I recently went to a Buddhist funeral service in California for a loved one and was struck by how familiar it seemed, even though I had never been to one before. The monk was in some ways similar to a pastor. The chant book was similar to a hymnal. The people were very similar to a congregation. We removed our shoes to enter as they believed it was sacred space. The monk spoke words of comfort and peace as perhaps a pastor would.
As I sat there observing the service, six insights came to mind.
- We all want to worship something greater than ourselves.
There is something innate in us that finds ourselves lacking, longing to find something beyond ourselves to worship. Some may worship celebrities or millionaire moguls. Others may worship their family. Others worship idols and gods. At the funeral service, there were man-made idols of Buddhas as well as pictures of ancestors and relatives that some bowed to. We all inherently worship something because we know there is something or someone out there worthy of our worship.
- We all long for community.
Whether it’s at a church or a temple, a club or a meeting, we all want to be in community. Even the strongest introvert and stodgiest curmudgeon finds value in some type of community. We are not made to exist alone. Humans seek other humans and find life and purpose in the context of living among others.
- We all long for communal worship.
Since we all inherently want to worship something or someone and we enjoy being in community, logically it follows that we enjoy and desire communal worship. Whether it be at a church or a temple, at a rock concert or a gourmet restaurant, we gain pleasure in worshiping something or someone with others. There’s more joy in worshiping and celebrating together than as isolated individuals. Our hearts long to worship together with our fellow human beings.
- We all long for peace and comfort.
No one would ever say he or she doesn’t want peace and comfort. Everyone, whether knowingly or not, is searching for that peace and comfort for themselves and for their family as they journey through this life. Our desire for love and money and purpose and power and popularity all are means to the end of acquiring peace and comfort. We want it above all else, constantly looking for true satisfaction.
- We all have a belief about the afterlife.
Whether you’re a Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, or follower of Jesus, we all have some type of belief in the afterlife. Whether everything turns to black or whether there’s a heaven or hell, we all believe that something will happen when we die. And we all hope that what we believe will be true.
- We all want peace and comfort in that afterlife.
Even if you are someone who believes everything just ends and turns black in the afterlife, that is a belief that stems from your desire for peace and comfort, that you will just end peacefully into nothing. No other place than at a funeral do people speak more of that peace and comfort that they hope the deceased person is feeling. In this life, and the life after, we are all hoping for that peace and comfort to come to us.
Observing these similarities to other religions, followers of Jesus should not be unnerved, but instead find the logic and proof in the truths of Christianity and our theology. Though Christianity may seem similar to other religions in some ways, one main way it is different is that it is based on the worship of a God who reconciles the world to His holiness. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die and rise again to claim victory for us over sin and death.
This is documented in historical writings and archeology. Jesus’s claim to divinity and His ability to save us makes a whole lot more sense than us being able to save ourselves. Though this article’s purpose is not to prove Christianity, what it hopes to do is to show that all of humanity is searching for the same things: purpose, love, hope, peace, comfort, salvation. We find those things in Jesus.
At the Buddhist funeral, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart, reminding me of how people’s seeking and searching in areas that lead to nowhere seems so meaningless. Jesus wants them to know true love and true purpose and true satisfaction. So many are lost and trying to find their way aimlessly. We serve a loving Lord who “came to seek and to save the lost” (Jn 19:10).
That’s why Communitas missionaries and partners serve both around the world, as well as in the neighborhoods in which they live, loving people and helping them see Jesus as the realization of their hopes and desires. How can learning about the similarities you just read above help you to build bridges with people of differing religious beliefs? Perhaps they are not as different as you thought.
All around us are people with various belief systems, waiting to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. The harvest is ripe and God is on the move. Let’s continue to pray for a revival that loves people into the kingdom of God, where true peace and comfort will welcome them with open arms in the form of Jesus, the Son of God, the only one who is worthy of our worship, who loves beyond measure, and who desires that everyone would be with Him through faith in Him, in this life and in the life to come.
Y Bonesteele is a former Communitas missionary in Madrid, Spain. She currently resides in middle Tennessee with her family, living on mission. She is an editor of Bible studies and enjoys cooking and gardening.