082
To Whom It May Concern:
I’ve just read your book Sikh Religion (Detroit: Sikh Missionary Center, 1990), which I found at my local library. This book shows your 1990 address as P.O. Box 02664, Detroit, Michigan 48202. An online search led me to your site at sikhmissionary.net, which indicates that your current address is the Phoenix, AZ, address I’ve used above. Though I see you have the same book posted at that site, my references in this letter are all to the printed 1990 text. While it appears your online version is the same text (it still bears the 1990 copyright notice), do let me know if you think anything I find unclear in the printed text is clear on your site. If you have your email address on the site, I failed to notice it, so I’ve sent you this letter. If you’d rather respond by email than letter, feel free to do so. I’ve enclosed a business card that includes my email address.
I’m writing because, though I find your book quite interesting, I’m not sure I correctly understand all of it. I’m trying to understand a couple of your concepts in terms of my Christian viewpoint. If you have the time, I’d appreciate a response. Since the English of your text is often very rough, it’s possible I simply miss your intended sense at points. As a freelance editor, I do spend a fair amount of time figuring out non-native writers’ meaning in order to revise their prose into clear English, but it’s still possible I’ve failed to figure out your meaning in places.
Your description of the relationship between God and your Gurus is one concept I have difficulty with, as is your concept of God’s nature and personhood.
Responding to suggestions by “Many writers,” such as Malcolm and Cunningham, that Guru Nanak [life and Guruship 1469–1539 AD (14)], while growing up, learned from Hindu and Muslim sources (literature and believers) by natural means, founding Sikhism thereafter (14–15), you write: “It seems that all these scholars of history have not grasped the basic fundamental fact about the divinity of Guru Nanak. He was born with divine status, thus, his teachings were heavenly. These writers seem to be very much ignorant about the fact that Guru Nanak was an Embodiment of Divine Light [an Embodiment of Jot or of Guru (244-6)]. He was a celestial being and his divine attributes put him above mankind and its schools….Heavenly Spirit does not learn from man-made institutions. He was a heavenly messenger and a born world teacher who taught…mankind the path of righteousness and truth. Guru Nanak’s divinity is above all earthly institutions and their teachings” (15, bolding removed, new emphasis added). This seems to make Nanak, not a messenger inspired and guided by the Divine, but the Divine himself acting as messenger in human form. (This later statement does the same: “When Impersonal God manifested His attributes in person, that person was called Guru Nanak” .)
Immediately after saying this, however, you separate Nanak from the Divine source of his revelation: “The Message that Guru Nanak gave to this world, [sic] came to him direct from God as he confirms himself” (15). You then cite Tilang Mohalla 1, p-722, and Wadhans Mohalla 1, p-566, which you translate, respectively, “…as comes the Divine Word from God to me / So do I narrate it” and “I am saying what He commandeth me to say” (15). Still separating Nanak from the Divine, you then write: “It is also mentioned in the Janamsakhi (biography) that many times Guru Nanak said to his companion Mardana, ‘Mardana, play the rebec, the Divine Word is coming.’ This confirms the fact that education from the Hindu and Muslim religious institutions, [sic] had no bearing at all on the Divine Word that Guru Nanak received from God and delivered to the world. To say that Guru went to different institutions to learn, [sic] is to violate the sanctity of Guruship” (15, bolding removed, new emphasis added). Here, Nanak appears to be a human consciously aware of his own identity as a person separate from the Person of God who is the Divine Light (Jot, Guru) and who communicates the Divine Word to and through Nanak (and his successors).
(I’ve not commented on your idea that God is somehow not personal when he is not interacting with his creation  because I can’t really make sense of this idea. In my Christian understanding, what God is at any time he is at all times, so his revealing himself as personal even once means he is personal always. Does your idea intend to say that God lacks personhood before interacting with his creation, or to say that God, though he always possesses personhood, is mysteriously more than personal, more than personal in some sense impossible for mere creatures to understand? If the latter, this wouldn’t necessarily contradict the Christian understanding, since we Christians claim to know God only as he has revealed himself.)
In the Christian context, we actually allow for a unity of human and divine natures in a single person, the Person of Jesus Christ, God the Son, that permits learning and growth “in the humanity” of the unified Person, so I don’t know that a Sikh would need to see Nanak’s learning and growing as a problem, provided the ideas he learned and grew into did not err from God’s truth. (Knowledge that is not yet complete or comprehensive need not err. One can know partially yet truly.)
