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Eternity in their Hearts: A Review

July 25, 2016

I found this book lying on the coffee table at the Northern Youth Program’s guest house when I visited Ontario the beginning of July. The tagline, “Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World,” caught my eye.

The book fascinated me, amazed me, caused me to wonder, “Why haven’t I ever heard these things before?” Two weeks later, when I returned home to Wisconsin, I forgot to leave it behind. Before I box it up and return it to Ontario, I will give you a glimpse of what’s inside.

The premise of the book: Throughout the ages, a Supreme God has been acknowledged, not just by the Jews and their spiritual descendants, but by people of every tribe and race.

Richardson takes some liberties of imagination as he opens the book with a story of the Athenians and their Unknown God. Although I prefer a completely factual account for a book of this nature, my suspicions of his legitimacy were put to rest when he went on to explain what was actually taken from historical sources, and when I saw his list of bibliographies. The rest of the book remains in the realm of documented facts and the author’s conclusions.

Some of the stories blew my mind.

Peoples of the Vague God

The Athenians had their Unknown God, unnamed and more mysterious than any of the idols they worshiped; the Canaanite Melchizedek his El Elyon. But there are more examples from history than these two referenced in the Bible.

Pachacuti, mighty king of the Inca Empire, came to reject worship of the sun, Inti, and brought back to the upper classes of his kingdom the ancient worship of Viracocha, Creator of all things.

The Santals of India had knowledge that came from ancient times of the Thakur Jiu, the Genuine God, knowledge which opened their hearts to the Gospel in the tens of thousands when missionaries arrived in the 1800’s.

Knowledge of the Creator, designated as Magano by the Gedeo of Ethiopia and Koro by the Mbaka of the Central African Republic, along with prophecies of white-skinned messengers who would come with further revelation, paved the way for Christian missionaries to these tribes.

The Chinese had Shang Ti, Lord of Heaven, and the Koreans had Hananim, The Great One: ancient names reverenced long before Buddhism and Confucianism were founded and still preserved in reverence long after knowledge of Him had been all but forgotten. And the simple choice by missionaries of whether to accept or reject  these ancient terms for God made a huge impact on the spread of the gospel in those lands.

Peoples of the Lost Book

The most outstanding story, in my mind, is that of the Karen of Burma, who worshiped the Creator God Y’wa, in great reverence to Him opposed any spiritism or idolatry, and, never having been exposed to either Judaism or Christianity, taught a theology that paralleled that of the Bible. Their prophecies of “white foreigners” who would come with more complete revelation and the lost “words of Y’wa,” paved the way for their wholehearted acceptance of the gospel.

In addition to the Karen, other Asian peoples: the Kachin, the Lahu, the Wa, the Lisu, the Nagu, and the Mizo all preserved prophecies of a sacred lost book that would contain the words of Almighty God (designated by a different name in every culture). Many also had prophecies of the foreign messengers who would bring the book to the people.

The story of the missionaries who stumbled upon these vast hungry peoples and the story of the rapid-fire spread of the gospel which followed, reads stranger than fiction.

Peoples with Strange Customs

Some people have preserved little knowledge of the Almighty God and His laws, but latent within their cultures are amazing parallels of the gospel, planted there by a God who desires to win the hearts of all people.

In the 1960s, Richardson and his wife were missionaries to the bloodthirsty, cannibalistic Sawi of New Guinea. The Sawi as a culture greatly admired “masters of treachery,” with a long tradition of pretending friendship while fattening victims for a slaughter. In hearing the story of the gospel, they took Judas to be the hero instead of Jesus!

The Richardsons could see no way to reach them until they discovered the sacred Sawi tradition of making peace through a “Peace Child,” a practice which presents a beautiful analogy of Christ. When the Richardsons began presenting Jesus as the ultimate Peace Child, the Sawi understood the gospel story and eventually two thirds of them “laid their hands by faith upon God’s Peace Child Jesus Christ.”

Beautiful gospel analogies among other cultures abound. Richardson details some of them.

Scholars with Strange Theories

In the 19th century, evolutionary philosophers went to work to explain the origins of human society, culture, and religion. In particular, an Englishman named Edward B. Tylor, in his two volume work on the development of primitive culture, detailed the supposed religious steps from polytheism to monotheism, a hypothesis almost universally accepted by evolutionary scholars.

Following the acceptance of this theory, the fact that even very primitive tribes acknowledged a Creator went largely unnoticed or ignored. It wasn’t until years afterward, when Andrew Lang, Wilhem Schmidt, and other scholars published their findings on “native monotheism” and the Supreme Being believed in by primitive tribes throughout the world, that Tylor’s theory was completely discredited.

In spite of its actual inaccuracy, the polytheism to monotheism theory has had far-reaching effects which linger in various schools of thought even today.

There’s More

Richardson goes on to talk about God’s eternal concern for all the peoples of the earth. Even in His covenant with Abraham, Abraham was told that it was given so that “in you all nations of the earth will be blessed.”

Anyone interested in hearing of the work of Yahweh God in places we don’t normally think to look, and especially anyone interested in developing a more effective mission outreach to other cultures, should read this book.

You can find it here.

14 comments

  1. Mom introduced me to this book after I stumbled across a mention of the Karen people. I haven’t taken time to read it though, but you present a pretty interesting case for why I should read it! Thanks for the interesting review.

  2. Thanks Luci, for this. It’s encouraging. This book is part of my pet books list, although I’ve read it only once. I guess it’s one of those mind-changing books. Richardson taught me how to think about missions.

  3. Yes, this is a great book. Allow me to add a couple more recommendations: Don Richardson’s other books — “Lords of the Earth” and “Peace Child” — are captivating stories of pioneer missionaries in Papua New Guinea. (“Peace Child” is the book-length account of the Richardsons’ own experiences in bringing the Gospel to the Sawi people.)

  4. I have this book on my shelf and read it once, probably as a teenager (which is an embarrassingly long time ago). Your review made me realize that my memory is quite shaky on the details of this book and reminded me that I should read it again.

    Thanks,
    Gina

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