The Dialogue of Faith
Q01. Is the Bible the Absolute Truth? (by Dao Tien)
A01. The Direct Path to Truth (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q02. Buddha, Tao, And Christ? (by Xin Xin)
A02. Man Seeking GOD vs GOD Seeking Man (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q03. Divine Culture vs. Secular Culture (by Zhao, Duanhwa)
A03. The Source of Sacredness in Divine Culture (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q04. The Role of Vengeance in Chinese Culture (by Kong, Jeson)
A04. Great Is the Love of our Heavenly Father Which Made Us Brothers and Sisters (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q05. Life And Death Versus GOD And Man (by Su, Xiao Kang)
A05. The Recovery Of Man And The Will Of GOD (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q06. The Reality of Faith vs. The Reality of Experience (by Xie, Xuanjun)
A06. The Christian Faith is an Experience (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q07. The Desolate Land¢wHas China Been Abandoned by God? (by Beiming)
A07. People Who Turn Against God (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q08. The Consciousness of Death and the Awakening of Life (by Jiang An)
A08. Submission, Thanksgiving, Devotion: The Secret of Conquering Death (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Q01. Is the Bible the Absolute Truth? ( by Dao Tien)
Not long after I arrived at this land, I was invited to attend a Christian Bible study group. The people there were very kind and friendly. To my surprise, most of members were highly educated. Some had master or doctoral degrees and were successful in their professional careers. As I watched these highly educated elites studying that thin book, the Bible, it brought back memories of the way we studied Chairman Mao's literature during the Cultural Revolution. I felt perplexed and disliked what I saw.
Later, I found out that Christians regard the Bible as the Absolute Truth. Not only does one verse of Scripture outweigh the value of millions of other sayings, but to them, the Bible provides answers to all things -- from astronomy to history, politics, economics, moral issues, marriage and family issues -- you name it. In other words, the Bible is unconditionally the ultimate truth. No doubts or questions should ever be raised.
For people like me who have come from Mainland China, the word "truth" immediately invokes doubt in our minds. Is it just another good sounding slogan or another set of beliefs? In the past, I chanted the same slogan and seriously sought after truth. The book "Pragmatism" states: " The practice and experience of the people in society is the standard and vehicle by which one understands anything that is new and external. In other words, the standard of truth hinges on the practice of a society." The experiences of our generation have proved that all the truth in this world is relative and limited. For some it may be the Truth, but for others it may not be.
Similarly, this applies to Biblical truth. Christians believe the Bible as the Absolute Truth because the Bible claims that "All scripture is God breathed" and "Thy Word is truth". With this theme woven throughout the whole book to form a coherent whole, Christians regard it as the Truth.
However in my opinion, Christianity is just an organization. It requires a "constitution" to govern its doctrines and its members' conduct. The Bible's self-proclamation as the Absolute Truth is like a web hanging in the air supported by its own network of communication.
Let's look at Christians' practice of the Truth. I notice that different churches have different interpretations of the Truth. Pastors have different opinions on practical issues like the structure of church government, women's role, divorce, remarriage, etc. How could one absolute revelation from God produce so many different conclusions? Even if all Christians agreed on the above issues, I have noticed that many Christians' walk is not much different from those who believe in other "isms" in Mainland China. I do not understand why absolute truth is not able to bring about an absolute practice.
I do respect some Christians who honestly try to live out the teachings of the Bible. I have witnessed the fruits of their submission to the truth, such as benevolence, honesty, kindness, respect for human rights and willingness to abide by the law. I acknowledge that it is better for individuals and for society as a whole to have religious beliefs and practices than to believe in atheism. But I still cannot believe that there is Absolute Truth in this world or the existence of an Absolute Being.
A01. The Direct Path to Truth ( answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Greetings to you , my dear friend, Tien Dao!
A Chinese saying said it well: "Once bitten by a snake, the sight of a straw rope will scare you."
Here we are, the educated among our generation, brought up by the "glorious, perfect Party" and nourished by its "universal applicable truth". Having barely succeeded in leaving our old country, it is be hard for us to believe in anything claiming to be the absolute truth.
I totally agree with you that all the truth in this world is relative. As for our generation, we have endured many storms and been baptized by blood and fire. We have paid the price with our youthful lives to learn this cruel fact -- that everything is relative. Today, with the twenty-first century fast approaching, who will be able to stir up our blood once again to be used to paint over their terrible lies?
Let me share with you my experience in searching for truth.
A. An Absurd Phenomenon
I remember my first conversation with a pastor. He quoted scripture to prove to me that the Bible is the absolute truth. I was full of contempt for his ignorance. I could not believe a servant of God could be so lacking in common sense and logic. Didn't he know that the thing to be proven cannot be used as evidence, let alone to prove itself? Later, I observed Christians gathering together, offering praise and prayers to God and doing their "Cultural Revolution style" Bible studies and sharing. It all reminded me of a remark made by Einstein concerning the German soldiers marching like puppets: "Oh my God, are these men still able to think?"
B. The Irresistible Attraction
Nevertheless, I was ultimately attracted by the Christians - by their "devotion, benevolence, honesty and kindness" just as you have mentioned. In contrast to this sinful world overflowing with human lust and my own self-righteous yet muddled life, Christians presented a sparkling and refreshing picture that touched the depths of my heart. It was like a stream in the desert and a living spring in the desolate plain of civilization. It was quite different from the absurdity of their beliefs and practices. It brought warmth and hope for life. How could a person stuffed ad nauseum with rational reasoning, and a soul dying of thirst help but be drawn to the stream to drink?
C. The Bewilderment of My Reasoning
However I was in a dilemma. On the one hand, my reasoning kept me from Christianity. On the other hand, my heart was drawn to its warmth. Instinctively, I chose the latter because it is life's reality. I decided not to be confounded by the myth of reasoning and lose my way in life.
Two questions surfaced as I pondered this dilemma : (1) Can something truly good be unreal? (2) Can something that has thrived for two thousand years be based on absurd presumptions ?
D. The Harmony of the Spirit
I am glad those two questions did not bother me for long. Soon afterwards, I started to study Jesus. My dear friend, it is vitally important for you to study Jesus. The first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels, are the core of Christianity. Unless one understands the gospel presented in these four books, he cannot understand other parts of the Bible nor comprehend the uniqueness of Christianity.
If you study Jesus' words carefully, it is not hard to see that Jesus' wisdom transcends all wisdom, that His morality is higher than all other morality, and that His truth surpasses all truth. Try to apply His words to your daily life, such as love your enemies and pray for them right away, or forgive other's transgressions and ask God to forgive your transgressions toward others. If you make up your mind to obey His teachings and become a man poor in spirit, gentle, kind, pure in heart and a peacemaker, you will experience an influx of joy, peace, and grace from God. It is the consummation of truth, goodness, and life. When you allow Jesus to touch your soul, you will discover that Jesus is truly the Word. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way to heaven. His Word is spirit and life. He is the Wisdom that transcends human reasoning, the Life that conquers death, the Absolute that surpasses the relative.
At times your rational self will doubt and question the soul's conviction. But with a daily refreshing of grace your soul, touched by God, will gradually bring your arrogant reasoning into total submission to God. Then your life will be filled with peace and beauty.
Yes, there are stages in our search for truth. I do not know at which stage you are. As a veteran, I sincerely suggest you not be turned off by the absurd phenomenon or stopped by the bewilderment of reasoning, but that you begin to embrace the irresistible attraction for the warmth and beauty of daily life as what really counts. Use your spirit, not your reasoning, to study Jesus. As your rational faculty is guided by your spirit, it will transcend its confusion and be gloriously transformed.
In the Chinese Psalms, God told King Wen, "Do not look around, but take a direct path to my land." My dear friend Tien Dao, I do not belittle the importance of reasoning in any sense. Following are some points to clarify our concepts concerning reasoning.
- The statement " There is no absolute in this world" does not preclude the existence of the Absolute.
When you make the declaration, "There is no absolute", unconsciously you are appealing to the authority of something absolute. Our denial of the absolute is not much more than the confirmation of our inability to take hold of the absolute.
- The Infinite (Absolute) must contains the finites (relatives)
Human beings are finite. We are not able to comprehend the universe or even our own lives. We are dependent on the Infinite. Therefore, it is quite logical that the Infinite, if He chooses, is able to reveal Himself to us, but not vise versa.
- Revelation is the act of the Infinite reaching out to the finite. Knowledge is the result of the finite seeking after the Infinite.
We study because we are lacking in knowledge. God reveals knowledge to us because he has all the knowledge and chooses to show us, the ignorant.
- Jesus is the Infinite who visited the finites; the Absolute Truth revealed to human beings who live in the realm of relative.
Since His nature is absolute, it is not easy for Him to be accepted by the relative, for limited wisdom is not capable of recognizing the infinite truth.
- From the perspective of human reasoning, the Bible is seemingly full of contradictions and absurdities. Yet from the spiritual perspective, it is a coherent whole and irrefutable.
The proof of the Bible's genuineness is not in itself. Rather it is shown by the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). The Spirit unites the Bible, Jesus, God and the believer in one. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13 ). This unique work of the Holy Spirit has enabled millions upon millions of Christians in the last two thousand years to believe that Jesus is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life".
- The absolute truth cannot bring about absolute practice in the world because humans are confined by their own limitations and live in a relative world.
Please do not be confused and turned off by human failures, whether they be our own or others'. Granted we are Christians, but we are still not perfect. We believe in God, not in man. Human failure merely reflects our need for God and we should therefore be encouraged to walk even closer with God. The central theme of the Reformation was that man can have a direct personal communication with God, not through a second party. Once again we are reminded the importance of reading Jesus' word and praying to Him directly.
- The Bible is not an encyclopedia. It is the recording of God's revelation and His salvation for the world.
Although the Bible does touch on many other subjects, it is not God's desire to exhaust these topics with us. What He wants us to do is to revere him, walk with him, and be more like him. If we obey His commands, we will experience His manifold blessings, both in this world and in life eternal.
"Do not look around, but take the direct path to my land." When you are basking in the true light, you will echo what Mr. Yu-Tong Lin once said, "The sun is rising; let's blow out all the candles!"
Q02. Buddha, Tao, And Christ? ( by Xin Xin)
Dear Mr. Yuan:
You have said, and many others as well, that if you really open your heart, God will come into your heart. You have personally experienced the reality of it. In one of the meetings that you spoke at, I handed in a piece of paper with my question on it. For some reason it was not chosen by the chairperson of the meeting to give to you. My question was this: For a person to communicate with God is an elevation of the heart, not achievable for every mortal. Take me, for instance, no matter how I open up my heart, how devotedly I pray, God just will not come in. Perhaps many of us in this generation have become so intimate with computers, our thinking have been programmed by the logic of computer language, and the God-given ability to communicate with him has been dulled completely by rationality. And, it is possible that God still would not come into my heart when I am near the end of my life. So, while I am still young, perhaps you could advise a more effective way of getting in touch with God, could you not?
I have asked several other people the same question, none has given me an answer. When discussing spiritual issues with Americans, their answers feel like scratching the itch from outside the boots. I am sure it is because they are simply unfamiliar with the Chinese culture, especially with mainland Chinese culture. Then, there are those "friends" from mainland China who claim to have had the "holy spirit" come into their heart, all they could do was shrug their shoulders. So, with great frustration, my conclusion is that Christianity has given us the world view, but has not handed down the methodology.
Is there really not a more concrete and active way of communicating with God? I think there is. Let us look into our own culture -- Taoism and Buddhism. Let me first say that I think "God coming into one's heart" in Christianity; "Finding the way" in Taoism; and "Enlightenment" in Buddhism are similar and comparable spiritual states. You have studied Taoism in depth, so you know that Lao Tzu points out repeatedly in the Tao Te Ching the principles and methods of finding the Way. Namely, "cultivating and preserving stillness"; "holding to the center"; "empty oneself of everything and let the mind rest in peace". Then, through "knowing the masculine, keeping to the feminine; knowing what is pure and white, yet watching over what is dark and black; become an example for the world; stay with an unerring virtue; so as to return to the infinite". "In cultivating and preserving stillness, one can appreciate the substance in the elusive; the image in the intangible; and the vitality in the dim and shadowy"; then, one can achieve a "state of keenness and goes on to profound awareness and understanding." In Buddhist scriptures, there are numerous mentions of how one can attain enlightenment through self cultivation and discipline. One is meditation. Another is incantation. And, also through the practice of the Three Secrets by the Esoteric school. These are all visible and feasible bridges for the human kind to connect with God. Even if not everyone can traverse the bridge, at least a way is provided. We are all mortals, in our coming to God's presence, these ways should not be ignored.
Looking from this aspect (the way to God), is Buddhism or Taoism not higher than Christianity?
Now, the last question, also the most difficult one for me. In the New Testament, Jesus said "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father", "I am in the Father, and the Father is in me", "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me", "You may ask me for anything in my name, I will do it". I do admire and respect Jesus. That is why I like to go to church. However, let us, at this point come out of the mood of worship, but look at Jesus from the viewpoint of study and examination. I see the limitation of Jesus both in his speech and conduct, especially when compared with Lao Tzu. In Jesus' eyes, God is a person, and the person is his father......... In Lao Tzu's eyes, God is the form of the formless, the image of limitless image........
The realm of Buddhism is even higher than Taoism. Buddha, after he had attained the ultimate enlightenment, he described the spirit of the universe as hollow, nirvana, and of great light. This great realization was what Lao Tzu described as the Way. Yet, Buddha did not stop here. He also turned to look into the human heart and pointed out that the great light is really in your heart: It is neither necessary to seek the Way, nor necessary to seek me (Buddha), it is to look into your own heart and find your own true light and enlightenment.