In any case, Christ may not be an ideal parallel for your Guru concept, since your separation of Nanak from his Divine source seems to make Nanak the parallel, not of Jesus, but of a biblical prophet. In fact, the prophet John the Baptist seems an especially good parallel. Before his birth, an angel says of John that “he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost [God the Spirit, the third of the three Persons who are the One God in the Christian understanding], even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). The passing on of the Divine influence from one Guru to the next also fits with the concept of prophet. Of John the Baptist, it is said by the same angel that he shall act “in the spirit and power of Elias [Elijah, a noteworthy Old Testament prophet]” (Luke 1:17). Since John was a simple human chosen to carry God’s message, under God’s guidance from conception, there would have been no problem with his learning in the normal human fashion, progressively through study over time, though his learning would likely have been consistently in the correct direction in a way not true of any human not made a prophet from conception as was John. Like Nanak, he would typically have been aware of when God was guiding him or communicating through him and when he wasn’t: Since Nanak says at a specific time that “the Divine Word is coming,” it follows that there were other times when words spoken were Nanak’s rather than God’s, the words of the man only, who as any man might err, just as John the Baptist could err when not speaking prophetically.
Have I missed your point entirely? If this prophet-Guru parallel does not capture your sense, please tell me how it errs. I realize it may be that you have an entirely different concept in mind than what may occur to me given my Bible-believing Christian framework. My thanks for your patient review of and response to my thoughts and questions.
The Guru is said to have been sent by the Almighty (22), again indicating a separation. You add that “It should be pointed [out] here [that]…there are Three Entities in Sikhism[—]God, Guru, and Gurbani (Divine Word). According to Sikhism,” you add, “there is One but One God; He sends His emissary called Guru, who is [an] embodiment of Divine Light. God then delivers His message (Gurbani) through His emissary, the Guru” (23). When you say “there is One but One God,” my most natural inclination is to understand you to mean “there is one and only one God,” since you do use this latter wording elsewhere in the text (249). It occurs to me, however, that you might mean something else, such as that there is really only “One” entity that is all that exists and that distinctions between “separate” entities are illusory. How a nonexistent separated and distinct entity could present to itself the illusion of separate and distinct existence has never been clear to me, so I’ve never taken such views seriously, but I understand that assertions of such an “all is one” viewpoint, or at least statements whose verbal forms seem to make such assertions, have shown up in philosophical and religious thought from time to time. Were that your meaning, “there is One but One God” could mean “all is One, yet there is also One God,” or perhaps “all is One, and that One is God.” Do you mean by “there is One but One God” that “there is one and only one God,” or do you intend some other meaning, such as an all-is-one viewpoint?
Since coherent verbal communication requires distinctions, I’m not sure it’s possible to coherently discuss all-is-one viewpoints, so I’ll assume till I hear otherwise that you mean “there is one and only one God.” Given that, the question becomes what you mean by “embodiment.” Is the Guru supposed to be entirely Divine Light, or just the presence of Divine Light in the body of an otherwise normal human being with his own immaterial aspect (soul)? Since the status of Guru was passed from Nanak to his successor, and then to a line of successors, and finally to a written and thereafter permanent non-human Guru, it would seem that human Gurus would have to be normal humans, with human souls (human intellects, emotions, and wills) and human bodies of the standard kind, into whose presence the Divine Light came. This would again fit the model of the Bible’s prophets best. Because separation between the human Guru (that is, the human holding the office of Guru, not to be confused with Guru in its primary sense of Divine Light or Jot; with reference to this primary sense, I suppose the human holding the office of Guru would most precisely be called the host of Guru), God, and God’s Word remains intact while the human serves as (in the office of and as host to) Guru, the case does not seem to match the Bible’s theophanies, where God appears (manifests himself) in some physical form (sometimes human, sometimes other physical forms and phenomena), or its Incarnation, where a Person of God adds to his eternal divine nature a full, uncorrupted, perfect human nature, becoming a single Person with two natures, both fully human and fully divine.
