It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we had a group of 5 brilliant Chinese-speaking house wives doing the Genesis 7. I was doing my usual thing:
Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. (Gen 7:2)
Then the question arised; why did God want Noah to bring some animals at all?
At first I didn’t pay much attention to this question, thinking of it as just another simple question regarding how God worked in ancient times. It’s only chapters later I found out that this question was actually way more difficult to answer than what I thought!
The Red China
China is now the go-to country when it comes to no freedom and inequality. Mainly because the communist label and the power and influences it possesses. The communism has been running the country since the victory of the civil war in 1949. Don’t get me wrong, the communism is great, just look at how China has been doing lately. The problem lies with the cultural revolution!
The great cultural revolution started in 1966 completely “redefined” the meaning of the 5000-long history in Chinese culture. The government hired teenage kids as the so-called red guards to abolish any tradition and culture that’s been building the Chinese civilization. In a movement called destroying the four Olds (Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas), the government hired children to destroy all the intellectuals, art, literature, ancestors and anything with historical values. No I am not trying to bash the communism nor the Chinese leader in history. I just want to point out the fact that a large part of the Chinese culture has been lost in that process. Ideas like Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism; buildings like the temples, monuments, , tombs of past emperors, historical palaces; books, art, were destroyed in the process of the cultural revolution.
I think it was around 1985 the Chinese government tried to “re-establish” the Chinese culture. It has been a great effort, a lot of the good traditions and cultures are more known to the world. Things like local traditional dishes, festivals and so on are more popular than ever.
However, culture is just not something you can rebuild overnight! Many of the concepts of a “family” has been redefined. It takes years and ages to define a culture, to stand firm on the ground of a civilization. Culture simply cannot be “redefined” or “rebuilt” like that. Any good chef knows that a good sauce takes years of practice to perfect; you cannot ask a chef to change one of the ingredients and start a new sauce just as good as the old one. That’s what a culture is suppose to be.
As a result, the Chinese population born after the 1966 revolution is more “fast food culture” than the rest of the whole world!
With all that said, what does it have anything to do with the bible and religion? More importantly, what does it have anything to do with the question, why did God want Noah to even bring the animals to the ark?
The Bible is a lesson of life, and life needs to be established on cultural background
The stories in the bible teach values of life.
Mom had tears in her eyes just by reading:
And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept. (Gen 21:15,16)
It captured the moment of a mother saying goodbye to her son which she was not able to maintain. Any mother can relate to this message.
In the book of Nehemiah, chapter 8:
And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. (Neh 8:3)
Father was silenced for a minute. It captured the moment of a constitution first being announced to a lost country completely rebuilt, by the people, for the people of the nation. Anyone who experienced the lost of his/her country can relate to that.
To some that has done bible study with me, this message:
Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. (John 21:5)
Expressed more compassion than any message about God’s love in the Bible.
Another words, without some sort of cultural, traditional background, it is impossible to relate any of the story from the bible to our daily lives. There might be personal connections to some of the parables of Jesus, but without the firm standing ground, point of view from the cultural background, the connections would never root under the constant pressure of the reality in today’s world!
I just realized this after a few “engagements” with my bible study groups. I have been wondering, why these people have no reactions at all towards any of the “moments” captured by the bible. Then I started to realize the question brought to me:
“Sometimes it is hard to understand the Western jokes.”
By no means I am targeting the Chinese for not having cultural background, the problem just occurred to me from the Chinese bible study groups. The situation can be applied to anyone, maybe even for Millennials, I don’t know. To mom, she can understand and feel Hagar’s pain as a mother,should she be from ancient Egyptian culture or not, because mom has heard stories from grandma of losing children. To father, who fought in the civil war defending the territory of the nation, he understand what it meant to declare the constitution on your own land. Without these stories, what meaning of life can the cross bring? Jesus on the cross is just another by-stander in history.
Back to the original question, why God asked Noah to bring animals aboard the ark? God created them and cared for them of course! Purging the world can be easy, but cutting the connections between the creator and his creations is not in the character of a loving God!
With the newly redefined culture of the Chinese (or Millennials for that matter), a mother is not the same as a mother like Hagar, a child is not the same as Ishmael, Isaac, or even Jesus. Thus it is very difficult to establish an interest with the Chinese people other than those with direct benefits, such as ESL, getting “help”, finding customers or a gossip group.
To most of the Chinese people I met, tv drama, movies, books have no value at all since they do not bring wealth. There is no deeper meaning in anything, not just the bible stories. Literature in audio, visual, or written form is just a type of entertainment to pass time.
From the Bible to a Mega Church
Actually if we think further on the issue, most of the mega churches are just built on this: culture. Joel Osteen is not a particular good preacher, nor is he more knowledgeable in the bible. He simply defined a “church culture” that’s suitable for the Lakewood church’s neighborhood, and extended that definition on tv. Then the question is simple: what is the “church culture” our local Chinese people think that defines a “church”. Another words, what exactly is a church? Joel Osteen is very clear on this: his church brings glory to God in what people do, takes of burden of responsibilities from people’s role in life; how much “truth” of this definition is from the bible? I think only he knows. Therefore, in order to have a successful church, we simply define the “right” church for the right group; How little bible/God should we blend into this equation of culture, that’s a totally different topic all together!