So, I think the understanding of the truth and the way of the universe of Jesus, Lao Tzu and Budda are different in degree, the highest being the teaching of Buddhda, next of Lao Tzu, and then of Jesus.
Sincerely, Xin Xin
A02. Man Seeking GOD vs GOD Seeking Man ( answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Dear Xin Xin:
Thank you for your letter. You have asked a question uniquely Chinese in view of the various religious faiths of the world. I have written the following article as my answer to you and other interested friends.
Children on the Island
Once upon a time, there was a group of children on an isolated island. They didn't know where they came from or who their parents were.
At the beginning, they believed it was their parents who had put them there, and their parents should be on the other side of the ocean. Yet as they grew older, they realized they knew nothing of what was on the other side of the vast ocean, and they had no way and no road to get there. They could only use their hearts to wish and their minds to imagine what their parents were like.
As the years went by, no one could prove that they had parents despite their longing and wishing. So there was a child who, after using the method of "seeking with heart and mind" for a long time, declared: "There cannot be any parents!" He said: "You see, everything lives and dies. Then, nothing. So, nothing is the root of everything. We are no more than nothing!"
Then, there was another child who, after using the method of "seeking to prove with evidence" by traveling and exploring the entire island, declared: "it is foolish to think that we have parents!" He said: "It is the island and the beaches in front of us that gave birth to us and cause us to grow."
Yet another child, using the method of "scientific deduction", came to theconclusion: "Everything is moving, and every moving thing has energy, so energy is everything, and we are part of energy"
Despite all of these findings, they were still unsatisfied. They felt somehow they should have parents. And their parents should be more alive and intelligent than they were. Therefore, some of them began to imagine how their parents would have them behave if they were to finally meet. They established laws to follow, numerous rules and regulations to govern their behavior. They wrote book after book on what life should be about and how to live a good life, hoping their parents would approve of what they had done when they would one day meet. However, as time passed on, they didn't see any signs of their parents, and their doubts of ever getting to meet with parents deepened.
So this is the story of that group of children looking for their parents.
Finally, the father of the children actually sent someone to visit them on their island, because he saw that these children did not hear or understand his calls to them in their souls. They only knew how to invent ways to find him with their limited wisdom and became confused in doing so. They sank into fighting amongst themselves, indulging in pleasure seeking, daring one another to do wild things. The person that the father has sent is the son at his side, therefore, their brother. He bears with him their father's image and love. He said: "Our father is Spirit, you cannot see him or touch him. You can only communicate with him and worship him in spirit and in truth. He wants you to know it is he who has created you, who has been nurturing you, and who has always loved you. He wants you to repent and turn from your wicked ways. He wants you to love each other. To follow the rules and regulations you have created for yourselves is not the way to see the father. And you fail to carry them out anyway. I have come to take you to the father. If you only come to me and follow me, for I am the way to the father. All you need to do is believe what I have told you - the good news of the Gospel. In order for them to be able to believe, he performed a number of miracles to convince them of who he was. He even died and became alive again.
Now, about one third of the children on the island believed the good news and found a home in their souls for their father's love. They stopped fighting and began loving one another. So, this is the story of how their father came to rescue them from their disappointment and despair.
Obviously, thinking and wishing, practicing religion, doing good is man's way to reach God. Yet what God wants man to do is give up his own efforts and simply accept what God has prepared for him.
Man is limited; God is limitless. When man seeks God, he is depending on his limited ability; when God seeks man, he can become man as he is limitless in his ability.
When man seeks God, he ends up with no god or many gods. When God seeks man, he is the true God.
When man seeks God, he becomes the initiator, reversing his role in the relationship between man and God. For man's existence is not up to himself, but his creator.
When man seeks God, he comes from himself; what he accomplishes is at best fulfilling his own wisdom. When God seeks man, he comes from outside and gives man what man cannot give himself which is eternal life.
When man seeks God, he credits himself for seeking. When God seeks man, no man can take the credit.
When man seeks God, there is man's pride, a pride natural to man when he has not met God. When God seeks man, he requires thorough humility on the part of man; the core of that humility is to admit man is not God, and man cannot find God with his own ability.
It is inevitable for man to seek God. It is not man's fault to seek God, but man's goodness. It is also inevitable for man to miss the target because of man's limitations. It is beyond man's expectation and understanding when God seeks man. Only when God reveals to man who he really is, can man see himself as he really is - a sinner in need of God to lead him to goodness, beauty and truth.
My Friend Xie, Xuan Jun
Xie, Xuan Jun used to be my friend, now he is my brother. He is one of the authors of River Trilogy. He is very knowledgeable and has a great memory. He is also very studious. He is well-versed in both Chinese and Western culture, especially knowledgeable about Greek mythology and world religions. He is no stranger to the Bible, Koran, and the Buddhist scriptures. He said to my wife in Beijing that I should have invented my own religion upon hearing that I had become a Christian. He has been in the States for more than three years now. We talked about the Gospel no less than one hundred hours. He had been to church, Bible Studies, Christian retreats, even the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, yet no results whatsoever. He is smart, knowledgeable, eloquent, even poetic. No one was his equal. He maintained that it was not that he did not seek God, but if God did not want to seek him, all he could do was wait. Indeed! "Unless the Holy Spirit moves, no one can confess Jesus is Lord" -Bible. For every believer, it is seemingly that he has faith, actually it is God who gives faith. It is God's work in his heart. We are all people of little faith. How could we possibly believe a God whom we cannot see or touch, when we even doubt about things that we have seen?! So, when someone comes to faith, it is really because God works in him and causes him to believe. Therefore, Jesus said:"It is not that you have chosen me, but I who have chosen you." - the Bible.
There was a period of time when Xie Xuan Jun was having trouble breathing at night. He thought he might die each time it happened. But the doctor could not find out what was wrong with him. Once he called me very late at night and told me he was dying. His voice was weak and trembling. He said he was not afraid of anything but death. I talked to him about Jesus. He still could not believe, but was willing to listen and even felt better after we talked. About three months ago, he had a dream. In his dream, he was suffocating, and he was in the wilderness, alone. He thought he was surely dying this time. Suddenly, he saw a cross floating down from the sky that came to stand by his side (he sensed Jesus was there). The cross (Jesus) was embracing him tightly with both arms. Instantly, he was well. He felt his whole body loosen up and his heart was full of peace. When he woke up early in the morning, he saw a rainbow on the window curtain. He was stunned! Thereafter, he had trouble breathing a few more times. In his struggles, he thought of the dream, and he started to call on the name of Jesus loudly. Strangely, whenever he yelled out the name of Jesus, his breathing problem vanished. Several times after, he had to believe! He started to pray everyday. He started to read the Bible and books of theology. He became completely well. And, there were other supernatural happenings also. Now, he likes to begin a conversation with the sentence: "Ever since I have accepted Jesus as my savior...........".
We often shared about God's grace in our lives over the phone, sometimes for a few hours. He is not at all reticent about his faith. He tells every friend about the Gospel. He goes to church every Sunday morning without breakfast, so that the first thing he eats is the Lord's bread and the first thing he drinks is the Lord's cup. A good friend of ours recently told me that Xie Xuan Jun has totally changed. He has become humble and amicable from being arrogant and obstinate. His countenance is peaceful and joyful. He looks and acts like another person. He lives in a very small room and sleeps on a mat on the floor. He told me he would only do one thing for the rest of his life and that is praise God. He said he has already written tens of thousands of words praising God. And when I asked him to publish some of it, for his writing was so beautiful. He said not yet, for his words of praise were reserved only for God for the time being, lest the desire for publishing taint the purity of his praise. He said: "My sins were deep and heavy. Could I dare for a moment not to fear God?" He told me he cried to the point that he lost his voice when he confessed his sins before God. He could not stop crying over the phone when he told his wife and daughter of his conversion and led them to pray to thank God for his goodness to him."
Xuan Jun's wife has since become a believer also. The day she prayed to confess her sins in Beijing was the day the INS in America approved her and her daughter's applications for green cards long overdue.
Xie, Xuan Jun, no doubt, is a man of intelligence, knowledge, reason, and accomplishment. Yet he did not find God with these things. On the contrary, only when he faced life's crisis did his big head step aside, his weak heart tremble, his bare soul and bare need replace his intelligence and knowledge. That is when he was able to let God find him. And, the Holy pirit entered into his heart. The Holy Spirit is like water, always flowing to where it is low and empty. It is not that God only visits those who are sick and suffering, and going through adversity. If sickness and dversity do not humble a person, God still will not come to him. Man's condition on earth is basically temporary, helpless, limited, sinful and earth-bound. A man who is going through sickness and adversity merely more readily recognizes and admits his true condition.
Two People Inside the Man
Why is it that every nation, every culture and every era finds itself ooking to find God? It is because God has put the concept of eternity in man's heart. It is because man is created in the image of God, and God has put his breath (spirit) in man. So, man is bound to seek God and goes back to God. It is according to God's predestined will for eternity.Why can't man find God? The thing that prevents man from finding God is also the thing that causes man to leave God in the first place. That thing is sin itself. The first sin is pride of knowledge - the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Armed with knowledge, man leaves God and wants to be like God. How can a man be God? ! Yet, man has acted as if he were God.
This is the sorry state man is in today - self-deceiving ! When man denies God, he is like a child on the isolated island who could not find his father. Each becomes his own master and does what he thinks is right. The result is war, individualism, relativism, hedonism, etc.
There seem to be two people in a man. One is called Beauty, the other Ugly.Beauty likes peace, love, conscience, and justice. He comes from the spirit of God. Ugly likes pleasure, vanity, scheme, and self-gratification. He comes from the spirit of man. They quarrel often. More often than not, Ugly is the victor. Because Beauty has left his father God, the source of his strength, just like Antaios in Greek mythology left the earth, he has left the source of his power. Yet, Ugly is all from himself and for himself, he is highly motivated and full of schemes to overcome Beauty. Beauty tries to fight off Ugly, but he has lost his connection to the source of his strength, so he tends to "not do the good that he wants to do, but do the evil he does not want to do" -Romans 7:19 paraphrased. Under these circumstances, Beauty is no rival of Ugly. And, man cannot by himself overcome sin. He is a sinner, indeed!
However, some sinners do not want to surrender to sin. They try to keep Beauty alive in themselves by doing as much good as they can, suffering as much as they can, and studying and practicing religion as much as they can to overcome Ugly. These are religious people.
Then, there are those who recognize the source of strength to overcome Ugly is from the father God and accept it. Beauty, with the confidence of being on the side of the source of strength becomes very strong and overcomes Ugly in a mighty way. Those people are called the "saved".
I recently met two Christians who just arrived from mainland China. They said that a truly saved person who knows God personally would naturally tackle sin as the first step of repentance. The way they tackle sin is ruthless, without compromise. They startled and confused some of the Christians in this country -- Can we really overcome? Aren't we supposed to be weak? Isn't it unavoidable that we should sin? But, they say nothing is impossible for God to accomplish in a person who truly knows, fears and trusts God.
This is true faith, indeed!
Q03. Divine Culture vs. Secular Culture ( by Zhao, Duanhwa)
Divine cultures emphasize absolute values while secular cultures put their faith in science and technology. How did these two types of culture come about? How will they develop? Can they be united?
Upon hearing the term "divine culture", one would naturally think of religion. Indeed, as we examine human history, all cultures without exception trace their roots back to some type of mythology or religion. The explanation for such a phenomenon generally falls under two schools of thoughts: 1) the superstitious nature of primitive man and 2) the innate desire for perfection in the human heart. The former argues that due to the lack of understanding toward uncontrollable natural phenomena or out of fear and insecurity, the primitive people personified these natural elements and treated them as objects for their worship. The latter maintains that there is a common innate desire among men for perfection. Yet when man examined his own life, all he could see was imperfection. He therefore projected his desire for such an ideal, perfect nature and called it god.
Both arguments have concentrated on the individualistic nature and psychological inclination of man in explaining the origin of culture. However, in my opinion culture should also be examined from the perspective of interpersonal activities and social relationships.
For a group of people to form a society, the prior condition is that they hold the same set of behavioral norms and moral standards. Religious concepts are sufficient to explain the origin of these norms because it is reasonable to hypothesize that the gods worshipped by a group of people embody the common value system needed by the group. In the authority of their gods, they found the absolute basis for their moral norms.
Religions of different ethnic groups can be either polytheistic or monotheistic. The form of worship can range from an irrational ecstatic expression to a rational self-disciplined devotion. The objects of worship can be things that are readily perceptible, even a real human being, or they can be things that are metaphysical. In observing the developing trends, it seems that monotheism is superseding polytheism. The image of god is becoming more and more transcendent and the nature of god is becoming more suitable for intellectual discussion and investigation. As the structure of society becomes more complex and interpersonal interaction increases, the demand for a common set of norms and moral standards also increases. Monotheistic belief with its rational theology is well adapted to serve as the basis for such a common value system.
Although religion is the foundation and originating point of divine cultures, it is not the whole of divine culture. The formation of pre-modern western culture is a combination of the essence of three ethnic cultures: the rationalism of the Greek philosophies, the religious thought of the Hebrews, and the laws of the Romans. All three are categorized as divine cultures, though they are not all religious.
The main body of all Greek philosophies is rationalism, but its ultimate object of study is god. However, this is not a god that has the same image and nature as man but is the altra-ego of reasoning. The god described by Plato is the ultimate "Good". Aristotle named the highest philosophy as theology. His concept of god has a three-fold meaning: 1) the first cause, 2) metaphysical, and 3) the thought of all thoughts. The Greek philosophers ascribed the highest principle for value judgment and perfect union of truth, goodness and beauty as god. Their attempt to apply rational reasoning to the study of god became the philosophical undermining of divine cultures.
