Jesus claimed on several occasions that He had the authority to forgive sins. For many this is a deeply offensive thing to say. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ is challenged by many people today. It is very instructive to think deeply about people who believe that they can find God without Jesus. As we have seen before, some people will go to extreme lengths to earn their salvation. Consider this true story about a ‘raised arm baba’. How do you respond to Amar’s self-torture? Do you admire him or do you feel sad for him?


Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 7:48


In 1970, Sadhu Amar Bharati, left his wife and children and decided to completely devote himself to the Hindu god Shiva. In 1973 he wanted to show his devotion to Shiva in a unique way that would also sever him from all worldly pleasures and comforts. Amar made a vow to raise his right hand to the sky and keep it there… indefinitely. He experienced the typical numbness and tingling that we all feel when a limb “falls asleep”. Even when that light tingling turned to extreme pain, Amar continued to serve Shiva, his god. After a certain amount of time, he claims the pain subsided and now the arm stands erect, seemingly on its own. The muscles have atrophied and the girth of the right arm has shrunk in relation to his left. Since clipping his nails would have required bringing the arm down, Amar hasn’t trimmed them in decades. His nails are now mangled and curl around his fingers.

Perhaps even more strangely, Amar isn’t alone in his one-handed salute to Shiva. He has begun to disciple other Hindu holy men who also have a raised a hand toward the sky. Some of his followers have held their hands high for over 10 years.

Compare and Contrast

There are at least four different ways of making sense of this story. Where would you put yourself?

  • Materialist response: Amar – you are crazy doing this. Go shopping and have some fun! Save up and buy a BMW. Drink champagne and watch football on the telly.
  • Relativist response: Amar – I don’t agree with you but I so admire the path you have freely chosen. You are being true to yourself. It’s your choice. Pat yourself on your back with your left arm.
  • Ascetic response: Amar – you are right to torture yourself. Shiva will be pleased with your sacrifice. You are purifying your soul and you will be rewarded.
  • Christian response: Amar – you do not need to suffer all this pain and agony. Creation is very good and your arm is a good gift from God. On the cross Jesus died for your sins. Follow Jesus and God will forgive you. He will raise you up on the last day and give you a wonderful resurrection body with two perfect arms.
Mark Roques

Mark Roques

For eleven years Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Studies at Prior Park College, Bath. As Director of RealityBites since 2005, he has developed a rich range of resources for teachers and is a popular speaker at educational conferences in the UK, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is the author of three books, including the Religious Education textbook The Good, The Bad and The Misled, and his innovative approach has led him to appear on television (Channel 4) and radio.