Now, when I above conclude that “human Gurus would have to be normal humans, with human souls (human intellects, emotions, and wills) and human bodies of the standard kind, into whose presence the Divine Light came,” I am speaking of God’s presence specifically as an active and perceived influence, since God is present everywhere and always, as your text affirms (52), and as Christians hold. For my part, and not necessarily with the agreement of all Christians, I would say that God, being non-spatial, can and is present in his infinite fullness at every point in space and time. I would insist on this description of God’s omnipresence in place of what I sometimes hear, a description that speaks of God as though he were a sort of fluid or gas so vast that it (he) permeates everything, meaning that God would not be fully present at any specific point: partially present in every place, but fully present in no place.
By the way, I think the basic idea that God is fully present at every point might first have been suggested to me by some Hare Krishna literature I read a very long time ago. Since we are all created by and in the image of the same God, and since God exerts a positive influence upon all of us that prevents any of us from wholly departing from true beliefs and correct morals (this is what we Christians call “common grace”), true insights, including insights about God, can show up in any belief system. Given this, that the idea might first have been suggested to me by Hare Krishnas doesn’t prevent me from thinking it true while thinking Hare Krishna-ism (or Hinduism more broadly) false. As the often misused and abused aphorism puts it, “all truth is God’s truth.” In any case, this idea only came back to me as I reflected much more recently on the implications of God being a Spirit, wholly nonphysical, and so necessarily neither matter nor energy, these being forms of the same thing. Though his control over matter-energy permits him to manifest in any physical manner he likes, and though his second Person has added to himself a permanent human body and full human nature, God in his eternal essence is Spirit, wholly immaterial, something your text and your translations from the Guru Granth Sahib often express quite well. (The second Person’s permanent human body is now in a glorified form that can do things normal human bodies cannot, perhaps because the matter-energy making it up is more fully under the control of his immaterial aspect, but it is still a human body. We Christians expect to be resurrected with our own bodies glorified in the same way.)
Alas, just as I’m beginning to think your concept of the relationship between God and human Gurus is like the Bible’s concept of the relationship between God and his prophets, your text confounds this idea. When you later describe the passing of Guruship from Guru Nanak to Bhai Lehna, Guru Angad Dev (life 1504–1552, Guruship 1539–1552 ), and the ascension of Guru Nanak (70–2), you make statements that seem to rule out what I thought a necessary conclusion (namely, that “human Gurus would have to be normal humans, with human souls…and human bodies of the standard kind, into whose presence the Divine Light came”). “When Guruship was passed on to Guru Angad, people realized that Guru Nanak was soon to depart bodily from the world (As Divine Light and Spirit, the Guru is always present),” you write, then describe some of Nanak’s final interactions with others. Then: “Guru’s Muslim devotees wanted to bury him after his death. [From what follows, one learns that this planning for postmortem disposal of Nanak’s body took place while he still lived and participated in the discussion.] His Hindu followers desired to cremate his body. When the Guru [Nanak, one sees from what follows, though the Guruship had already been passed to Angad] was asked for his decision, he replied, ‘Let the Hindus place flowers on my [not ‘his,’ so this is Nanak speaking] right side and the Muslims on my left. Those whose flowers are found fresh in the morning, may have the disposal rights of my body” (71). The next morning, however, Nanak’s body was gone and both sets of flowers were fresh. From this you conclude the following: “The light blended with Light and the spirit went back and merged with the Master Spirit. It [this disappearance of Nanak’s body] confirms that the Guru was not a body but it [sic] was the Divine Light” (72). Though human Gurus following Nanak all started as normal humans, you seem here to assert that Nanak, including his “human” body, was entirely, exclusively Divine Light. (You also seem to portray the Spirit that is God as something from which portions can be separated, which parallels the God-as-vast-fluid-or-gas concept I rejected earlier. In Christian theology, we speak of God as “simple” in the sense that he cannot be divided or broken down into parts, so that the three Persons of our Trinity, our Triune God, are each the fullness of God, not three parts of a subdivided God or three separate Gods. Your description here seems to allow parts of God to break off from him for a time and then merge back into him later, as though God were made of some “God stuff” rather than being non-spatial, immaterial, and indivisible.) I have to admit that, at this point, I’m having trouble seeing how all that your book says on this subject fits together. Could you explain?
