I can’t remember if I have shared this on this blog. But before I was a Christian, I was a Buddhist. Before I was a Buddhist, I was a Methodist. I am not saying that you can’t be a Methodist and a Christian. I know many good ones, but I don’t think I was.
Growing up in church in the Bible Belt, I somehow missed the personal relationship with Jesus, the saving faith. I heard it, but I didn’t hear it. I just didn’t, though we spent every Sunday in a perfectly good and faithful church full of good and faithful Christians.
As a young man I joined the Air Force and was stationed in Delaware, outside the Bible Belt. I worked on Sundays, so I couldn’t go to church if I wanted to. Because of this, when I had a spiritual hunger, it simply did not occur to me to go back to Jesus. I needed something that made sense.
Buddhism made sense. And it was cool. Most importantly it was simple. Life is suffering, (made sense to me), and we can be content anyway. We should be loving and kind to others. Without going and looking up the whole eightfold path, I’ll go with what I remember. Right speech meant for me no lying and no gossiping. Right action meant doing nice things for people. Add meditation to it and that was enough to go on.
For a year and half I meditated every day, I was as nice as humanly possible to other people, I didn’t eat meat, and I didn’t kill bugs. There may have been more to it, but that is what I remember 25 years later. It was wonderful. People were drawn to me. They were asking me the question that Christians dream of being asked. “What’s your secret? Why are you so different?”
I should say there was plenty of sin in my life. Without the Holy Spirit, true transformation is impossible. But the above things I was doing noticeably well.
I will also add that I never could bring myself to buy any sort of Buddha statue. I still had church upbringing in my bones, and if a statue wasn’t idolatry I didn’t know what was.
Then I was invited to a church. I went and experienced the tangible presence of Jesus. I saw him. He was real. I thought, “Ohhhhh. That’s who God is.” I believed then, and I believe now that God allowed me to get there through the side trip of this particular version of Buddhism (who I never considered to be a deity), because Chrisitanity had been very complicated in my mind. Now I understood that God is love. There are only two Great Commandments that matter. After you have put your faith in Jesus to forgive you by his death for you, then you must use your whole heart to love God and people. It was an easy transition.
Sometimes I let faith get complicated as I study theology, but always the cure is to think back to that first understanding. No matter how complicated your theology, the point is the love of God for you, the love of you for God, and your love for other people.