The uniqueness of the Hebrew religion lies in its ethics. Moses, with Jehovah's Ten Commandments as a covenant, founded Judaism. The Ten Commandments were not only a set of religious rules to be kept, but moral principles such as "Honor your father and mother", "You shall not murder", "You shall not commit adultery" and "You shall not steal." These are absolute moral commands. Jehovah decreed these absolute orders. The absolute authority of these moral laws is sustained by his almighty power.
Out of Judaism came Christianity. The founder of Christianity was Jesus who was also the issuer of absolute commands. Jesus was once asked, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind. . .love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-40) The love that Jesus promoted was unconditional and non-discriminatory. Not only should one love one's neighbor, but also sinners, and one's enemies. This is contrary to normal human nature. If it were not done in the name of god, the love of Christianity would never be able to spread.
In contrast, Confucius and his followers promoted discriminatory love. That is, one should love his immediate kinsman first, then others. This kind of love sits well with human nature and is well suited for a law-abiding society. Another ancient Chinese philosopher, Mocius, promoted non-discriminatory love based on the needs of mutual benefits. However, it did not have any religious foundation. Mocius in his philosophy mentioned understanding the "spirits", but the "spirit" was not God and, thus lacked the absolute authority that comes from God. The non-discriminatory love proclaimed by Mocius was just an ideal that could not be lived out. On the other hand, drawing strength from its faith, the love of Christianity has prevailed for over two thousand years in western societies. From this one can see the tremendous influence of religion on the formation of moral and ethical standards in western cultures.
The foundation of the Roman Law was the concept of Natural Law. Natural Law is a kind of unwritten moral standard which has been inscribed on the heart of every man. Aristotle was the first one who developed this thinking. Later the Christian Church also affirmed it with dialectical proof. Both ascribed sacred meaning to the "Natural Law".
In different ways Greek philosophy, Hebrew religion, and Roman law have each manifested some characteristics of a divine culture's value system. Their unique characteristics, like tributaries of a river, all merged into Christianity. Therefore the medieval Christian culture is a typical example of divine culture.
Although divine culture has secured its position in the history of western civilization, the divine value system represented by Christianity was eventually abandoned at the conclusion of the Medieval Ages. This replacement of one system by the other is similar to a paradigm shift in the history of science. When replacement occurs, it is not necessarily because there are intrinsic flaws in the replaced system but because of its inability to meet the new challenges created by changes in society.
No matter how sacred, holy and high-minded a value system is, it needs to be lived out by ordinary people. The monks and clergy were the primary agents living out the Christian value system in the Medieval society. The fate of the whole divine value system hinged on whether their conduct measured up to the norm demanded by this value system. In the early stages of Christianity, this was not a problem. The life examples of a group of saints who lived by these values became the standard for society at large. However, towards the latter half of the Medieval period, the whole ecumenical system became corrupt. From the Pope down to the priests, their immoral lifestyle shattered the foundation of the divine value system in the society. As society in general abandoned the practice of living by these norms, there was no reason for the value system to continue to exist.
The Enlightenment Movement is regarded by most western scholars as the model for modernism. As we all know, the Enlightenment Movement is what started the process of secularization in society. It is generally agreed that rationalism and humanitarianism are the essence of the Enlightenment movement. At the core of humanitarianism is the idea of self-consciousness. It replaces God with Man as the ultimate good.
The scholars of the Enlightenment Movement criticized the previous era as an era of ignorance. They took it upon themselves to conquer anything irrational and anti-rational with reason. Although the use of reasoning power was also commonly found within divine cultures for the purpose of expounding and affirming the faith, the Enlightenment advocates excluded the divine culture completely from the realms of rationalism. The rationalism they championed was for the sole purpose of serving human needs. They established a court of rationalism and pronounced judgments in the name of the whole humanity. They changed the sacred nature of reason into a secularized one. Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge is strength". He put his finger on the crux of modern rationalism: reason is but a tool. The rationalism within the Enlightenment Movement was the manifestation of reason being secularized.
The Enlightenment Movement was a revolution of the mind and it led to other social revolutions. Its positive contributions were that it helped humanity rid itself of the out-dated
divine cultural tradition, and it established a system based on modernism which was more suited for an increasingly industrialized and secular society.
In the following two centuries, modernism grew and matured. However it also revealed its own weaknesses in the process. The unchecked expansion of tool-oriented rationalism not only led to the exploitation of nature and destruction of the natural ecology; it also led to the control of the thinking process of individuals and society as a whole. In a so-called "democratic and free society", people unknowingly live within a huge invisible cage. For instance, at first glance, consumers seem to have the freedom to choose what they want to buy. But in reality their choices have already been subtly made by the ever-present commercials.
The other problem facing modernism is that the human spiritual need has been completely neglected. This has led to emptiness in the human heart, rampant greed, and deteriorating moral standards. When people are discouraged to better themselves morally, absolute values are abolished, and material possession and enjoyment become the ultimate goal for most people. No wonder moral education and moral pursuits are failing!
These problems are manifesting themselves in the family structure, society in general and in the education arena. The over-emphasis on teaching specialized skills at the expense of moral development is the major shortcoming of today's educational systems.
Neo-modernism sets as its goal to surpass modernism. To sum it up: it rightly diagnoses the problem of modernism, but it prescribes the wrong remedy.
The neo-modernists have correctly identified the problems and shortcomings of modernism. They say that reason is not as objective and bias-free as the modern rationalists proclaimed it to be. Tool-oriented rationalism can serve as a framework for scientists and technocrats. When used as a general standard by which value is judged, it becomes a new faith, a set of doctrines. Similar to "God" in the divine culture, the capitalized "Man" in humanitarianism becomes the ultimate authority. Once reason is manipulated by a certain group or class of society, it too, just like the Gods of the past, can be used to suppress individualistic development or to invalidate the humanity of certain strata or groups in the society.
Since the neo-modernists identified the faults of the modernists' value system, they should have offered a supplement to make it complete. Unfortunately they chose to reject the validity of all value systems. They regarded every norm as if it were the set of rules for games. All activities related with a culture were only parts of a game. For them, life on this earth was a series of distinct games, without meaningful content or purpose. Neo-modernists were filled with doubts and relativism. They were prone to question, discredit, criticize and sabotage everything.
Both the divine and secular cultures have their strengths and weaknesses. It should be possible for them to complement each other. The strength of divine culture lies in its absolute value system, while secular culture is good at utilizing knowledge and science. If they can be combined together, a new culture can be formed. As we know, the term "culture" encompasses a lot of things, but its major content fall under two categories, namely the value system and the knowledge system. If the value system of the divine culture and the knowledge system of the secular culture can be combined together, a new and better form of culture will emerge.
The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, already proved that a moral standard must be a set of absolute commands to be obeyed unconditionally. Unconditional obedience does not imply following blindly. As Kant has pointed out, it is a rational self-discipline, a self determination to follow something that is most commonly believed to be rational.
If we affirm the reasonableness of the absolute value systems of divine culture, we are not advocating a return to the old tradition. History is ever moving forward. The pre-modern divine cultures have forever become relics of the past. Their sacred value standards were solely derived from religion. Its absolute authority came from a personified "God". >From history we have witnessed that this absolute authority had been misused to oppress human spirit and to deny individuality, to the detriment of society. Hence it is not suitable for today's modern society. In my opinion, the sacred absolute value standard need not come from only one source. For instance, humanity is sacred, nature is sacred, the authority of a nation is sacred, the rights of its citizens are also sacred. Of course one's individual right is sacred and so is fulfilling one's responsibilities. Holding high ideas is sacred, and so is performing daily mundane routines. As we have mentioned, the sacredness of a value standard is another name for the need of common applicability of self-disciplined reason. This sacredness does not need to be guaranteed by the gods of religion alone. Science is totally capable of supplying such warranty. Science has discovered and revealed many natural laws and phenomena which were previously accepted only by faith. There is reason to believe that in the future human development and advances in science can also provide the absolute authority for value standards which were previously only to be found in religion.
A03. The Source of Sacredness in Divine Culture ( answered by Zhiming Yuan)
To my understanding, Mr. Zhao is not yet a Christian and is not a member of any church. Starting with the bare facts and utilizing his broad understanding and his acute observation of culture and history, he affirmed the essential value of divine culture for healthy human development. His was a well thought through, objective, and genuinely engaging article. It is especially thought-provoking since it is penned by an atheist.
For the past few decades the minds of the Chinese people were tightly controlled, and the information they were allowed to receive was greatly distorted. Now a re-clarification of our thinking is very important. Every one of us needs to re-examine the reliability of the information that we have collected and the value systems upon which we have made our judgments.
Since the door to China opened, the deceptive nature and biased propaganda of Marxism and Maoism concerning western economy, politics and society has been revealed. However, because of the passion for nationalism, hostility towards Christianity persists until this day. Not only the common citizens, but even the leaders of the country, have had little chance to understand the truth about Christianity. As China faces its rapidly deteriorating moral standard, many are hoping for a revival of traditional Confucianism. It is commendable that Mr. Zhao decisively categorized Confucianism as just another secular culture, and proclaimed boldly the restorative power of divine culture.
The Hand of God Among The Chinese
In the past century, Western missionaries sowed seeds of the Gospel in this vast land. Though they were expelled from Mainland China some forty years ago after Christians and churches were persecuted, yet the number of Christians in China has grown from two million to tens of millions and is still growing.
In Southeast Asia and North America, many Chinese have come to know the Lord, including many scholars from mainland China. Historically, we have seen the Gospel spread from the Middle East to Europe to North America. Now it is moving back towards the East. Whether through a lone cry from a scholar for re-introduction of divine culture, or rapidly growing house churches, we can clearly see that God's hand is working among the Chinese.
Divine Culture and God
The key to a divine culture is very simple. It is the recognition of the existence of God. If there is no God, there will be no sacredness. People may lift up a person as sacred or to be an object of worship. However, the era under Chairman Mao ought to serve as a warning against such folly. On the other hand, if science or material things are held as sacred, one needs to look no further than today's secular culture and the consequence of pursuing such a course. Mr. Zhao said, "There is reason to believe that in the future human development and advances in science can also provide absolute authority for value standards which were previously only found in religion." I am afraid this will prove to be wishful thinking. In fact, it is against the backdrop of inherent relativity in human sciences that the sacredness of faith and its incomparable absolute value, shines.
Whether one admits it or not, the atheistic world view as the foundation of all secular cultures is the chief cause that has led to moral corruption. Dostoevsky once said, "If there is no God, man can do whatever he pleases." On the contrary, a theistic world view establishes the baseline for morality and human decency. Out of reverence and love for the true and living God, one can avoid temptations that trip us up so often. One can live out a good, exemplary life that seems so out of reach for others. For the believers of Christianity, the omnipresent Holy Spirit will be guide and protect them all the time. This is far more effective in safeguarding the moral character of believers than any set of codified rules of conduct handed down by great philosophers of the past. Those who have a superficial understanding of Christianity often attribute the result of Christian moral conduct to the absolute commands of the Ten Commandments. The reality is that the Ten Commandments did not prevent the Israelites from sinning, just as Chairman Mao's absolute command of "serving the people entirely" did not stop the Communists from deviating from their ideal. A true faith is believing in a living God rather than a set of theories. A genuine experience of faith and the receiving of blessings from a loving, living God provide constant discipline and guidance, not the process of self-improvement by keeping a rigid set of good commandments.
Divine Culture and Miracles
Miracles will always accompany divine culture. If god is the result of a hypothesis or a product created by the need of human society, as the Materialists maintain (Mr. Zhou seems to be unable to free himself from their influence), then this god will not have true absolute authority. Only the One who has manifested himself to be almighty and ultimately good in history, in the present, in nature and the hearts of man, will be accepted by believers as lord of their lives.
For over two thousand years, the vigorous strength of Christianity has come from the historical miracle of Jesus Christ's birth, his preaching, crucifixion and resurrection. It also has come from God's continual manifestation through sufferings and blessings in the lives of believers throughout all generations. Looking back into history we see Jesus who was born in a manger, son of a carpenter, uneducated, and was crucified at age thirty-three, son of a carpenter. Yet from Him emerged a Christian culture which changed the course of history and purified the souls of man. Isn't this a great miracle?
The thing that sustains the faith of Christians is not a set of faultless theories. Rather it is the living miracles that persist from the beginning of Christianity until now. You can ask any believer, whether educated or illiterate, and he or she will bear witness to the love and faithfulness of God. This simple fact is a miracle itself. The sacredness of divine culture is established upon millions and millions of such miracles.
Divine Culture and Christians
All cultures must be lived out by living agents. The secular nature of the secular cultures and the sacred nature of divine cultures must be lived out by their respective agents. They cannot merely be sets of theories created by some thinkers. The agents for the divine culture are the millions of Christians who are followers of Christ. Likewise, agents for secular cultures are the millions of people whose aim and goals are confined to the pursuit of material things of this world.
A lot of people regard highly the achievement of Christianity and its impact on morality, yet they look down upon the Church and those in it, particularly those "uncultured" Christians in Chinese "house churches". They do not see the simple fact that apart from Christians there would be no Christianity. As one appreciates the magnificent rainbow in the sky, does one think about the billions upon billions of individual droplets of water that make the rainbow possible by reflecting the sun light? If you are clamoring for the appearance of the divine culture rainbow, you need to ask yourself whether or not you are willing to become one of those damp and foggy droplets that reflect the light.
Divine Culture and Soul
From an outsider's perspective, one can make a rational analysis of the functions of divine culture, but the sacredness of the divine culture is manifested in the lives of its multitude of agents, the Christians. Its foundation is spiritual in nature. The awakening of the soul will invariably lead to life commitment, while rational persuasion will at best bring about wise choices and resolves to avoid doing wrong.
