Do Christians and Hindus worship the same God?

Luke Wayne
2/20/17

No, Hindus and Christians do not worship the same God. There is no meaningful correlation between the God of the Bible and any of the millions of Hindu gods, nor can God be identified with Brahman, the ultimate, divine essence of the universe in Hindu thought. They are not only different in name, but also in their core characteristics. Also, the God of the Bible very clearly distinguishes Himself from the gods of the nations. The Triune God of Scripture is not one idol among many local gods, nor is He a generic deity that can be claimed by just any religious expression. The LORD is a very specific God and is not the object of Hindu worship.

The gods as expressions of God

The diverse world of Hinduism contains millions of finite gods whose images are worshiped throughout India and in Hindu households throughout the world. When set next to the strict monotheism of Christianity, it seems absurd on its face to suggest that these two religions have the same object of their worship. Yet, many Hindu thinkers claim that all of those gods are just expressions of one ultimate god or one true divine essence. Behind the myriad of local deities is really just one transcendent Being. This has led some people to suggest that maybe, behind all the outward differences, Hindus and Christians are really worshiping the same God.

It almost sounds plausible until you think about it for more than seven seconds. The one, true God of Christianity continually condemns the worship of any other gods or any physical images. He also makes clear that they are different (and false) gods, not merely expressions or even misrepresentations of Himself. In the very first book of the Bible, when Jacob is preparing to make an altar and worship God, he addresses those who would go with him:

"Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, 'Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God,'" (Genesis 35:2).

The foreign gods are both distinct from and entirely unacceptable to God. Jacob was not overreacting here. Throughout the Torah, God frequently says things like:

"For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord," (Exodus 12:12).

"You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments," (Exodus 20:3-6).

"Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips," (Exodus 23:12-14)

"Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God," (Leviticus 19:4).

"And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish," (Deuteronomy 8:19).

And with many other such warnings God makes it clear that He and the other gods are not the same and men are not to create and venerate images. To worship them is to reject Him. It's not just different ways of worshiping one God. Likewise, God's people rightly proclaim:

"Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11).

"Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods," (Joshua 24:16).

"Your name, O Lord, endures forever, your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages. For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants. The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them," (Psalm 135:13-18).

There are even accounts of people making images for the purpose of worshiping the one true God by name, and this is considered a great sin (see Judges 17). All of this is a mere sampling. From beginning to end, the Bible is clear that there is one, particular God who forbids us to worship man-made images. He is not to be conflated with all the other gods of the nations, nor is He to be worshiped the way those gods are worshiped. The Hindu gods cannot be expressions of the biblical God.

The Trimurti and the Trinity

Others will point out that Hinduism expresses its supreme divinity in a triad of gods called the Trimurti  (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva). They claim that this is simply another culture's expression of what Christians call the Trinity; just different names for the same three-fold God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Trimurti is a triad of three gods. The Trinity is not in any sense three distinct gods. Further, the Trimurti personify or embody stages in the endless cycle of universal creation and destruction. This concept is not entirely unlike other ancient religions who have two or three gods who embody phases of the fertility cycle or the annual seasons. It has no connection, however to the biblical, Christian truth that one God exists as three coequal, coeternal persons whose relationship are in no way defined by the functions or cycles of creation. Indeed, Father, Son, and Spirit all shared in creation, they all share in redemption, and they will share in the final judgment of men. The Trinity is not polytheistic personification; it is the reality that the monotheistic God is more personally complex than are His mere human creations.

Some Hindus believe that behind the expression or manifestation of the three is one ultimate essence, but that is not what Christians think. It is not that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are mere manifestations or differing conceptions of the one. God really does exist as three simultaneous, equal, and eternal persons. That is who and what the one true God really is, and there is no other proper way to conceive of Him.