Interestingly, in the Bible the prophetic ministry of Elijah passes to his successor Elisha with Elijah’s bodily ascension into heaven (2 Kings 2). But the Bible does not suggest that this implies that Elijah’s body differed in any way from the bodies of other humans or that the prophet Elijah was more or other than an ordinary human especially influenced and guided by God. Though you may mean the term differently than I do, you do suggest “prophet” as the meaning of a label that Pandit Gopal Das, a teacher who ended up being taught by the age-seven Nanak, applied to the young Guru: addressing Nanak’s father, the teacher, you write, said, “your son is an Avtar (prophet)….He is destined to be a world Teacher[;] there is nothing that I can teach him” (14).
Concerning how “I’m having trouble seeing how all that your book says on this subject [of the relationship between human Gurus and God] fits together,” I note that separation between God and the Guru also seems confirmed quite often in your text (such as 50–51, 118, 256). It is noteworthy that when the Muslim Fakir Vali Kandhari refused to give Mardana water because offended by Mardana’s praising of the Guru as “a great saint of God,” Guru Nanak is said to have responded by sending a message back to Vali in which he said that “he (Guru [Nanak]) was a poor creature of God, and laid no claims to be a saint” (55). Though Vali’s continued refusal to provide water, along with hostile actions, prompted miracles favoring Nanak, including a miracle where Nanak’s touch is called “the divine touch” (55-6), Nanak’s identification of himself as a being created by (a “creature of”) God shows him conscious of being merely a human specially favored by God, quite separate from God. This doesn’t fit with statements in your text that seem to reject any real separation.
In another place, your text says, “Being the embodiment of Divine Light, if the Guru had appealed to the Almighty, He should have accepted his appeal” (57) because “Whatever God’s servant, Nanak, uttereth shall prove to be true both in this world and the next” (Ibid., citing Dhanasri Mohaila 5, p-681).
Yet, your text also says, “When Impersonal God manifested His attributes in person, that person was called Guru Nanak,” so that Nanak was “the embodiment of Divine Light [Jot]” (244). How do you understand these two ideas, Nanak as a human person separate from God and Nanak as a human Guru who was and is the Person of God, to fit together?
As I noted above, you offer the record of Nanak’s bodily departure from earthly life as proof “that the Guru [that is, the Guru Nanak] was not a body but it [he] was the Divine Light” (72). If your idea is that Nanak was merely a human host for God (Guru, Jot, Divine Light), how would the disappearance of Nanak’s human body show this? Are you saying that in the case of Nanak the physical body was not a normal human one but was something fashioned out of Divine Light? Since your text takes for granted that Nanak’s human mother and father were in fact his mother and father, this doesn’t seem to be your meaning, but I can’t think of another meaning that fits.
For Gurus after Nanak, you usually provide simpler death records with no clear indication of bodily ascension or unexplained disappearance. Guru Angad Dev: “Guru Angad…left for his heavenly abode on March 29, 1552” (80). Guru Amar Das (life 1479–1574, Guruship 1552–1574 ): “On the first of September, 1574, Guru Amar Das left for his heavenly abode and the [his] spirit blended with the Master Spirit” (93). Guru Ram Das (life 1534–1581, Guruship 1574–1581 ): “Guru Ram Das left this world on the first of September, 1581” (97).
Guru Arjan Dev (life 1536–1606, Guruship 1581–1606 ) is an exception: “Crowds watched the Master standing in water and having a dip. Lo! The light blended with Light and the body was found nowhere. Hail to the Master! Thou art Wonderful[—]Martyr, the greatest. Thou art the Greatest! Salute the Mighty King! This was on the fourth day of the light half of the month of Jeth, Sambat 1663 (May 30, 1606 A.D.” (121, bolding, all-caps, and paragraph breaks removed). In this case, then, a man who led a normal human life for years before becoming the Guru ascends, leaving no bodily remains. Since this Guru was a normal man with a normal human body before becoming Guru, such bodily disappearances don’t appear to prove that the bodies involved, whether Arjan’s or Nanak’s, were anything other than normal ones. Nor do they appear to prove that those who disappear do not have human souls like all other people, since Arjan lived as a non-Guru for some years (1536–1581).
