The second temple we went to was called the temple of death. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. We had been told a little bit about the place before we arrived, but were not expecting what it actually was. We knew it was a place where Hindus came to be cremated because they believe they will be reincarnated into a higher being in their next life. I knew there would be a spirit of death there, but didn’t realize how heavily it would cover the entire area.
Something I learned about myself while on the mission was that I am able to discern the spiritual atmosphere of a place, and one of the first times I realized this was when we went to this temple. Before I stepped foot inside the bounds of the temple I could feel the darkness in the form of immense tension in my chest, like a vice grip. The feeling did not let up, as the dark atmosphere of death was everywhere. We could smell the bodies burning long before we saw the flames.
We bought tickets at the visitor center and this began our time in the temple of death. A tour guide explained the importance of observing every ritual aspect perfectly down to the minutest detail. Before the bodies were burned, they were draped with wreaths of marigolds, bathed in the river running through the temple, and then walked several times around the pyre where the body was to be burned.
It was strange to smell these bodies in the air. It was even stranger to watch them burn. None of it settled right in my spirit. It was hard to see these people who had remained devoted to idols and false gods up to their dying breath. They had been faithful even unto their fading embers. Knowing that if these people had understood the truth about the salvation offered through Jesus Christ alone, the ashes of their shell would not be washing down this river in the hopes of a better next life.
As we walked around the massive temple I was taking it all in — the people, the sights, the smells, the atmosphere. We didn’t do much ministry, just some public prayer and worship. The atmosphere was so heavy we were all a bit discouraged and didn’t know how to deal with the situation. We wrapped our way back around to the central area with the burning bodies. I stood transfixed at the lengthy process, but also knew that numerous rituals had already been performed before the corpses had even gotten to this stage.
As I was watching one group at the point where they walk the body around the pyre many times, I was struck by all of these things that Hindus believe they had to do to be “better”, everything they have to do to be “worthy” and “deserving” of their warped version of grace in order to have the chance to be a greater life-form in the next life. I couldn’t understand why I was unable to tear my eyes away from the scene.
Upon further reflection, I understood why I couldn’t take my eyes off of what they were doing. It was because through it I was able to see an example of what life under the law looks like, instead of a life lived under the grace of God through the death of Jesus.
While not necessarily Hindu rituals and traditions, I had my own routines and patterns of behavior which I ran to instead of running to God. They never truly satisfied me and usually left me feeling empty and always searching for more, often to my own destruction.
I believe in general and know definitively for myself, that sometimes what we to be freedom is just piling on chains if what we are seeking isn’t of the Lord.
“But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive. So that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” Romans 7:6
As I read this verse in Romans today, I was so thankful for the gift of grace that is a new life not about what we must do, but instead about everything that Jesus already did, A life outside of the law and its punishments when we don’t live up to God’s perfectly holy standards, because we are never able. This new life frees us from chains we were bound by when we were dead in sin, a life in which we ran to our own rituals instead of running to God.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
I thank God there is no more condemnation because of the price Jesus paid for my freedom on the cross, and that I didn’t have to work to receive that gift.