The Chinese Perception of God as Punisher-Rewarder
Ting Kuang-hsun (Traditional Chinese: 丁光訓; Simplified Chinese: 丁光训; Hanyu Pinyin: Dīng Guāngxùn) (born 20 September 1915), is a former Anglican Bishop in mainland China, who is now Chairperson emeritus of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and President emeritus of the China Christian Council, the government-approved Protestant church in China. He was an Anglican Bishop in the 1940s and 1950s; as he has not disclaimed his ordination, he is still technically a bishop, although the Anglican Church no longer exists as an institution in China; along with all recognized denominations, it was merged into the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in the 1950s. (read more )
Bishop K.H. Ting presented a paper "One Chinese Christian's View of God" which was published in CTC Bulletin, Vol.XII, No.2-Vol.XIII, No:1 & 2, July 1994-Sept 1995
We talk of love as an attribute of God too, but his love seems to be very arbitrary and enjoyed by only a few who are specially selected, or who please God in special ways. To the others, God is essentially a punisher-rewarder, a being hard to please. Hence, fear of God's displeasure is the mark of much that goes under the name of Christianity.
I was brought up in a Christianity very much like that. We went to church every Sunday to curry God's favor. If there was an illness within the family, it was God's punishment for some hidden sin. When I went to be a theological student to prepare myself for the ministry of the church, the common notion in the family and in church circles was that such an act of dedication would win God's pleasure and bring health and well being to myself and my family.
Today, as I move about the Chinese church at its grassroots, I find that this is still the level of spirituality many are at. In some villages, as many as half of the Christians became Christians when there was illness on the part of some family members who supposedly got healed when Christians came to pray and drive out the evil spirits. Many Christians at the grassroots enjoy "testimony meetings" in which anyone can speak. At such meetings a common pattern emerges: some misfortune happens to a person, he or she searches for his or her sin or sins; after identifying the sin or sins and confessing to God and much praying, God moves away the misfortune. On the other hand, misfortune lingers and intensifies for those who are hard-hearted and do not repent, culminating in unending suffering and death in the family.
Holding on to this image of God is accompanied by a spirituality of acquisition and utilitarianism. We give God praises and honor and get in return, health, wealth, protection from catastrophe in this life and eternal bliss in heaven. It is highly ironic that, while Christ was laughed at for his ability to save others but not himself, so many of his followers are only too eager to save themselves by getting on the church as Noah's Ark without a faith that concerns itself with the welfare of the people outside.
This is strong comment by a Chinese church leader and I am sure it resonate with many of our experiences and spirituality. How do we perceive God? Do we see him as a punisher-rewarder? Those who come from a Chinese background of Confucianism will recognise the aspect of working to get rewards. Did this background also colours the Chinese Christians' perception of God? For centuries, in China, the father is regarded as a disciplinarian and all his children works hard to win his approval. Ting notes, "In fact, the proper Chinese way to refer to one's own father in polite conversation is the "severe one in my family"..." Again, would this have an effect if, as is frequently done, to take analogy of the Chinese human father to characterise God.
Would then the Chinese Christians' spirituality be one of always trying to please God and to win his approval?
|posted 17 May 2007|