I grew up in a middle-class Bengali Brahmin family in India. My parents are devout followers of Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. We attended all the major festivals associated with the Bengali culture. My parents never pushed religion on me. Their emphasis was more on studies and succeeding professionally. However, growing up we always believed there was a God who will judge us for bad things in this life or next life. We could pray to him/her and doing certain things such as meditation or going to the temple would make us spiritual and peaceful. We also learned values from our parents, common to any family in Indian culture. Values such as (i) Always be ready to make sacrifices for the well being of the family. (ii) Be respectful to elders. (iii) Be good to others and always do the right thing because God will judge us for our bad actions. (iv) Do things that will make our family proud.
As I got older, day to day experience made me more cynical about some of these beliefs and moral ideals. I realized being good to other people was not wise because people often took advantage of you. I decided to be nice to people who would perhaps someday repay the favor to me. I also found out very few people think about Karma when taking any action or making decisions. Most people make decisions based on what is good for them.
I never doubted the existence of God, but I felt connecting to him was something I was incapable of doing. I have experienced two kinds of religious people in my life. (i) Those who were deeply into their rituals. I felt I did not have the discipline or time to do the rituals. (ii) Those who were deeply intellectual reading many books and talking eloquently about the philosophy of their faith. It always went above my head and made me feel that God was distant and unattainable. Besides, I felt there was no role for God in my life. I had achieved a lot of things without praying for it. My goal in life was to make my family proud by succeeding professionally. My parents always approved of whatever I did, but I often spend too much time comparing myself to other people. I always knew there was someone out there who had a better car or higher paycheck than I did. Pursuing this success made me very unhappy and insecure in my life.
In the summer of 1999, I was invited by a co-worker to a social at a coffeehouse where people were discussing “Do all religions lead to God”. I went to the social more out of curiosity to know more about Christians/western culture. I had no desire in my life to pursue anything religious. In the event, a religious leader gave a speech where he claimed Jesus Christ is the only way to God. I was deeply offended by his speech. But on the other hand, I met a lot of people who were nice and friendly. My impression was that they had something special which I didn’t have. Also, all the religious/spiritual talk did make me wonder, do I need God in my life? Although I was offended by the leader’s message, something in my heart prompted me to call him and have lunch with him. I had a two-hour lunch conversation with him. I opened up to him about my feeling of unhappiness, insecurity, and my cynical view of life. He encouraged me to read the life of Jesus in the Bible to find answers to issues in my life. I decided to read the Bible as I felt I needed to repay my obligation towards him as he listened to me for over two hours.
I read all the four accounts on the life of Jesus in one day. Reading about Jesus’ life reminded me first of all of the great leaders from India I admired. Jesus’ teaching attacking the Pharisees (I consider them the ‘Brahmins’of Jewish faith) about their zest towards religious ritual but having no love in their heart for God and people, reminded me of great Hindu reformers such as Swami Vivekananda and Raja Rammohan Roy. His compassion towards a Samaritan woman and his command to turn the other cheek to the enemy reminded me of Gandhi. Ultimately, what made Jesus unique to me and made me believe God had a role in my life was when I read the Book of Romans in the Bible. This book explained that all men are sinners and fall short of the Glory of God. That concept provided an explanation of my cynicism and my materialistic greed. The rest of the book elaborates on how Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins therefore we can have a relationship with God. Reading this book (Romans) and then looking at the life of Christ in the context of this book, transformed my heart radically. I felt two of the most cherished morals I had learned from my family, that is sacrifice and obedience, Christ did that. He obeyed his father (God) and sacrificed his life so we may come close to his father. It made me realize that God is not some distant figure we experience via meditation or going to the temple. He is knocking at our door and wants to enter our lives. Just like our earthly father works hard and makes endless sacrifices to provide for the comfort of his children, God sacrificed his son so he could provide for us and we could get into the right relationship with him.
I had questioned the idea of doing good to achieve a higher Karma earlier in my life but now I realized God had set the standard of goodness unattainably high. As a human being, I could never be good enough. Christ is the embodiment of goodness. He sacrificed for us so God considers us to be completely good like Jesus his son, and with Jesus’ power in us, we can do good without questioning the rationalization of doing good.
At this point in my life, my heart was ready to accept but my mind said it was too drastic and I should investigate further. I started reading other books and books in the Bible. I started hanging out with Christians to learn more. I investigated further the scientific evidence towards the creation and historical authenticity of the Bible narration. Jesus said in the Bible, “seek me and you will find me”. I experience that was the case. One day, I told someone that in order to believe in Jesus, I needed to see videotape evidence of Jesus in heaven. The person I had asked told me about the passage in the Book of John where Thomas did not believe in the resurrected Jesus and asked for physical proof. Jesus showed Thomas and told him “You have seen and believed me but blessed are those who have not seen but have believed in me”. That day I put my faith in Jesus Christ.
Life as a believer in Jesus Christ is a blessing. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife and a daughter. I have been blessed with great friends. I am no longer a lonely cynical insecure man. I am not a perfect person by any means. Some of the things I struggled with before I become a believer I still struggle with today. However, I know in my heart Jesus is cleansing me day by day. Now, I don’t do good things to others because they scratched my back or I hope that they will later. I do good to others because God commanded me to do so and I want to give out the love and generosity God first showed me. Fortunately, I have not experienced any persecution from my family. They have been very loving and kind towards me. I love them even more now. The sacrifice of Jesus has truly made me appreciate the love and sacrifice of my own father.
If you have not yet believed in Jesus Christ and would like to know what he can do for your life, please seek him, you won’t regret the journey. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” The book of Matthew chapter 7 verses 7 and 8, the Bible.