The Image of God and a Professing Sikh

John C. Rankin (October 11, 2007)

On Saturday, September 29, I had opportunity to spend some four hours in conversation with two agnostic Jews, four Muslims, and one Sikh. The roundtable discussion was set up by a Muslim man, a nuclear engineer who headed Pakistan’s space program for some years, and the location was at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University outside Boston.

The purpose of the meeting was for the nuclear engineer to present fifteen points by which he believes the Qur’an answers the objections of the “new atheists” (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris et al.), showing also that the Qur’an is validated by its scientific claims. I was asked to present my perspective, and I outlined the essential elements of the biblical order of creation — which was well received at different levels.

A vital discussion has been engaged and will continue. But for here I want to share about the Sikh gentleman. The Sikh religion originated in India over 500 years ago in a Hindu context in the Indian state of Punjab, and while keeping some Hindu elements (such as reincarnation and maya), it also transcends Hinduism in its belief in one God and the forsaking of superstitions and blind rituals. Politically over the years it has both clashed and interminged with Islam, and some view Sikhism as a syncretistic religion of part Hinduism and part Islam.

The Sikh gentleman made observation that in his pursuit of the love of God, he has no fear of people. How many of can say this? It makes me think of 1 John 4:18-21: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

The Sikh gentleman shared how he was studying in Jerusalem ca. 1970 with a group of sixty students from Harvard. He proposed to his fellow students to go and visit the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. They were all fearful. So he went alone, and in the process gained welcome and hospitality by one of the Mosque’s Imams.

Here is a man pursuing the very image of God, though his religion does not articulate an understanding of God’s image; a man who also said that he fears no one because he has nothing to hide — his conscience is clear toward all people. How many of us can say this? Again, we read in 1 John 1:5-7: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

If you were with me, looking eyeball to eyeball with this Sikh gentlemen, you would also conclude he is a trustworthy man pursuing integrity, seeking the living God. Sikhism understands the experiential reality of sin, yet without a biblical definition, and it has its attempts to lead the right life without an understanding of the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. So the questions is one of how God reaches such people, or perhaps more importantly, how does God intend to use us? What integrity and power of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of our lives? Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” How well do we represent that way?

In all matters, if we grasp the power to live in the light of Jesus, where by definition the darkness of the ancient serpent flees, we will see the Gospel reach deep into a tumultuous world with remarkable results.