Kamesh Sankaran on the Humbling of a Proud Hindu: How God Got My Attention When I Thought I Was Too Good for Grace

Image: Courtesy of Whitworth University

Kamesh Sankaran teaches engineering and physics at Whitworth University.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to the Jewish leader Nicodemus, who was curious but also confused about the notion of being born again. In the course of explaining the difference between birth through ordinary means and birth through the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

These words capture something of my own experience of new birth. At the time I came to faith, I was a PhD student in aerospace engineering at Princeton—the sort of person, in other words, who ought to have known about things like the source and consequences of airflow. Even so, I was utterly perplexed by what had happened. Like Nicodemus, the source and consequences of being born again were beyond my comprehension.

Looking back at the events in my life—more than 20 years after my conversion—I can see with greater clarity how God was working behind the scenes. My struggle against him, fueled by ignorance and pride, was utterly futile.

Advanced Beyond My Age

I grew up in southern India in a small city. My brothers and I were first-generation high school graduates, so the fact that I ended up working toward a NASA-funded PhD in advanced space propulsion at Princeton is nothing less than a miracle. And, like many miracles recorded in Scripture, it had a deeper purpose: to draw me to Christ.

My hometown is prominent in Hinduism because of its historic temples and a renowned monastery. Hinduism is in the soil, water, and air. I grew up in a devout Hindu family that was inseparable from the highest echelons of religious leadership. My commitment to Hinduism grew deeper when I left home at age 11 to study at a boarding school run by a prominent religious leader, where I excelled beyond the expectations of my family and my teachers. Paul’s testimony, in Galatians 1, of “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people” (v. 14), applied just as well to my progress in Hinduism. Many years later, I would become a leader in the Hindu Students Association at Princeton.

Before arriving there, I had been exposed to Christianity through friends, the prominence of Catholic colleges in India, and Christian movies released in the US. I was also intellectually curious about various world religions. I remember seeing the icons and statues in Orthodox and Catholic churches and thinking them to be similar to the gods I worshipped. I did not consider Christianity to be fundamentally different from Hinduism, but merely an appropriate religion for a different society.

On the other hand, I harbored a deep disdain for Christian cultural and moral values, as they were represented by Western culture. Like most Hindus today, I thought they were a form of debauchery. Compared to the teachings of Hinduism, they seemed intolerably lax. In my mind, then, Jesus could qualify as one among many in the pantheon of gods, but nothing more. My commitment to Hinduism also included a strong nationalist element (and the worldview behind it), and this resulted in a deep mistrust and antipathy toward religious conversion—especially conversion to Christianity.

Despite this, God was crucially at work, preparing me to receive Christ through my friendship with a fellow PhD student. As I worked alongside him for more than 12 hours a day, I respected him as a colleague, and eventually I became close friends with him and his family. On a few occasions, the Cross of Christ came up in casual conversation. Sensing that I was missing something, my friend explained that Jesus Christ died bearing our sins to reconcile us to God.

This was something I had never heard before. And it offended me! I was a deeply religious person, someone diligently striving to be good. How could my friend think that anyone, much less someone like me, was a sinner in need of salvation? Yes, I had problems, but wasn’t I capable of fixing them myself? Why would I need Jesus to bear my sins?

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Source: Christianity Today