The Hindu Trimurti all have consorts who are also objects of high worship. Indeed, in some forms of Hinduism, one or more of these goddesses are the primary deities, so there is nothing hard and fast about the number three. This is an entirely different idea than what Christians mean by "God" or by the "persons" of the Trinity. It also shows that even the concept of "three" in Hindu theology is a bit loose at best. Indeed, in the Smarta tradition, five gods personify the cycle rather than three. At any rate, even if Hinduism was firmly and strictly committed to the picture of three figures in a set triad, the accident of the number three is hardly a significant parallel. Christians and Jews believe in three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), but they are not a trinity just because there happens to be three of them. Nor, of course, do we find a Trinity in Jesus' inner circle of disciples (Peter, James, and John) or the kings of Israel before it divided into two separate nations (Saul, David, and Solomon). The fact that there are three of something important does not make it a parallel to the Trinity. The Trimurti is a triad of high deities among other lesser gods, and it does not resemble the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in any meaningful way.

Brahman and the LORD

In much of Hinduism, there is one ultimate reality to which everything else owes its existence. This supreme essence is known as Brahman. Someone may say, "Sure, the many gods, idols, and spirits worshiped by Hindus are a corruption, and I'll grant you that even the Trimurti cannot possibly be the biblical God, but behind all of that there is Brahman! Can we not say that Brahman, the ultimate source and being of reality, is just the Hindu way of expressing the God of Christian Monotheism?" 

The short answer is, "no." The long answer, if we are not careful, can get very long indeed. This topic is difficult to cover comprehensively because there is nothing even close to a consensus among Hindus as to who or what Brahman actually is. I can explain, for example, that God is personal while most Hindus believe that Brahman is impersonal, but someone will inevitably point out that some Hindus believe Brahman to be personal. I can demonstrate that God is entirely separate and distinct from His creation, while Brahman is the actual essence of all things in the universe and is thus not distinct from creation at all. All things are said to be Brahman, but no created thing is God. The response, however, again will be that some Hindus believe that there is a distinction between Brahman and the universe. Because there is no one, universal definition of what Brahman even is, it can take a very long time to walk through each of the conflicting definitions and show that none of them could be describing the biblical God. In the interest of brevity, we will take a shorter approach.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there are Hindus who believe that Brahman is a personal, transcendent, almighty, eternal Creator who is distinct from and sovereign over creation. Let's say that they further believe that Brahman is perfect, good, the lawgiver and definer of all morality, and will one day judge once and for all the living and the dead. I have never heard of such a Hindu, but Hinduism is large and diverse, so let's just suppose that such a Hindu exists. Would that Hindu be talking about the same God as Christians? No, he would not.

Let's consider this by way of analogy. The United States of America had a beginning as a nation under its current constitution. As such, most people would deduce that the USA had a first president at some point in the past. There cannot be an endless series of presidents because the USA had a beginning. So, let's say two people were talking, and they both agreed there was a first U.S. president. They both believed in the constitutional nature of his position, they both thought he was a grown man of British accessory and Virginian birth living in North America in 1789, and that he was duly elected by the people. One man said the first president was George Washington; the other said it was Thomas Jefferson. While their descriptions are remarkably similar in very important ways, they are describing different men and only one of them is the real first president. It is not just two ways of talking about the same U.S. president.

Take another example. Muslims and Christians describe their respective Gods in many very similar terms and even attribute to them many of the same historical acts in the days of men like Noah or Abraham. Still, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. How much more, then, must we say that Hindus, even Hindus that say very similar things about their god as we say about ours, do not worship the same God that we do. The mere assertion of a personal God is not enough. When one is talking about a personal being, who you are talking about matters. Not merely what.

One final consideration, of course, is the unique and essential quality of the biblical God of Christianity. The LORD, the great "I AM," is Triune in His personal nature. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is not Father, Brother, Sister, Uncle, Neighbor, Dog, and House Plant. He is also not a mere awful unity behind the facade of plurality. He is not an impersonal essence, nor is He is simply a singular person like you or me. Unique above all the gods of men, the LORD is personal but also above mere personhood as we experience it. He is not bound by our personal limits nor does He sink below them into something impersonal. As C.S. Lewis explains:

"The Christians are the only people who offer any idea of what a being that is beyond personality might be like. All the other people, though they say that God is beyond personality, really think of Him as something that is impersonal: that is, as something less than personal. If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the Market."1

The Christian God, therefore, is something entirely different in His very nature than Hindus or any others assert. Hindus and Christians do not worship the same God.

  • 1. C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (HarperCollins, 2002) 88