7.2.3 Vishnu And Incarnation
The Vaishnava branch of Hinduism teaches that it is the incarnation of God [Vishnu] in earthly things that enables some sort of human ‘salvation’. However, the Hindu writings are confused as to how many times and in what forms God [Vishnu] has had a manifestation [avatar]. The Garuda Purana lists 19 avatars of Vishnu, while the Bhagavata Purana lists 22 in one place and 23 in another. Clearly the Hindu writings as a whole cannot be the source of truth when they are so unreliable and mutually contradictory. If there is no real basis of authority, then one has to conclude as many Hindus do- that one is a Hindu merely because they were born one. There is no concept of being converted to true religion, because religion is merely cultural, something inherited and into which one is born.
The avatar of God [Vishnu] in the fish [one of the defined avatars] is an example of how bizarre are the explanations behind the concept: “The Vedas were stolen from Brahma by a demon, so the gods sent a flood on the earth to drown him and thus recover the holy scriptures. Vishnu took the form of a fish, predicted the coming deluge to the saint Manu and saved him together with his family by leading his ship to safety”. Brahma doesn’t sound like the Almighty God of the Bible if he can have books stolen from him. The whole story sounds like mere fairytale, just as do the other supposed avatars of God.
There are many contradictory aspects of the Hindu avatars / theories of God’s incarnation on earth. For example, in the Parasurama and Ramachandra avatars, two incarnations of the same god wrestle with one another. Yet each avatar is supposedly under divine control.
According to the Bible, the one, personal God was manifested in His Son. This was His ultimate avatar. Jesus was not God Himself, as many Christians wrongly teach. He was prophesied in the early chapters of the Bible as the descendant of Eve, and also that of men like Abraham and David. He therefore didn’t exist as a person before His birth [even though many Christians mistakenly think He did]. He was conceived in the womb of Mary, and therefore and thereby He became the Son of God. His mother was an ordinary woman, who had other children apart from Jesus. She had to be an ordinary woman, to fulfil the promises that Jesus would be the descendant of men like Abraham and David. Yet He had no human father- God was His father, in that He made Mary pregnant.
All this means that we see what God would have been like, were He a human being. Jesus could say that in understanding Him, we understand His Father. So there was a practical and moral implication behind Jesus being God manifested in flesh. It saved us in that Jesus gave us a real, concrete example of how to live and be as the ideal, perfect human. But more than this, Jesus was our representative- He was one of us, and yet also the Son of God. And this is why He can gain forgiveness for us. His death and resurrection was therefore representative of that of each of us who chose to identify with Him. We do this by baptism, by dipping under water, into His death and resurrection. We sin, and therefore die. But Jesus, although like us and tempted like us, never sinned. Therefore He rose from the dead and was given eternal life. By baptism into Him, accepting Him as our representative, identifying ourselves with Him, we can have the same eternal life which He now has. You can see, surely, the difference in the type of avatar / manifestation which God achieved in Jesus, compared to the folklore stories of how God became manifested in a fish etc.
Due to considering the physical body a mere garment that is put on and off (according to Bhagavad Gita 2,22), there cannot be any real association of God with a physical body. Christ came to redeem the physical body as well, therefore His association with it was real. For the same reason there is so much accent laid on His physical resurrection, which for a Hindu would be completely absurd. True Christians therefore have a real, bodily hope. We will live again, because He literally died and lived again. The Hindu has no concrete hope as he attends the funeral of his loved one. For the Christian who has been baptized and lived in Christ, there is every reason to believe that the body which now dies and decomposes will be literally resurrected / recomposed at the return of Jesus. This was and is the wonder of the resurrection of Jesus, who is the “firstfruits from the dead”, the one who has gone before us. The Jesus who went into the grave was essentially the same Jesus who came out. No wonder His friends held Him by the feet and handled Him in such wonder and joy.