Throughout history, there are three forms or ways in which moral commands are communicated:
- Admonishment. Examples: Confucius's teachings, and the Ten Commandments in Judaism. Followers are required to identify with, remember and abide by the teachings.
- Philosophical. Examples: Zen, and the Book of Ecclesiastes. Followers are taught to comprehend, be persuaded and transcend themselves.
- Modeling. Example: The propaganda used by the Communists to follow the examples of some hand-picked heroes. It appeals to one's emotion. Admiration will lead to imitation.
These three rely on the human rational and emotional faculties to bring about the effects of moral commands.
The Christian faith not only includes all three elements; it surpasses them all. Its foundation is found in the spiritual rebirth of the believer. Divine faith gives the believer a new life. The Almighty Living God enters into the believer's life and becomes his master. Not only does a believer have the teachings and example of Jesus, but more important, the Holy Spirit is always with him guiding, admonishing and helping him. Therefore the love and goodness that flows from a Christian's life does not come from obedience to a set of harsh commandments, nor from wise decisions nor from deliberate imitation. It is a natural display of a new life, a genuine self, and reality of life.
A Rational Religion
The Christian faith is rational, yet it is not established or sustained by rational and dialectical proof. Most cultural studies on the Christian faith commit the common mistake of neglecting the spiritual nature of Christianity's core and merely treat it as set of theories or a system of logic. This often leads to on the one hand, affirmation for the function and value of its divine culture. On the other, it leads to the rejection of its source (God's existence), its foundation (Jesus Christ's miracles), its agents (Christians and churches) and its manifestation (souls are saved).
Is Knowledge Really Strength?
Many humanists love to quote Francis Bacon that "knowledge is strength", yet they ignore another quote from him - "superficial knowledge will create an inclination for atheism, a human manufactured truth". If one is willing to investigate further, one will be drawn to religion. Even this is not enough to enable one to accept the mystery of God's kingdom, because one will not be able to comprehend God through the senses. One must submit himself or herself to God's holy laws and commands before one can know God. For those who are seeking after knowledge, I hope that they will be able to recognize the limited and relative nature of human knowledge so that they can draw closer to the One who is infinite and absolute. Not only is He the hope for a decaying post-modern society. More important, He is the salvation for every individual's soul. God's salvation does not need help from human reasoning or science. It does not need to invalidate human reasoning or science. His salvation is what causes the whole human realm of science, reasoning, moral standards, and life to be bathed in His holy light.
Q04. The Role of Vengeance in Chinese Culture ( by Kong, Jeson)
The deficiency in culture and the seed for hatred
One of the major shortcomings of traditional Chinese culture is the lack of the concept of equality. Without it, it is difficult to establish a fair judicial system in society. For centuries, civil disputes were settled by renowned countrymen or family laws. These people conducted arbitration based on common sense and their understanding of moral principles. Oftentimes they misjudged. Then small matters festered and became an irreconcilable enmity.
Studying Chinese history or literature, one can find many stories about a person avenging the wrongs he or she suffered. Sometimes this process lasted for decades and was passed from generation to generation. Seemingly, the more torturous and complicated the process, the more it appealed to its readers. Often times, children and grandchildren were instructed to right the wrong inflicted on their parents or grandparents. Putting oneself in their place, inheriting the enmity of the former generation and making it the sole purpose and driving force in one's life irrespective of whether one can eventually knife one's enemy or not, is too grievous and horrid a life to live. I admit I lack such ambition.
On the other hand, one should not underestimate the power of hate. It has proven to be a catalyst for social revolution, rebellion and class struggles. Totalitarian systems and dictatorial governments have sown many seeds of hatred. When such a system loses its fragile balance, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" will prove a powerful rallying cry and sufficient to ignite a raging wildfire. In the process, a not often observed side of human nature will be revealed.
Class struggle and the escalation of hatred
The horrible struggles between sovereign rulers and those who rebelled throughout Chinese dynasties have been amply recorded in the annals of history and literature. Let us examine once again the representative revolutionary movie, "The Red Woman's Army".
The plot goes: Jonflower was a slave to Southrascal. She hated him to the bones. She fled and joined the Red Army. Sometime later, she ran into Southrascal and killed him. Then, a Communist Party leader, Evergreen, learned about the incident. He started to indoctrinate and encourage her to distill her personal hatred to "class hatred". Consequently the hatred grew deeper and wider. Contention between individuals was transformed in a mass class struggle.
>From my understanding, Southrascal was not a real person, but the script was based on a true story. The movie was shot in Linsui using a big mansion in the county. The owner and his household, though they had nothing to do with the story, were later severely persecuted just because the movie was shot in their house.
The real main character, Mr. Wang, was a leader of a minority tribe. Unlike his ancestors, Wang was educated and was a graduate of an military academy. When the Communist Party split with the Nationalist Party, he returned home and rallied his countrymen to support the Communists. His troops won many battles. Later he disagreed with the Party's extreme left policies and returned to his tribal land. When the Red Army was losing the fight against the Nationalists, he and his army were drafted. Not only did he ignore the order, he killed those Red Army soldiers fleeing the battle field. Then the Red Army retaliated. They set up traps and captured him. Consequently he, his family, his wife's family, and his troop leaders were all executed. Their fort was also completely destroyed.
There are numerous similar stories recorded in the history of the struggle between the Communists and the Nationalists. The end result of class struggle was the deepening and widening of hatred among its people.
A different kind of war
Chinese history is filled with wars and conquests. China also created some of the world's greatest literature. The Chinese are particularly adept at wielding a kind of "soft weapon", a form of condemning public letter which established in detail the sins of its enemies. Then they followed their war of words with the sword. Chairman Mao was a master of this practice. A series of eloquent and pompous public articles condemning the Nationalist party were followed by the swift advance of his armies in the civil war. Sadly, within the whole Nationalist Party, they were unable to find someone who could adequately respond to his accusations. By then the fate of the Nationalists was sealed.
The joy of contending with others
Unlike his predecessors who after their victories would restore the country to some semblance of normal life, Chairman Mao would not allow the people to shed the yoke of hatred. Instead he promoted various imaginary enemies both within the country and from abroad. He reminded the people not to forego the class struggle and to be vigilant and ready for war at all times. I myself was born in such times. Since my early youth, I recall being indoctrinated with all kinds of hatred. I was persecuted by others and very naturally persecuted others. When I came to my senses, I realized that the whole country and the hearts of the people had been scorched by the fire of hatred.
Faith and reconciliation in society
President Lee Teng-hui claims to be a Christian. Therefore his political practices will invariably be affected by his faith. Today in Taiwan, most high government officials received their higher education under the western educational system. The new value system that they brought in is like a graft onto the stock of Confucianism. This is workable and should bring new life to the old system.
A careful study of Chinese history will reveal that the Chinese are not a people that worship only hatred. Sprinkled among the history of its fierce political struggles are some acts of wisdom. For example, the first emperor of the Ming dynasty did not carry any animosity towards the last Mogul emperor who was driven out of the country. Instead, he included Ginghas Khan with other ancestors from the Tang and Sung dynasties in his ancestral worship. By so doing, Chinese history can rightfully claim that it is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural history. From this, one can see that the river of tradition is a body of living water capable of incorporating cultures originating from different sources.
Out of Christian culture come the concepts of fair competition and tolerance of different ideas. These are not difficult to graft onto the mainstream Confucius culture. They will help dissolve some of the animosity that have long existed both within the ruling party and the general public, and help bring forth a society characterized by tolerance and mutual respect.
In the early 90's, the educated elite in China have called for "social reconciliation". Unfortunately, up till now this call has not been heeded by the various groups holding different political persuasions. These cycles of vengeance in history -- when will they be relegated to the museum as relics of the past?
A04. Great Is the Love of our Heavenly Father Which Made Us Brothers and Sisters ( answered by Zhiming Yuan)
I. The heritage of a hateful culture
Human beings are born with the capacity to love, but are constantly living under the shadow of hate. This is true for the whole human race, and particularly true for the Chinese people.
For past three thousand years, Chinese philosophers have talked about love, such as Confucius' benevolent love, Moze's universal love, and the love of comrades in the recent civil revolution. Yet studying the records of history, we can only find hatred and vengeance every time power changed hands. The whole of Chinese history is filled with chapter after chapter of conspiracy, power struggle and revenge. Older generations planted seeds of hatred in the hearts of the younger generations. The most rousing songs in China were influenced by aspiration for revenge. Lyrics such as, "Repay the debt of blood with blood" and "hatred planted in hearts is about to sprout" are common.
Jeson's article reminded us that the foundation of today's Chinese culture was based on hatred. Popular slogans are: Denounce those westerners who are hostile towards the Chinese; severely persecute the dissidents; never forget the atrocities committed by the Japanese. Even the general public are constantly "eyeing" one another. Moreover, building up the country economically and militarily is for the purpose of "not falling behind nor being bullied." This kind of narrow-minded patriotism is based on self-centered love and hatred toward others.
I am not a commentator analyzing what happened in the world, just pointing out the hereditary nature of a culture. We the Chinese are used to living under animosity, living together in mutual distrust, and trying to strive while gritting our teeth. We tend to forget we reap what we sow. Irrespective of whether the motivation is patriotic, for the sake of the Party, or for any other reason, if what we sow is hatred, we shall reap hatred in the end.
II. Selfish love is the source of hatred
Hatred is never be able to comprehend true love. Yet true love is the only solution for hatred. The Bible tells us that true love is from God. Any love that does not spring from the love of God may become the source of hatred. For instance, we love our family, our parents, wife and children. This is natural love. However, all through history, some of the deepest hatred can be traced to these kinds of love. The deeper the love, the longer the hatred will last.
We all love our country. This is also a natural kind of love. However, we can tell from world history, numerous wars and battles among nations and tribes were started by this kind of love. The deeper the love, the more fearless the killing.
It is only natural for us to love ourselves, our friends and those we deem dear. But this is conditional love. It has its conditions and defined boundaries. Within the boundaries it is love. Beyond the boundaries it becomes hate. Overall speaking concerning the whole human race, whether it is love for our country, family, friends or self, they all originate from our selfish desire. Individual love brings individual hatred and detriment to individuals. Similarly, the same applies to the scope of the family and the nation. Therefore, Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength. Not only loving God more than loving ourselves, but also more than loving our family, parents, wife, children and even our country and the world. Only when our love transcends all these worldly loves will we be able to avoid worldly hatred.
III. What made us brothers and sisters
Philosophers in the past recognized the limits of self-centered love. Teachings like loving others as ourselves, loving other elderly people as our own elders, loving others' young as loving our own young, were promoted. However, although it all sounded good on paper, in reality it is only natural for us to draw a line between our own family and another family. In this area Confucianism failed to provide a solution.
Jesus taught us to love God first, and then we will be able to love others as ourselves. Why? It is simple. Take a family for example. Brothers and sisters are born of the same parents and they live and grow up together, so their love for one another is strong. Their hearts are connected. If human beings are to love one another like brothers and sisters, their love needs to transcend all the differences that come with race, nationality, or parties and ideologies. Is that possible? Yes, by being born in the same family.
Indeed, in God this is possible. When we came to know God, we realized that we are all from Him, our common heavenly Father. We are in one big family and we are brothers and sisters. Not only do we live together in the same house, -- this earth created by our Father, but we also have inherited His image and His spirit. We grow up together in His teachings and share joy and peace from the same Spirit. In His family He teaches us to love one another. Truly, in Him we discover that we are brothers and sisters in the same family.
IV. A prayer for a billion lost souls
Growing up in a humanistic society, I searched for truth all my life. Unexpectedly, I ran into my heavenly Father's love. Suddenly I came to realize -- we were born with love and only our Heavenly Father can perfect this love.
Even though people do not want to acknowledge their common heavenly Father, He still waits for them and forebears with His mighty love. Although the Chinese people have departed from the Way, the heavenly Father has not forsaken His children on this vast piece of land.
Oh Father! You have not demanded that we pay anything for your love. But in your love you have given us Jesus as a sacrifice, an example, as a servant for mankind and the king of love. Those who do not accept your love pay a great price, which is to live in hatred. Oh Father, please forgive their ignorance and arrogance. With your great patience, please wait for the repentance of this largest flock of sheep who have gone astray. With the staff of your Holy Spirit, call those who are thirsty for your love to come home. Then we shall call you "Abba Father" and we shall love one another as brothers and sisters forever. Amen!
Q05. Life And Death Versus GOD And Man ( by Su, Xiao Kang)
My dear friend, I vaguely recall the moment we both knelt down inside Notre Dame in Paris. With trembling shoulders, you prostrated yourself under the dome for a long, long time. I was touched but also experienced a little bit of reluctance. Now five years later, I realize the significance of that moment was so different for you and me. We seemed to be as far apart as heaven and earth. I felt I was not qualified to discuss with you anything spiritual. More and more I realize that there is an unbridgeable gulf between this natural world and the transcending realm. What we did not realize was, most of the time I did not understand what you were trying to tell me and you refused to wallow with me, an ordinary man, struggling, helpless, and lost in hopelessness and despair.
That moment five years ago, when I was still suffering from shock and confusion following our escape, the only supplication I could make was for God's protection for my wife and children. I know it was a prayer of selfish desire amidst the sudden fate of living in exile, and not out of devotion to God, because I had squandered my devotion in my youthful years. I wonder if that moment of carelessness brought about my innocence concerning the cruel future of living in exile, and that my wife, (despite much hardship) would bring my son to the States to struggle with me and eventually be involved in a car accident and became paralyzed? I did not have the answer. All I know was that moment has turned into an indelible regret, torturing me constantly. Yet it hurts me even more as I walked with her back from hell this past year, witnessing a totally destroyed person trying to restore her memory, physical and mental abilities. I have truly witnessed the destruction of a human being.