Guru Har Gobind (life 1595–1644, Guruship 1606–1644 ) resumes the normal pattern: “Guru Har Gobind left this world in March, 1644[,] at Kiratpur” (151). Guru Har Rai (life 1630–1661, Guruship 1644–1661 ): “Guru Har Rai closed his eyes and went to his heavenly abode on October 6, 1661” (159). Here the body’s continued physical presence is especially clear, the Guru having been seen to close his eyes at the point of death. Even greater clarity is found in death record of Guru Har Kishen (life 1656–1664, Guruship 1661–1664 ): “He…breathed his last on [the] 30th of March, 1664. His body was cremated on the bank of [the] river Jamna where now stands the Gurdwara Bala Sahib” (165).
Guru Tegh Bahadur (life 1621–1675, Guruship 1664–1675 ): For refusing to either (1) abandon his Sikh faith and adopt Islam or (2) perform a miracle for Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded “on the afternoon of Thursday, the fifth day of the light half of the month of Maghar in Sambat 1732 (November 11, 1675)” (174, 178, 180). This Guru’s execution was preceded by his torture and by the torturous execution of his disciples, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das. “The authorities thought,” you explain, “that these tortures of his Sikhs might shake the Guru. Nothing could and nothing can shake the Divine Light (the Guru)” (178). This either denies separation between the human Guru and the Divine Light present with him, or else it indicates that the Divine Light makes the human it influences incapable of certain wrong actions and wrong inclinations. Which is a more accurate characterization of your view? Or is neither accurate? Saying that the term “Guru” only applies to the Divine Light and not the human Tegh Bahadur doesn’t seem permissible, since the human is said to have served in the “Guruship” for some number of years of his bodily life. Perhaps the problem is that your book (the edition I read, at any rate) needs to be revised in a way indicating which sense of “Guru” you intend (human serving in the office of “Guru” or the Divine Light “Guru” present with the “Guru” office holder) each time you use it—is that it? Interestingly, the execution of one disciple is said to have been the occasion of a miracle that “was a wonder of Guru’s Grace”: “Bhai Mati Das was bound between two pillars and his body was sawn asunder. When the executioners put [the] saw on his head, he began to recite Japji (the first Bani in [the] Guru Granth Sahib). It is said that when his body was cut into two, he continued reciting Japji…[until] the recitation of Japji was complete” (178). Apparently, however, Emperor Aurangzeb required an additional miracle from Tegh Bahadur if the latter were to avoid choosing between Islamic conversion and execution, since the Emperor went ahead and executed Bahadur after this miracle.
Guru Gobind Singh (life 1666–1708, Guruship 1675–1708 ), the last human Guru: After appointing the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, the next and permanent Guru (Guru Granth Sahib, Guruship 1708–Forever ), “The Guru then left for his heavenly abode” and “The Sikhs made preparations for his final rites.” This occurred “on the 5th of the bright half of Katik, Sambat 1765 (7th October, 1708 A.D.).” Apparently, the Guru’s body disappeared in this case, since it is said that he “departed bodily to Heaven” (243). After the body’s disappearance, however,
While all were mourning…, a Sikh arrived and said, “You suppose that the Guru is dead. I met him this very morning riding his bay horse. After…I asked whither he was going, he smiled and replied that he was going to the forest on a hunting excursion.
The Sikhs who heard this…arrived at the conclusion that it was all the Guru’s play, that he dwelt in uninterrupted bliss, that he showed himself wherever he was remembered. He who treasures even a grain of the Lord’s love in his heart, is the blessed one and the Guru reveals himself to such a devotee in mysterious ways. (243, bolding removed)
This episode is interesting because it indicates that the individual consciousness of Gobind Singh remained in existence after returning to (and, as you say elsewhere in the book, merging with) the Divine Light. This would seem to eliminate the possibility that you hold an all-is-one viewpoint. Yet, you then quote something written by Guru Arjan Dev as part of his conclusion to the newly compiled Adi Granth: “By remembering God’s feet, we cross the world of Maya; Nanak, everything is extension of God” (110, citing Mundawni Mohalla 5, p-1429). This seems to move back in the all-is-one direction.
