I have recently returned from nearly two weeks in Nepal. It is a country in transition, moving from a monarchy to some type of parliamentary republic. Most of the royal family was assassinated in 2001 (thus effectively ending the kingdom phase) but the new constitution is still being negotiated (thus making the eventual shape of the parliament unsettled).
I think the country is in transition religiously, too. It currently has the largest percentage of Hindu adherents of any nation in the world (over 80%), but Christianity is strong and growing. As in Myanmar, the actual percentage of Christians is understated for political reasons, but may be approaching 5%.
While we were there, we visited the historic district in Kathmandu that contains many Hindu temples and shrines. One of these was the palace where the Kumari lives, a young girl who is worshiped as a living goddess by the Hindus of Nepal. This girl was chosen from a group of candidates when she was age 4. She had to pass rigorous tests including spending a night in darkness in a room full of blood and sacrificed animals. If she cried or screamed, she was disqualified. She will remain the object of worship until she begins to menstruate, a time when it is believed the spirit of the goddess leaves the girl’s body.
All of this is based on the concept of reincarnation, the idea that divine or human spirits migrate to different bodies over the ages. This is the great hope of Hinduism, to be reincarnated at a higher level as a reward for a holy or virtuous life.
Christianity believes in resurrection, not reincarnation. Today, Easter Sunday, is the great celebration of the doctrine of resurrection, because it remembers Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead. Jesus was a man unjustly killed by the ancient Romans, his dead body laid in a tomb carved out of the limestone formations outside of Jerusalem. He was truly dead, stone cold dead and buried. But on the third day, Sunday morning, he came back from the dead. He appeared in his resurrection body. He was not reincarnated into a different body. It was the same one. He showed the scars of his crucifixion wounds as signs of identity to his incredulous disciples. He was risen from the dead.
The Hindus have no such hope. We also visited the crematorium area of Kathmandu, perhaps the most terrifyingly depressing place I have ever been in my life. Here the bodies of beloved dead are burned with great ceremony and pomp, and the ashes are spread on the waters of a river. The soul is released to begin its uncertain journey of reincarnation. There is the possibility that the future will not be better, but worse if the soul comes back in a lower caste. We witnessed an extremely low caste man who was tasked with trying to salvage scraps of usable wood for burning from the fires of cremation. Imagine the degradation here: heating a home with charred wood scraps that had been used to burn a human body.
Resurrection offers hope. This life is not the end, nor is it the greatest good. We have been given hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that transcends our current troubles and pains. We look forward to the time when we will join him in glory. This is more than speculation or legend. We have the confirmation of resurrection through the raising of Jesus from the dead. The son who was dead is now alive, and he lives forevermore!
He is Risen! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Nebraska Christian College