That morning, with her still in a coma in the emergency room, I wandered out of the hospital and stood at the edge of a quiet highway, my mind churning with only one thought -- end it all! Later I came across a passage from Dostoevski's literature,". . . hope has slipped away eternally and yet life stubbornly remained. There is still a long journey ahead; you cannot die, though you have no wish to live." This passage best describes my feelings in these past ten months. It was a kind of desperation I never experienced before and it refused to be comforted, replaced or released. Everything that I had gained in my life had simply vanished, and there was not a straw left that I could grasp hold of to stay afloat. Maybe I have touched the uncertainty of life in the bottom of my soul -- I have never been aware of it before. To what extent a man can control his own fate had become such a joke to me. I had been so sure of myself, thinking that we were the group of people who would "fix" the many ills of our country, society and civilization. Yet facing one's own family tragedy, I was totally destroyed and helpless. Suddenly I saw the abyss of existence, a bottomless pit opening up under my own feet. .
Standing on the cliff dividing the known and unknown, the natural world left me with only survival instinct and the frenzied thought of saving her. Yet related to this was my great desire for miracles that come from beyond, a place so foreign and mysterious to me that I had never desired to touch it before. Following the accident, all kinds of help came from various groups, from Christians, Buddhists and people practicing "chi-kung". I decided not to turn down any help that came from the unknown world. I prayed, meditated and did transcendental meditation. I did everything I was told, hoping I would not be a barrier in helping her. I knew what I was doing grew, not out of my own conviction of faith but out of my desperation for any miracle. Finally though, no miracle happened and I was unable to penetrate the great wall between the known and the unknown world.
The winter of 1993 on the East Coast of the United States was one of the coldest in decades. Every morning I dug my car out from under sheets of frozen ice and rushed to the hospital to see my wife who was still not quite conscious. I heard her murmur about nightmares she had. Despite her mourning and groaning, I still had to steel myself to force her to do all kinds of rehabilitation exercises. Soon evening came and when I had to leave, invariably I would hear her say, "How am I going to make it through this night?" Driving through the snow and sleet on the highway, I would listen on tape to songs that she used to sing for our son as lullabies. I played the same tape for her over and over again when she was in coma. Tears ran down my cheeks so that I could hardly see my way. Arriving home and after fixing dinner for my son, as soon as I touched our cold and lonely bed I was overwhelmed with sorrow. I could not help but kneel before a wooden cross with Jesus Christ crucified. I pleaded with God to take away her nightmares and some how lead me to spend the nights with her again. After such prayers, miraculously every day I could sleep through the night. After a period of time I realized I was comforting myself. In fact the great yearning for a miracle came from my restless heart that was in the pit. In praying to God, it secured its footing. .
I am convinced that in the depths of one's heart there is a spiritual being that we have never met before. I came across it in my tragedy. This inner spiritual being is not under the control of my will, thinking or rational faculty. It operates under its own mysterious rules. I cannot suppress its sadness, nor can I understand its self-control. One year after the accident, I wrote in my diary, "I sense that I am calming down. There was only a moment I was overcome by sadness when I talked to the doctor yesterday. I do not feel like crying all the time any more. Only while driving and I listening to the tapes, I feel the hurt of licking my wounds." It is a weird story that for forty some years "it" was in me and I never knew it. I wonder how much stranger and more mysterious the "it" is that is in her. If we cannot even get to know our own inner spiritual being, how can we talk about knowing others'? Maybe it is the cause that led many thinkers on their rational and irrational pursuits and the resultant fallacies. I wonder if the "it" is the same as "the spirituals" referred by the religious people? .
I am still not clear about all these things. My senses tell me there exists something like a spirit in my psyche. Whether joy or sadness, right or wrong, it will be quite ineffective to try to control it with our will power or worldly experience. Only when one is in contact with the spiritual realm and draws upon its power can the human spirit transcend the limitations of the body and worldly experience and be transformed. But the question is, where is the spiritual realm? For those who still do not possess religious faith, the only means to find out seems to be their inner spirit. For some the search is easy; they can be enlightened quickly. But for some people like me the whole process is different. As soon as I began the search, my reasoning and experience were revived and they pointed me in the opposite direction. My dilemma is that I do not even know the "it" that is within me. Maybe one goal of the human experience is to communicate with one's own inner spiritual being and follow it to the spiritual realm, transcending the limitations of this body of flesh. .
My friend Dze Yee once told me that the only way to transcend is to die, which means to be "born again". My wife has experienced the cruelty of approaching death. In a split second, she lost all her physical abilities and with only a breath remaining, dangles between life and death. Except for her son, the world is all strange to her, me included. In her confusion, she said, she saw God once upon the sea talking to her in a loud voice. For me, I sense the helplessness and fleeting nature of life. I realize the vanity of the past and the uselessness of this body. I have attempted to reach out to the spiritual realm, but sad to say, I have yet to receive the touch from God or Buddha. This past tragedy has brought us to the brink of destruction, but still our spirits are wandering around the edge of the cliff without answers. We have tasted life's total destruction, yet we have not been "born again". Therefore we have only had a journey to hell.
After the accident a learned scholar visited me. He did not say much, but quoted what Leo Tolstoy said, "When suffering, one has to ask if he is worthy of the trial." I did not quite comprehend it at the time, but as I ponder on it, it becomes more meaningful.
A05. The Recovery Of Man And The Will Of GOD ( answered by Zhiming Yuan)
I cried when I read the first line of your letter. Since that nightmarish noon time, we appeared suddenly in front of each other and started our journey together wandering between life and death, heaven and earth. We were pursued by fear during the day and wailed in the middle of night when the whole world was quiet. We fell on our knees in Notre Dame and in that white Cathedral of Sacred Heart located high on the hill. I was not aware if you were crying then; I just knew that I had a good cry and you tried to comfort me. Later we each purchased a necklace with a cross with Jesus being crucified. We sent them to our wives in Beijing, Fuly and Lily.
I did not realize that fate could be so cruel to you and Fuly. When Jason told me about the accident, in shock, my first reaction was my knees started trembling and I fell on my knees crying out to God, "Why? Lord, Why?" I prayed for you every night. My wife and my daughter also prayed for you to come out of the coma, for you were unconscious also. We prayed that God would heal you. Twenty days later, when I received your phone call and heard your sad, weak voice, I truly did not know how to comfort you. I could tell from your voice that your soul was crying and bleeding. All human words, no matter how wise and reasonable, appeared so shallow and weak in front of a bleeding soul. I remember I only told you that in my prayer I believed God would grant Fuly a full recovery. You replied immediately that these were the words you were dying to hear. At the time, Fuly was still like a vegetable, and the promise of full recovery certainly was very touching to you. Yet if it was not of God, how would I ever dare to pronounce it? Also at the time I lacked the courage to tell you yet another message from God, that God has His good will in this accident.
My reasoning, just like yours, could not comprehend what my spirit had heard from God. The only difference was that my reason admitted that it had happened in the depth of my soul. It could not but accept what had been received through my spirit. That caused me to relay to you the message of full recovery. I was also sure of the second message that God had His good will for you, which I failed to delivered.
Can you say that you do not have similar experiences also? As you mentioned, your reason cannot comprehend your inner spiritual being, but yet it clearly knows "there is a spiritual being at the depth of my heart that I have never met. I came across it in my tragedy. and in praying to God, it secures its footing." Whether you realize it or not, your spirit has been awakened by this maybe too sudden and traumatic, experience. It is your reason with its limitation and its rebellious nature which is still fighting against such a conclusion. Self awareness, with the help of the awakened soul breaking through the bondage of reason, is the first step towards true faith. You no longer belong to the group who do not know their inner being. You have touched the true foundation of life at the end of your human reasoning. When your soul trembled at the precipice of the known and unknown, didn't your whole being tremble also? When your soul calmed down at prayers, didn't your whole being calm down also?
Since you have come across "it" and secured it in prayers, why are you still searching? Are you trying to lay the discovered spirit on the foundation of humanity? Or are you trying to analyze this spiritual awakening by your rational ability? You will not be satisfied until you have turned this spiritual experience into human sensation, will you? This sounds like a beggar begging with a golden bowl. Your "inner spiritual being" is God's breath of life (Gen2:7); your acquaintance with "it" is the calling of God; the one who grants you peace in your prayers is God Himself. Isn't God much closer to you than that moment at Notre Dam in Paris five years ago? If one moment of carelessness then caused you such regret, now as you came back from the brink of death, how should you respond?
You know that I had been in the same boat before, "struggling, helpless, lost in hopelessness and in despair". My heart was naked like a skinless person walking in a storm, extremely sensitive to the fickleness of people and the vicissitudes of life. Both within and without the democratic student movement, I have witnessed the wickedness of human heart; with my father's sudden death I learned the shortness of life; and while seeking a dream in the West, I discovered the vanity of this world. Within a few hundred days, all these were woven together into a great wall which my emotions and reasoning were unable to scale. In great distress, my spirit stood up like a tentacle searching for support. When "it" was touched by the light shining through Christians and Jesus' word, it found its rest. I am glad that I have fully surrendered myself to "its" experience with God which filled the gap between life and death and built up the bridge between God and man. And I shall never depart from "it".
It is true that every human being has his "inner spiritual being". It is awakened one way or the other by the things that happen in life causing it to seek help. However, this is not sufficient. For there is nothing but God's spirit that can revive it and help it to stand. St. Augustine once said that the human spirit is restless until it finds its rest in God. Why? Because "it" is from God!
You have asked "where is God?" I remember the first time I visited you after the accident, I suggested to you to study Jesus. I remember when I saw how low and broken you were, I held back my tears. When I saw how badly Fuly was smashed up, I tried not to cry. But as we were kneeling down to pray that night, I could no longer hold back my tears. I wailed loudly and you cried bitterly too. God is my heavenly Father and I know He is yours, too. It is only natural for our spirit to pour out its heart in the presence of our spiritual heavenly father.
Your spirit knows where God is, but your reasoning is head knowledge arrogantly demanding evidence. I do not know if you indeed have spent time reading about Jesus. "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John1:18) This Jesus, son of a carpenter, who never went to school, and who passed away at a young age of thirty-three, has left behind for the world a way to heaven. In the past one thousand nine hundred ninety-five years, His love has captured the hearts of mankind. From the lands of Europe and North America which placed their trust in Him, has flowed forth the great river of modern civilization. Today, one billion six hundred million people, ranging from the very learned to the illiterates, from peasants to presidents, call him Lord and Savior. This is not something that a poor young man in three and half years of preaching on the streets could accomplish. This is the work of God! God did not come to the world as a nobleman, lest man might say that nobility produced the fruit. He did not come as a learned man, lest man might mistake His work as coming from knowledge. He did not come as a powerful person, lest man confuse His will with human willpower and ability. God chose to reveal his power and glory through a person who was deprived of all human glory, in order to show that He is God!
At times even his own family regarded Jesus as crazy. But Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."; "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself, He can do only what He sees His Father doing."; "For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me." Please read about these things in the gospel according to John. Confronted with the evidence of His work in human hearts and history, even my reason cannot deny that He is God's only begotten Son through the Holy Spirit. He is the only Way, Truth and Life leading to God. His incarnation was for the purpose of awakening man's inner spirit and giving it a new birth.
Miraculously, Fuly has basically recovered. I do not know how much human effort and other things contributed to her recovery, but one thing I know, everything is under God's control. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
What is the good will of God? I still cannot put my finger on it, but I still firmly believe in it. I am just thinking -- if God intends to give eternal life to your family and allows you and Fuly to go through this momentarily tragic suffering, which is as short as a heart-rending scream or a terrible nightmare, could this be His good will? If God helps Fuly to recover fully within a year or two and gives her a peaceful, joyful and devoted heart to be born again, would it be His good will? If you, through the shattering of your emotional senses and reason, receive spiritual light from heaven, not to mention your soul and what will happened to the rest of your life, will it not rejuvenate your broken soul and reason to reach for new heights and have a deeper understanding of the human heart? With 1.2 billion hearts yearning to be fed, and God has awakened you with a heavy blow, I think it may be more than His mere permissive will!
I am quite sure of one thing: you and I are now not kneeling in the Notre Dame Cathedral, but squarely in the presence of God.
Q06. The Reality of Faith vs. The Reality of Experience (by Xie, Xuanjun)
Thank you for the free copy of volume 11 of OCM. Reading the dialogue between you and Shiaokong in "Life and Death vs. God and Man" and "The Recovery of Man and the Will of God", I found that neither of you addressed each other's issue. Shiaokong said, " . . . most of the time I did not understand what you were trying to tell me and you refuse to wallow with me, an ordinary man, struggling, helpless and lost in hopelessness, in despair." Why would this happen? My observation is: Shiaokong was talking from the view point of "reality of experience" while you were talking from the basis of your experience as "reality of faith". Both of you talked about your true experiences and yet you reached different conclusions. Your suffering has led you to a realization, whereas Shiaokong's did not.
I question the genuineness of your "realization", regardless of whether it is good or bad. Realization is something that cannot be proven by experiment. The difference between the realization process and the process of experimentation is this: different individuals will have different realizations which lead to different results, but experimentation, even if performed by different individuals, will always yield an identical outcome. That is why different individuals encountering the same religion will end up with different convictions, but all people who are involved in the same airplane accident will surely die. Can a person's faith save him from being electrocuted if he touches a high tension electric wire ? No, because it is a physical law set up by God that whoever touches a high tension wire will be electrocuted. It is beyond the control of any human faith.
I therefore conclude: the "reality of theological truth" which was developed from the realization process and faith is not equivalent to the "reality of historical truth" which originated from experiment and experience. One would not doubt the existence of Emperor Chin Zehuang (the Chinese Nero), though he was a tyrant; but some would have reservations about the existence of Jehovah, though he is called the Lord of Hosts. In my opinion, this is the difference between the reality that comes from science and the reality that comes from faith. However, I have no desire to discredit other people's faith, realization or religion by scientific experiments or vice versa, for I believe both should be respected.