In fact, you later say that “God is both Impersonal (Nirgun) and Personal (Sargun). Impersonal God is Formless and beyond human reach. When He reveals Himself through His Creation, He becomes related and personal….The source is Formless, and the whole universe is His Personal form. No form[,] howsoever unique it may be, is independent of Him. Infinite can manifest into [an] unlimited number of finites, but any number of finites, alone or together, cannot be equal to the Infinite” (256). You seem to mean here that all finites, including all human persons, are manifestations (or, as worded elsewhere, extensions) of God. It’s tempting to think you’re trying to force together incompatible concepts, Islam’s personal monotheism and Hinduism’s (superficially polytheistic) pantheism, but I’d rather wait to read your explanation than draw this conclusion based on a single book.
Concerning Hinduism and Islam, Guru Arjan Dev responds to Emperor Jahangir’s demand that he “erase the hymns in his Granth which were opposed to the Hindu and Muslim religions” as follows: “As regarding the erasure of hymns in the Adi Granth, I cannot erase or alter an iota. I am a [worshiper] of the Immortal God. There is no monarch save Him; and what He revealed to the Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Ram Das, and afterwards to myself, is written in the holy Granth. The hymns contained in the Adi Granth are not disrespectful to any Hindu incarnation or any [Muslim] prophet. It is certainly stated that prophets, priests, and incarnations are the handiwork of the Immortal God, Whose limits none can find” (118). This does suggest that you want to treat the differences between these religions as illusory and to treat contradictory beliefs as in fact different ways of believing the same thing. I have to admit that this idea, if it is what you have in mind, lacks cogency.
Concerning your concept of God more generally, which I’ve discussed in a few places above, I note that one of the reasons I deem Christian theism superior to other forms of theism I’ve encountered is that Christianity’s Triune God permits God to be supremely merciful while remaining perfectly just. Any evil act (“sin”), being an act against the perfect goodness of an infinite God, demands, if the requirements of perfect justice are to be met, infinite punishment. As finite humans are incapable of receiving infinite punishment, only punishment that never ends once it begins, that continues forever, could suit perfect justice for the evil acts (sins) of finite humans—if those finite humans must be subjected to the punishment themselves. (Evil acts, sins, are all acts less than perfectly good, in motives as well as outward effects, including acts of thought alone. God’s perfect goodness is infinitely repulsed and enraged by every sin, and his perfect justice demands that every sin be infinitely punished.) God’s perfect justice, however, as revealed in the Bible, allows for substitution or representation, for one or more human persons to be represented by another human person (called “a public person” in some older works). Thus, were there a human person who could undergo infinite punishment in finite time, God could justly impose the punishment due to those who could not undergo such punishment without doing so eternally. Because the one God of Christianity is three Persons, one of those Persons could add to his full divine nature a full human nature, making him a Person both fully God and fully human, a human person who, by virtue of his also being the infinite God, could undergo in finite time the infinite punishment required of all the finite human persons represented by him. (In the Bible, these represented persons are called “the elect” and are said to be “in Christ.”) God’s mercy, in this Christian understanding, does not mean setting aside justice but fulfilling it on behalf of those who have sinned.
Concerning your careful insistence that “God neither takes birth nor does He die” (256), I note that the Christian way of describing the situation with the Divine-human Christ would be to say that he took birth and died “in his humanity,” though he remained undying, eternal, and unchanging “in his divinity.” Rather than raising a finite human to the status of infinite God, Christianity sees the infinite God adding the human to himself. Since nothing is subtracted, what is infinite to begin with remains infinite. (Though I saw in a documentary once that mathematicians can perform operations on different infinities, say the infinity summing up all even numbers and the infinity summing up all odd numbers, and determine meaningful relationships between one infinity and another, I don’t mean by saying that God is infinite that he matches any infinity that mathematicians might work with. I don’t suppose I mean anything more than “without limit.”)
Now, so far as I can see, Sikh theism, like Islamic theism (and all non-Christian theisms I’ve encountered), fails to provide a way for God to be both perfectly just, because perfectly good, yet abundantly merciful. Mercy in non-Christian theisms seems invariably to require that God, to the extent that he chooses to be merciful, must choose to be unjust. But if God can choose to be unjust, then his nature is neither perfectly just nor perfectly good—which would seem to mean he is not God after all. Non-Christian theisms, then, seem unworkable and not to be believed.
I realize, however, that I am quite ignorant of the full range and depth of Sikh thought on this matter. I also realize that my cultural background and Christian convictions may make me think obvious things that do not seem obvious to you. I therefore look forward to reading your response.
Thank you for your time,
David M. Hodges
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