The German philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche pointed out: Experiences, experiments and science were dug out from the world by man; whereas faith, realization and religions were stuffed into the world by man. I believe that whether something is categorized as "dug out" or "stuffed into" the world, it emanates from the common awareness of one's existence and his life experience.
When both of you knelt down inside the Notre Dame in Paris, you were focusing on the two aforementioned separate realities. This difference in emphasis led to different thoughts and even different fates. I tend to believe all this is beyond the control of man, for man is a limited being. In other words, man does not have true freedom to choose what he wants to believe in. Some people are naturally inclined to believe in God while others cannot force themselves to believe. Also differences in one's personality and living environment will affect one's inclination toward a certain God or religion.
You claim that a certain kind of faith or system of faith, such as Christianity, has the ability to resolve differences among people, to affect the fate of individuals or groups of people, or even to receive the great blessings promised in the system of faith which are rarely found in one's daily living. I call this the "reality of faith". Whereas Shiaokong, when he said, " . . . . the uselessness of this body. . . .", he was referring to the "reality of experience". Because of your different pre-suppositions, there was no common ground for your dialogue. However, I still believe you two can find a common focus of thought for your discussion. That is, to believe in a neutral god, a sovereign power who is neither good nor evil, neither love nor hate. This is a kind of god with whom one can identify with while living this insignificant life and yet be totally set free. People who likes to vacillate will find it hard to acknowledge, accept and revere this kind of god, but I hope you two can.
The "reality of faith" leads us to believe that God is loving and kind. However, this kind of God is not self-revealing; he must be proven through theology. Since such a god transcends the realms of experience, experimentation and science, he will naturally not be accepted by the "reality of experience".
The "reality of experience" on the other hand, forces us to feel the cruelty of fate which seems to mock us and is hostile to mankind. This fact is almost self-evident in our harsh human lives. With unlimited authority, it makes us cringe and tortures us with the magic wand of time. The Chinese have a saying," How cruel is heaven and the earth! It makes everything a sacrifice."
Our reasoning ability comes from the reality of our experience. It changes as we go through life with its trials like sickness, aging and death. Sometimes we are very self-confident, sometimes we feel inferior. Based on our own experience and the understanding of the law of cause and effect, we believe that we can control our own destiny. However, the never ending cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death makes us feel that everything is so whimsical. Then our reason tells us of our own finiteness and frailty, and our utter inability to control our own fate.
However, our emotional faculty refuses to accept this hopeless state. Therefore it creates the "reality of faith". This faith tells us that the world is governed by a god who is loving and kind. This god loves us more than we love ourselves. As long as we believe in him and obey his teachings which comes to us through a savior or prophets, we will be able to transcend death and corruption and reach the shore of eternity; this kind of god is the product of theology. Maybe it is possible through psychological suggestion that this god can cause a person to adjust his life and create a better life -- and finally attain harmony between faith and science. But we know this is a subjective and not an objective god. This god is a necessity because of the goodness and love that is in us. Nevertheless, it cannot yet be recognized by science. Furthermore, in order to equate the "reality of faith" with "reality of experience", we saw the need to create Satan who is the source responsible for all evil, so that we can avoid the trap of dualism.
The "reality of experience" is different from the "reality of faith". That is why Jesus said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test". In essence, He refused to use the "reality of experience" to affirm the "reality of faith". The question we need to ask ourselves is -- how do these two realities complement each other instead of excluding each other? Only with tolerance can we turn a life that is full of suffering and sorrow into a life of beauty.
Last week I walked past a beautiful green meadow. There was a short wall and a tall statute of Jesus. The two trees on each side of the statute were in full bloom with red flowers. In the background were rows and rows of tomb stones stretching as far as the eye could see. I said to myself, "This is every man's destiny." Actually, it is not quite true, because most men who toil and labor all their lives, will not even be able to lay in rest in such a beautiful place. Is there life after death? Who has the answer? Those who claim they have, are they blind to their own limitations? If they are unwilling to acknowledge their finiteness, and yet talk of the things in another world, are they not going over their head ? Christians claim that human beings are chief among all creatures and have the right of rule over all of nature. Because of such thinking, the responsibility for destroying the environment and ecology of earth lies squarely at the feet of man. They regard their own will as the will of God. As a matter of fact, who in the world is able to explain the will of God?
Two days ago, I was flying back from Boston after a speaking engagement at Harvard University. As we flew over New York City, I saw many matchbox-like houses on the ground. They reminded me of those tombstones in that cemetery. Everyday we live on the verge of death in this world !
Is life after death truly better than this life? I think this is a biased assumption made by some people. May I boldly say: religious organizations, like many political organizations, need to provide for the emotional needs of their group. They have their proper place and function in this world, but they also have a tendency to protect their acquired interests and bondage of traditions. It is very difficult for them to accept anything that is new. They try to act like gods. To me, this is another form of original sin.
I think the difference between you and me boils down to this -- you are willing to submit yourself first to bondage and then free yourself from it, but I am not willing to be bound by anything in the first place. That is why you can enter into the "reality of faith" whereas I can only dwell among the tensions between the "reality of experience" and the "reality of faith" and pray to a neutral god to grant me peace of mind. Sometimes when I venture too far into the "reality of faith", the "reality of experience" will pull me back. The converse is also true. I am not convinced by either of these realities, and consequently, I have become a lonely wanderer. Nonetheless, it gives me the greatest possible room for my thinking, and that is all I am looking for.
A06. The Christian Faith is an Experience (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
As your good friend, I find once again, your wisdom like a shining drop of water rolling back and forth on a piece of glass. However, the vicissitudes of life cause the glass to shatter, recombine, and shatter again. It is as if there is no one place where it can settle down. I regret to say that your drops of wisdom rolled too fast and oftentimes contradicted each other. For instance, on the one hand you let out the sigh of an agnostic: "Who is able to know the will of God? Is there life after death? Man's reasoning capacity is limited." On the other hand, you make the assumption that everything can be known, and you demand proof through experience and science, the "reality of experience". Your mind is also filled with "already known" facts like: "god is neutral, neither good nor evil"; "a better life after death is someone's wishful thinking"; "Satan is a product of human invention"; "man is really not free to choose, whether by reason or by faith", etc. You set up similar terms like experimental proof, existential experience, historical truth, reality of experience, in contrast to the reality of faith. However, the terms you have chosen are such broad concepts that they actually exclude each other in some cases. Faith is a personal "life experience" and is also a grand and continuing "historical truth" of mankind. It is not affirmed by "experimental proof".
You have let your thoughts go wild and have lost control of yourself. In one instance you condemned theology, and then in another you leveled your accusation at the church. How can you rely on the criticism of some mediocre commentators to refute the value of Shakespeare's works ? At times you said you ventured deep into the realms of faith and then the next moment, you argued you will never find God. Is it possible to enter into the "reality of faith" without God? You indicated that you thought Shiaokong and I lived in two different realities, yet in your writing you asserted that the "reality of faith" is but an invention of our emotions to satisfy the need of the innate love and goodness that is in us. I wonder what do you really mean when you use the word "reality"?
I worry for you, Xuanjuan, that your wisdom has lost itself under the battering of life. I am afraid that just you have said, you have become a loner, wandering and searching.
I have no intention of engaging you in a debate about metaphysics. This type of debate has been raging for over two thousand years and no one has come away with a clearer understanding, but only more confusion. I can tell you that true faith is not a theory, but a true experience of the inner self.
You try so hard to distinguish the "reality of faith" and the "reality of experience". Let me ask you: if faith cannot be experienced through our daily lives, how "real" can this faith be?
You said that the realization process in faith varies from people to people, and the end result is always different. You have overlooked the fact that all those who believe in Jesus have demonstrated a transformed life that leads them to pursue goodness even to the point of laying down their lives for their belief. This encompasses people from different cultures, different races, different social classes and different generations, and as you can tell, Lily and I are included. Even though faith does not need to be confirmed by experiments, isn't this wide- ranging mass transformation of million of peoples' lives, spanning generations, a most historical, personal, and significant "experiment of mankind"?
>From another perspective, indeed God cannot be examined by a telescope or under a microscope, otherwise He would not be infinite and eternal. Such a creator of heaven and earth would not be worthy of our worship. We all agree that "love" cannot be examined and tested in test tubes. Nevertheless it is the most important element of human life.
Jesus said, "God is spirit and his worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24) Only "in spirit and in truth" can one see God. If we rely on our own limited wisdom and experiments, we will definitely not see God and we will be led to a false conclusion that there is no God.
As a good friend, I would venture to point out that all the things you said in the letter were things you have not yet "experienced". You are seeking a "reality of faith", but as yet you have not "entered" into one. You are standing outside and guessing what it is like inside while making comparisons with something called "reality of experience". As you were writing your letter, perhaps you were forgetting that I was someone who had just crossed over from "reality of experience" to "reality of faith". Much like you, I lived thirty-six years in the "reality of experience". I have experienced both "realities." But you, up to now, have never tasted the "reality of faith". Indeed, you have acquired many theories about faith, but faith is not a set of theories. It takes a personal commitment before you can experience it. That is why you cannot comprehend that the "reality of faith" is also a kind of "reality of experience".
You know, in the past, Lily and I had lots of quarrels. Now that we both believe in Jesus, we are experiencing the sweetness of living in harmony. Maybe this is the kind of "experience" that you need to know.
You do not have a first hand experience with God, yet you are accusing God as unjust and unrighteous. You complain that good people suffer while the evil ones prevail. From my experience after entering into a life with God, I can tell you that what the Bible says is true: "there is a time to sow and a time to reap" (Ecclesiastes 3:2)
You also criticized theology and the church, mis-identifying them as God and faith. No, theology is not God, neither is the church, faith. Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is in your heart." God lives in our hearts. If we focus on the shortcomings of theology and the church and overlook God Himself, we are missing the point.
Throughout human history, people of different religions have tried various ways of reaching up to God. However, the omniscient God who knows the limit of human beings, came down from heaven in human form, as a man named Jesus, to reveal to us who He is. His word is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates human hearts and judges our thoughts. Humbling ourselves in front of Jesus is the only way to know God.
Many highly educated people have treated the Christian faith as a mere set of theories. They complain that the theory is not watertight and they discard it as unsound. This is unfortunate and wrong. Christian faith is not a product of human wisdom or the result of man's experiments. On the contrary, it is a total commitment of throwing oneself into God.
We understand that a drop of water will never be able to grasp the immensity of the whole ocean; nevertheless, it can still sense the pulse of the ocean. Similarly, human beings will not be able to fully comprehend God, but they can experience God's presence. The whole Bible is a historical record of God's presence in the human realm, and the life of every Christian is a living testimony of God's presence with us today.
Despite many trials and sufferings, I know Shiaokong is entering into the "reality of faith". How about you? When will your restless drops of wisdom stop getting in the way, so that your suffering soul can find rest? Whether we know God or not, God will not suffer any loss. It hurts us when we could live in God's peace and yet remain in our own restless state. We pray for you constantly. As soon as you put aside your pride and self-confidence, you will see the smiling face of God welcoming you.
Q07. The Desolate Land Has China Been Abandoned by God? (by Beiming)
"So this is America!" When I just arrived in this country, many times I could not help exclaiming to myself how amazing it all was. When I saw streams of cars racing down a five or even ten lane highway in both directions, I said to myself, "This is real transportation -- speed, energy and efficiency! As for the residential areas, I saw trees and grass planted and growing in their proper places. Squirrels and unknown animals were running all over the place; birds that I saw only in cages before were chirping on the top of the trees. Ducks and geese strolled leisurely along the shores of lakes which dotted the landscape. There were road signs that read: Watch out for crossing deer. The farms along the side of the highways, though I seldom saw any one working them, teemed with crops in autumn awaiting harvest. Then I said to myself, "This is nature, harmony, and life!"
I have never consciously reminded myself that I belong to a certain country, but I clearly realize that I am not part of this place. This is America. The roads, the grass, the scenery, and even those neatly placed garbage cans are not mine -- they belong Americans. The moon may not be bigger in the States than in China, but it does shines brighter. Even in an industrial state such as New Jersey, one seldom feels the effect of air pollution.
One day, an American gentleman came to my house and offered to study the Bible with me. He showed me a picture depicting Heaven and told me how wonderful it is. Sensing that I was not impressed, he asked me how I felt about the subject. I replied, "You see, I am already sitting in one heaven and hearing about another that is on paper." The old man had a puzzled look as he glanced around my shabby apartment. How could he understand what I said, because in my mind I was thinking of my own country in comparison with America.
China is a similarly vast piece of land, but the hills and plains are bare and the streams are dry. The land is heavily eroded. The air is heavily polluted and energy resources are squandered away. Railroads and highways are poorly maintained. Overpopulation, the decline of quality in education, and heavy taxation have forced tens of thousands of peasants to desert their once treasured pieces of land and swarm into cities to find a living. How can I not feel sad contrasting that with what I am seeing in the States ?
>From what I have studied about the history of United States of America, I found that the early Americans had also gone through a time of struggling for survival. As new immigrants to this new continent, the Pilgrims were under harsh British rule. The British imposed heavy taxation and various other unreasonable regulations on them. Finally, the people had enough and fought a war for independence. When Thomas Paine published his booklet "Common Sense" to challenge people to fight for their own freedom and independence, leaders from different states took up his cry and united to fight against the British Empire. Then Thomas Jefferson issued the Declaration of Independence. After five years of fighting, these ordinary farmers and peasants actually defeated the well-trained British Army. A free and independent America was then born.
Then later came the Civil War. The battle between the North and the South inflicted a tremendous wound on the souls of the people. The war however, abolished the slavery system in the South and paved the way for North America to become a genuinely united, democratic country.
In the first instance, the war against foreign powers earned them their freedom and independence. Then, the Civil War brought about a new democratic country. This is the glory of America.
What about China? In the past 150 years, China has been embroiled in numerous wars. None of the wars, whether internal or external, brought about any benefits for its people. The deafeat in the Opium War caused China to lose her dignity among international powers. After eight years of bitter struggle, the Sino- Japanese war was the only victory that China could claim, but only because the enemy surrendered. The Communists claimed credit for the victory and yet dared not demand compensation from the aggressor. Later civil war broke out between the Kuoming Party and the Communist Party. The Communist Party won, but plunged the country and its people into an abyss of despair. Wars without any real victories -- that is China's tragedy.
China as a nation has suffered greatly from these wars. The people are weary of instability. Consequently a consensus has been formed among the educated: "regardless of the cause, do not confront; do not rebel and do not cause conflict or disturbance." Fighting against the dictatorial regime was branded as radical and irrational, and was accused of pushing China into the pit of suffering.
Very few are willing to face the fact that during the forty years of Communist rule, more than sixty million Chinese perished as a result of direct or indirect persecution from the government! This surpasses the total number of casualties from all Chinese wars in the past hundred years. It exceeds the combined total number of casualties of World War II!
"Nothing is more important than freedom...if we do not fight now, it will become our children's war," Thomas Paine said as the Americans were struggling under the rule of the British government. When the Confederate army was advancing, for the sake of democracy and unity of the country, President Lincoln did not plead for cease fire. Instead, he tried to find a general who could out-match General Robert Lee of the Confederate army. The sanctity of human rights as a God-given gift was underscored by the spirit of willingness to sacrifice oneself for the cause of freedom. Sad to say, this "common sense" among educated Americans is regarded as rebellious and unpardonable among the learned Chinese. After all these years of oppression, none among the learned in today's China has the courage to sound the cry to fight for freedom and human rights.
America was a strong-willed nation, but its form of government was born through compromise. After the Civil War the country had to decide the kind of government they would have. There were representatives from different states who held different opinions. After four months of debate and compromises, a new constitution was drafted in Philadelphia and a new government which was acceptable to most Americans was born. This is yet another glory for America.
In 1989, Chinese students tried to fight for democracy through peaceful and rational demonstrations. Unfortunately their effort was ruthlessly crushed by the government with guns and tanks. In the persecution following the crackdown, most of the student movement leaders fled the country in order to preserve their own lives.
In 1993 I attended a convention in Washington D.C. which was promoted as a meeting of all the leaders of the Chinese Democratic Movement. The convention was packed. As a bystander, I observed the whole drama unfold from day one. The goal of the meeting was to unify all the overseas leaders to fight for China's democracy. Throughout the meeting, there continuously were heated arguments because of differences in opinions. The in-fighting behind the scenes grew larger and larger. Revenge among different groups began to take importance over reconciliation. In just a few short days, the two major camps of the movement - rather than being united into one, were divided into three!
Like most of my fellow countrymen, I was formerly numb to the horrible condition of my native country. Yet now I am living in this new country, and what I have seen has touched me deeply. I look at my own country. Not only is the land devastated; it is a sinking ship. The rich are flaunting their wealth while the poor are trying desperately to gather what they can. In the countryside, the crying of abandoned babies no longer attracts attention or sympathy. No one picks them up or even casts a curious glance. The outgoing tide of illegal immigrants shows no signs of ebbing any time soon. More and more people turn to idol worship. No one plans for the future. They are just waiting, waiting for something big to happen. I guess a land abandoned by God cannot be worse than this.
Deep in my heart, I pray to Heaven for my country: may God through His mercy grant her a last chance!
A07. People Who Turn Against God (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
I admire Miss Beiming. She has not lost herself in this new land. She still remembers that she is Chinese. More than that, she is willing to explore the roots of other people's success as well as the cause of our own failure as a nation. I am inspired to follow her example and do further research.
What Makes America Strong
- A. The Land
The land of America is rich and beautiful. This is a great contrast to the barren and yellowish hills of China. I do not know what the land of China was like in ancient times, but I am certain that pictures I see in old Chinese literature and paintings do not match what I see today. Maybe Lyman Abott was right when he pointed out that the main factor that makes a country strong is not her land but her people.
- B. The People
Most of the early immigrants to arrive in America were Pilgrims. Later, the leaders were called "Whole Man" for the way they lived out their faith through their political activities. For them, there were no barriers between science, philosophy, arts and religion.
a. Thomas Paine
At the age of 37, Thomas Paine moved to this new continent. His career was to fight for freedom. He proclaimed in his book, The Age of Reason, that he believed in the one and only true God. He anticipated blessings beyond this life and believed men were created equal. The goal of his religion was to bring forth justice, mercy and ultimate blessings for his fellow human beings through faith. In 1776, he published "Common Sense". This 49-page booklet inspired Americans to stand up and fight for their God-given freedom. Many leaders, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were inspired by this booklet. Since freedom was given by God, therefore the battle they waged was a sacred endeavor.
b. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson drafted The Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men."
c. George Washington
One day during the battle of Valley Forge, a farmer passed by the soldiers' encampment. He heard someone praying earnestly. Walking closer, he saw George Washington kneeling on the ground praying to God with tears running down his face. The farmer went home and said to his wife, "America will have her freedom!"
d. Benjamin Franklin
The Founding Fathers of America demonstrated a faith that brought forth courage and strength in fighting for their freedom. Later, when the new nation was about to be born, there were different opinions and fierce debates arose. Eventually they came to the conclusion that no country could be strong without God's continuous help. At one point during the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin stood and said: "I have lived a long time, and the longer I live, the more I am convinced of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His consent, is it possible that an empire [great country] can rise without His aid?" He urged the convention participants to have a time of prayer every day before the start of meetings. A new government was subsequently born.
In summary, America was founded on Christian faith.
The uniqueness of Christianity provided a vast and solid foundation for her democratic system. The original government recognized the facts that Christianity reveals, which are:
- Men are created equal. All men are created by God in His own image. He has given the blessing of eternity and the privilege of communicating with Him. To receive justice, strength and protection from the Most High is beyond any form of human control, such as powerful individuals, regimes or "ism"s.
- Men are given free will. God does not force any person to believe in Him. Man has the free will to choose not to believe in Him. If the Creator has given man his freedom from divine will, what man can force others to surrender to mortal will?
- Universally, men are born with a sinful nature. In the Bible it says, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) James Madison, who did the most important work at the American Constitutional Convention, noted that men are born selfish and lustful for power. If anyone has a monopoly on power, corruption is sure to follow.
In summary, America is a strong nation because it was built upon the foundation of Christianity.
What Went Wrong In China
- lost Touch with Heaven
China has more than five thousand years of history. According to the earliest recorded history, the Chinese were a people who feared God. "The Way is to be faithful to heaven and loyal to the people" This was the prevailing philosophy of the earliest Chinese rulers. In the Chinese Five Classic Books (Wu Jing), one can easily find examples of praise and reverence for God and heaven. Righteous battles were waged against evil rulers in the name of heaven.
Unfortunately, this belief in God and heaven did not last long and was obscure by the time of Confucius. Confucius sighed, "If I can hear the Way in the morning, I am satisfied to die in the evening." From then on, for more than two thousand years, the Chinese were constantly involved in wars. Wars were no longer waged for the purpose of carrying out the righteous will of heaven but to fulfill the selfish ambition of individuals. Consequently, these wars led to a never-ending cycle of oppression and rebellion. Chinese history is filled with these bloody and tragic stories.
- The Blindness of Turning Against God
The Chinese are also created equal by God. They too are endowed by God with rights to life and liberty. Unfortunately, in their ignorance about God and because of a long period of suffering, they have learned to mock the sacred right of freedom and equality. We Chinese pine for love and kindness, but because of our ignorance about the God who created and sustains the world, we find only blood and tears, bitterness and hatred in this sinful world. We seek after knowledge and wisdom, but we lack crucial knowledge concerning the omnipotent Creator. We have pegged our hopes on unreliable people. We are like orphans wandering in the wilderness, relying on each other for survival yet always putting up our guard. Some may recall that the Boxer Rebellion was carried out in the name of God. The name of Jesus was used in their slogan. Yet it was plain to see that none of the leaders or soldiers had any genuine faith. The Communist Revolution was executed in a similar vein. The religion of Communism is atheism, which exalts and worships sinful man. It is blasphemy against God and against faith.
The true meaning of faith has been lost in today's China. Generally speaking, the motivation for the pursuit of democracy in China today is based on a rational examination of its present situation and identification with the western governmental systems. It is neither based on the need of repentance for the soul of the nation, nor is it based on the sacred rights derived from a belief in God. We have obtained knowledge concerning democracy, liberty and human rights, yet we are not sustained by faith in God. We are fighting for a certain kind of justice, yet we do not know, and we even despise, the righteous God who imbues man with the sense of justice. We are powerless to carry out what we desire both for ourselves and towards others. We are not "Whole Men".
Some people regard faith as a private, individual matter which should have no bearing on other things the person is involved in. But from the example of the American Founding Fathers, faith has been shown to be the crucial issue -- the issue which determines the success or failure of one's endeavor. We need God's love and we need His truth. In Him our hearts can be enlarged to accommodate each other, even those with differing opinions or those who harbor bitterness. We will learn to respect every person's God-given dignity and liberty. In Him we know ourselves, our purpose, and receive the assurance that "we shall overcome." Apart from Him, we can only use our limited sinful nature to judge and criticize others' limited and sinful human behaviors. Without the confidence that "we shall overcome", our endeavors are destined from the beginning to fail. The histories of America and China have born out this fact. During the Civil War someone said to President Lincoln, "May God be on our side!" President Lincoln responded, "What I care is whether we are on God's side." Reflecting on the two thousand years of China's history, I conclude that it is not God who has abandoned us; it is we who have turned against God.
Will the tables be turned?
The Chinese people have gone so far away from God that now they have started to turn around to seek God. On the other hand, Americans, who have been richly blessed by God, are turning farther and farther away from Him.
Before 1962, all public school students were required to pray to God each day before school started. They prayed, "Almighty God, we know we need to place our trust in you. Please bless us, our parents, our teachers, and our country." Yet in 1962, the Supreme Court passed a ruling banning prayers and Bible study from the public schools. Teachers were and still are forbidden to tell their pupils that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. The Ten Commandments are not allowed to be displayed on school walls. All government documents attempt to have no reference to God. The list goes on and on...
What are the consequences of pushing God out of the public schools and out of government? The statistics showed that in the nineties:
--Teenage pregnancy increased 553%, while suicide became the second highest cause of teenage death.
--Divorce rates increased 117%, and 40% of the children now come from families without a father.
--High school SAT scores dropped 80%, while the crime rate increased 560%.
What God called immoral, they called "the New Morality"; what the Bible taught as "corrupt", they called "adult entertainment"; what God regarded as cheating, they termed "abnormal social phenomenon"; what the Bible condemned as sodomy, they justified as an "alternative lifestyle".
I do not know how long America can continue to hold her beauty if her people continue to drift away from God. I pray that God would forgive our ignorance and the sin of turning against Him. And may His love, like living waters, irrigate the hearts of 1.2 billion Chinese people and bring forth his glory among these lost people.
Q08. The Consciousness of Death and the Awakening of Life (by Jiang An)
In my 35 years of life, which is not terribly long, I have twice experienced the existence of death and the threat of a loss of life. It is not the kind of experience one has to cope with while struggling through some incurable disease, for such is merely a confrontation between life and death and is the human anxiety of life when death approaches. The consciousness of death I went through was purely spiritual, purely intellectual and purely psychological. It was an intellectual caressing of death by the living and a spiritual deadly impact on life (Please excuse me for such strong wording, without which I wouldn't be able to express myself accurately).
The first shock wave of death came when I was in college. I stepped into college with a lot of confusion at the age of 17. It was the time when China just started to open up and yet we were still used to living in total apathy. It was the era when people couldn't quite tell between life and death, and as a youngster, it would seem impossible for me to raise such philosophical questions as the meaning of life. For some odd reason, however, I was once deeply touched by a Japanese movie called Masterpiece. Not that the love story in the movie impressed me in any way, but the kind of courage the hero and the heroine had demonstrated in the face of death greatly shocked me. I abruptly questioned myself how I would react if death were to fall upon me? Frankly, this was the first time in my life that I became conscious of death. I was not aware that there had been many, many sayings about death far more philosophical and far more valuable before my time. Instead I struggled in vain to ask why life had boundaries, where I had been before I was born, and where I would end up to be when life was ready to leave me.
Science has since taught me that the emergence or termination of an individual life is but incidental and natural. Science, however, has failed to reveal to me whether life consciousness, intellectual meditation and psychological activities are unlimited or they will also disappear as physical life comes to an end. I have obtained knowledge from science about the substance of the natural world, but I am not able to obtain knowledge about the spiritual world. While physical substance may be shared among people, the human soul is absolutely an individual property irreplaceable by any others. Just as any spiritual awareness or search is an individual act, so is consciousness of death.
In fact, it was not until I started to be aware of death did I suddenly become aware of the huge difference between my individual self and others. And it was not until then did I really feel the existence of individual consciousness and individual behavior. Furthermore, I no longer lived in confusion as the consciousness of death fundamentally enlightened my anxiety of life and became a constant reminder to me of the meaning of life. This was a kind of spiritual transcendence in which death brought awakening of life and its threat was transformed into motivation.
The second shock wave from death came to me when I was visiting Oxford University last year. A friend of mine in China told me through e-mail that a good friend of mine surprisingly committed suicide. I was greatly shocked at this sad news. Shortly before I went abroad, this friend and I had been coeditor of a big book. The book had yet to be published and I was still full of memories of our pleasant discussions and mutual understanding. How could he have abandoned his life overnight, and how could he have courageously taken his own life at the age of 50? The sudden impact on me was not only because I lost a good friend, but more importantly I became deeply puzzled at the fragility of life. If death overpowered an individual through an incurable disease or through an accident, then the individual was simply destined to depart from this world. But if one took his life with his own hands, then this person would need a tremendous amount of courage and guts. As life was a treasure to each one of us, only a very special person would be able to voluntarily give up the invaluable life.
When I told my academic advisor the story of my friend's suicide, he in turn told me the story of how his academic advisor committed suicide. He said that one would choose to end his own life only if he believed life was no longer important to him, and that philosophers were often this type of people because they often dreamed of overcoming the limitation of life and of breaking through the boundaries of time and space. Sentimentally I was not able to accept the reality of losing a good friend, but intellectually I was able to understand my advisor's philosophy. Certainly not all philosophers would choose to end their lives, but for those who did, they at least demonstrated that, on such important philosophical issues as life and death, they had already made their judgment and selection. This friend of mine should be credited as a philosopher although I had no idea what was in his mind when he chose to kill himself. It was certainly true that, as a philosopher, his consciousness rested on not only the limitation of an individual's life but how with a limited life he could manage to drive himself toward the infinity of soul.
Having experienced the consciousness of death twice, I seemed to start to understand the true meaning of life. The first death awareness made me start to search the significance of living. To live for others was only to prove the existence of the self, and to live for the self was only to be limited within the boundaries of life. I was deeply troubled by these thoughts and I even fantasized about falling back into the apathetic past, in which I at least did not have to go through such bitter thinking and hesitation. Nevertheless, once Pandora's box was opened, nothing could be turned back to where it had used to be. The only way leading to a transcendental perception of life was to go through such hellish mental struggle.
The spiritual shock wave from the second death awareness seems to make me realize that my life does not belong to others nor to the self, but to a spiritual world that transcends our physical world. It belongs to a divine being that empowers such a spiritual world. It seems to me that this spiritual world is the habitat of every soul where worldliness do not belong. And the governor of this Utopia can be no other than the invisible divine being. But it must not be the kind of god with a name or a shape. What exactly is He I do not know, but I can feel His existence and I can feel his guidance with profundity. Maybe I will never see His face in my short life, but I will be more than satisfied and happy if I continue to receive His continual guidance. Perhaps such is a revelation from my consciousness of death.
A08. Submission, Thanksgiving, Devotion The Secret of Conquering Death (answered by Zhiming Yuan)
Having read Mr. Jiang An's article about life and death, I came up with the following thoughts in line with his last few words of enlightenment.
It was said that Confucius once asked an old man of 100-years-old: "Please tell me what life is, and, if possible, then tell me what death is." The old man replied: "Sir, you are supposed to figure out what death is before you can understand life. Death is the sand beach, and life is to build up a house on the beach with sand."
Death serves as the basis of our life. We live up to 70 years of age, or 80 or 90, but death is always the denominator of positive infinity. The result remains close to zero with very little difference.
Death is also the outcome of life. In our lifetime we struggle to build up wealth, fame and social status, none of which is not paid for by giving up our living moments and leading to death. As soon as we finish building, death arrives.
Facing such a reality of human destiny, some people adopt a nihilist attitude. They indulge themselves in transient pleasure. They are carefree or apathetic. Although there are people who try to fight death with courage, yet none of them ever come back alive.
Submission (p) A wise saying comes from heaven, and it says that human beings do not really own their life much like the fact that the earth is not the property of the earth itself. The life of human beings belongs to the Creator of life. We have no right to spend it freely or to put an end to it, let alone to completely possess it. Only when we submit to the Creator can our life be restored to its true meaning that brings us peace and joy. This is consistent with a saying from Zhouyi / Shangjiang that says "Be submissive to heaven and be peaceful to life."
Zhuangzi once told a story:
There were four people A, B, C and D. They all realized that life and death were but the same thing. So they became friends.
One day, B was possessed by an evil spirit. He couldn't straighten his body. His cheeks were so ill-formed that they could touch his belly. His shoulders reached over his head and his back was covered with painful sores. B saw the reflection of his body in water and said, "How wonderful our creator is! He wants to turn me into a cripple." B never complained.
Some time later, D became sick. He had a short breath and was about to die. C came to comfort him. D said, "Children obey parents. They are always ready to go wherever their parent send them to. My creator arranges for my life as well as for my death. It is like a blacksmith working on a piece of metal. If all of a sudden the metal jumps out of the furnace and says, !¢DYou must make me into a sword', then the metal will be considered unlucky. Similarly, if I boastfully say, !¢DWow, see, I'm a man', then I will be considered unlucky. Let us now consider heaven and earth as a furnace. How can I not be submissive before the creator?"
Having said this, D peacefully fell asleep. After a while, D peacefully awakened.
The word Jehovah in the Bible came from the Hebrew word I Am, meaning I am Who I am. When depicting the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Bible often likens Jehovah as the potter and mankind as clay. Isaiah the prophet said, "Oh Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Is. 64:8) He said to the world, "You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, !¢DHe did not make me'?" (Is. 29:16) Jehovah also says through Jeremiah the prophet, "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel." (Jer. 18:6)
If we are conscious about the Creator, and if we fear Him and are submissive to Him, then we are only being consistent with our own insignificance, passiveness, transience and loneliness, which are but natural laws. If we do this, then we can transcend these natural laws and step into a greater law where we can communicate with the Creator. In this greater law, life becomes meaningful. Death also becomes meaningful. Furthermore, the significance of death is quantitatively equivalent to the significance of life because both life and death are the meaningful work of the Creator and they both exist in the life of the Creator.
If we are not conscious about the Creator, and if we do not fear Him and are not submissive to Him, then we are not being consistent with our own insignificance, passiveness, transience and loneliness. We are not able to transcend these natural laws, nor are we able to communicate with the Creator in the greater law. If this is the case, then our life becomes meaningless, and our death also becomes meaningless. Both life and death lose their meaning because we fail to realize that both are the meaningful work of the Creator, nor do we realize that we are originally designed to live in the life of the Creator.
When we disappear, the Creator that grants life to us remains. When all living beings perish, the Creator that grants life to all living beings remains. In eternity, the Creator can do whatever He likes. He can even create new and perhaps better living beings if He so chooses.
This human consciousness of the Creator can be thought of as a living entity's consciousness of the self, within which the transient life of human beings and the life of the Divine become one. It is within this oneness will you discover that death is but a part of life's existence, much like the sand beach being a part of the earth. As a result, you will not strive to look for the essence of life from death's sand beach or to try to rebuild a ruined house there, but rather you will be promenading on the death's sand beach with ease.
Submission alone may sound a bit lifeless and one may feel at loss. The significance of thanksgiving, nevertheless, will be much more contrasting and much more lively.
Our life is not just a thing the Creator makes like clay in the hand of the Creator. We must further understand that our life itself is the Creator's grace to us and it is the embodiment of the Creator's love. The fact that life is grace and love constantly reminds me that thanksgiving is our biggest responsibility and the most significant part of our life.
One of the books of the Bible is Job, which is said to have been written in ancient times. Job was a righteous man. He feared God and shunned evil. Then suddenly for no good reason, he lost all his seven sons and three daughters as well as his entire fortune. Hearing this, "Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: !¢DNaked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.'" (Job. 1:20-21)
Just as life is the grace of God, death is also the grace of God. Between life's emergence and life's termination is a journey God gives to us. We come; we go. No matter where we are, as long as we are alive, and as long as our life is still life, we must give to God our thanksgiving, our praise and our worship. We must give thanks to God for the air that caresses us and for the sunshine that embraces us. We must give thanks for the crops we harvest and for the cattle we care. We must give thanks for our creativity and appreciation. And we must give thanks for the environment that allows us to be creative and appreciative. Most importantly, we must give thanks for our very existence and for our self-consciousness.
A poet once wrote:
Oh my life of life, I know your lively caress is touching my body;
As long as I still breathe, I will not stop praising you as all I have;
Oh yes my dear. I know this is only your love.
The golden sunlight dancing on the leaves; the graceful clouds wandering in the sky; the cool breeze passing by my forehead.
Morning light pours into my eyes; this is your message to me.
You face the earth from heaven; your eyes meet my eyes; my heart caresses your feet.
Thanksgiving originates from the nature of life and it is consistent with life's very self. So a life full of thanksgiving has to be a life with peace, joy, content and grace.
Those who do not give thanks to God think of life as their own possession so that they separate their life from life's very self. Transience departs from eternity and becomes a lonely moment. Life like this struggles in vain to discover its meaning and it only discovers absurdity (e.g. Sartre). Life like this struggles in vain to catch its steps and it only falls into a pit (e.g. Nietzsche). This kind of life is full of anxiety because nothing seems to be right except for life itself. Life like this fears death because it does not know where it comes from and where it is heading toward.
Those who submit to God and give thanks to God understand life's true self (its origin and its destination). They are free of anxiety of life and are free of fear of death. They are like those who promenade on the sand beach and appreciate the blue and boundless sea. From time to time, they utter praises from the bottom of their heart.
If it is right to say that a man who completely submits to God does not fear death, and a man who gives thanks to God transcends death, then it is even more right to say that a man who devotes his life to God completely conquers death. Tolstoy's Where There Is Love There Is God tells a story that Martin the shoemaker lost his wife. Later his son also died. One day, one of his old friends came to see him. Martin cried to him:
"Oh godly man, how I long for ending my own life! I only hope God will let me die soon because I am not able to find hope on earth."
The old man replied: "Martin, you have no right to say such a thing. We are not supposed to comment on God's acts. You feel hopeless because your purpose of life is but for your own happiness."
Martin asked: "What else do we live for?"
The old man replied: "We live for God. It is God who grants you life and so you must live for Him. If you are able to live for God, you will not be as miserable as you are and you will be contented with everything."
Martin was silent for a while and then asked: "But how are we going to live for God?"
The old man replied: "Jesus Christ has already taught us how to live for God. If you are literate, you should buy a book of the Gospels. Then you will understand what kind of life God likes us to live. It's all written in that book."
Later on Martin lived a righteous life following Jesus' teachings. He helped the needy with love. God appeared to Martin in a dream and said: "You love the needy and so you love me. And in love will I appear to you."
This story reveals at least three levels of significance. 1) He who devotes himself to God has conquered death; 2) He who devotes himself to God has selfless love; and 3) He who devotes himself to God lives in God.
Now the first. To be devoted to God is to give life to God as a living sacrifice. As a result, life no longer belongs to oneself but to God. And because life belongs to God, one can live outside of one's body. No more death, no more encounter of death, no more fear of death, and no more suicide. One can then win the battle against death and live in eternity. Martin did not wish to kill himself any more.
If life belongs solely to oneself and not to God, or if life is given to some worldly matter, which by definition has limitations, separation, conflicts, emergence and termination, then the moment one is born, he has stepped into the journey toward death. One is doomed to die, to fear death, or even to seek death. One will not be able to win the battle against death but will live in death. Martin had wished to kill himself.
"Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Mt. 16:25) These words of Jesus have true and profound significance.
In Jesus' words, life is synonymous to soul (the original word means both life and soul). The soul is the breath of life God gives to us, whereas the body is but dust. Jesus said, "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (Jn. 3:6) Also, "the Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing." (Jn. 6:63) The so-called "obtaining life and conquering death" means to wake up the soul in God's revelation and to realize that the body belongs to sin, limitation and death, so that we will no longer follow the law of the perishable body but we will follow the law of the Holy Spirit in eternal dwelling.
Now the second level of significance. What is devotion? What is living sacrifice? And what is to live for God? Is this but empty talk? Absolutely not. To devote to God is to devote to love, for "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:16) and "if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Cor. 13:1) Jesus says that love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:10). We must love God who creates us, cares us and loves us before we love Him. We must also love our neighbors who God loves.
God loves us and we love God. That we so love each other is the substance of love. That God loves us is the major premise because we would not have existed if God had not loved us. That we love God is the minor premise because we will not be able to love each other if we do not love God. That we love each other is the conclusion, or the fruit, or the testimony that we love God because "anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." (1 Jn. 4:20)
Therefore, to devote to God is to devote to the love of God, and to devote to the love of God is to love anyone unconditionally. Within this love and only within this love, can we find that life and death become one and we and God become one.
Now the third level of significance. God is invisible and formless, then how does God reveal Himself to us and how does He communicate with us? God does so through love. Jesus, the flesh transfiguration of the Way, is also the transfiguration of love. He demonstrates to the world that God is love. His love is like sunshine. He cures sick people; he forgives sinners; he blesses opponents and he prays for slaughterers. He never hates anyone. On the cross, Jesus gives His body to sinners and His spirit to God. Thus He has built a bridge between God and sinners, a bridge of pure love. Whoever steps on to the bridge has stepped into God. He has stepped into love and will experience the presence of God in love.
Those who devote themselves to God with unconditional love are not only those who promenade on the sand beach and appreciate the beautiful scenes of the sea, but those who dive into the sea of life and swim to freedom.
Submission means to live in God's love; thanksgiving is to repay God's love; devotion is to live God's love.
With submission, thanksgiving and devotion, we can live in God's love and transcend death till we live up to the highest value of ourselves. Our spiritually highest value, which belongs to eternity, has been exemplified by Jesus, and that is to live according to the good design with which God makes us. Such a life does not have death.
"If you are literate, you should buy a book of the Gospels. Then you will understand what kind of life God likes us to live. It's all written in that book."