I have traversed the two China’s for enough time to now to make some simple observations of people’s different views of God. I cannot continue to write this without making some generalizations however so please forgive if the broadness if my words unfairly depicts your individual experience. What I wish to communicate not only has implications for those who wish to serve in a missionary capacity but for any Christian who wants to know the God of the Bible.
God indeed is a person, and He has discoverable traits that can be known to those who have a relationship with Him, but what kind of relationship? Granted an infinite God cannot be fully known, and thankfully that is so, because I would imagine that in the course of eternity we would become rather bored with a finite god that can completely understood in every minute detail. Our God always has more that can be discovered and each discovery points to His goodness that fills up the hearts of His people. If you are on this path to know God, you are busy reading His story and thankful for each discovery you make.
In China and Taiwan, perhaps more so in Taiwan, exists a view of God that is common in poly-theist societies, a belief in many lesser finite gods. The main idea here is that god enters a bargaining relationship with you, because he is finite, that must mean there is something that god lacks. It is therefore an opportunity for the worshipper to produce whatever it is that god needs in return for a supernatural blessing from that particular god. The greatest thing of value in this relationship to the gods are not the relationship itself but the material blessings one hopes to achieve. All throughout Taiwan are these temples dedicated to this and that god known for some particular interest they have. People can be seen worshipping in hopes to earn the blessing from the gods.
The sad thing is though, this is how many people view God of the Bible, wanting material blessings more than wanting God. This leaves the worshipper in a self-centered view of the world and frankly unrepentant. In Athens, Paul teaches a very strange message about a God who has no needs, an infinite Creator that cannot be reduced to a temple or bartered with. The God of the Bible doesn’t need our worship, therefore there is nothing we might give in exchange for some blessing we want. How does one approach a God like this?
In our life we have different degrees of relationship with people. With your grocer you may have rather common bartering relationship. As long as your grocer offers good deals and convenient service, you’ll continue your business there. But perhaps someone opens up a closer shop with better deals, better service, and better quality. Our loyalty easily sways to the better deal. On the other hand we have intimate relationship with people such as our spouses and children. The success of those relationship depends upon a type of sacrificial love and promises to fulfill the needs of the other. The most fulfilling of these two is the latter. The most joy, happiness, and sense of fulfillment exist when we uphold a promise to meet the needs of the other, even at the expense of what is best for us. This best explains the dynamics of a covenant relationship.
As you read the Bible, one should take notice which sort of these relationship God desires with the people He deals with. An example of this is the “covenants” God makes with Abraham and David. Here I will only discuss God’s dealings with Abraham however. The culture of our day struggles to find something similar to describe the Biblical covenants we see played out with Abraham. I would appeal to the covenant of marriage, but suffering of marriage of our day cannot guarantee a close understanding of the biblical concept of covenant. Unfortunately, marriage has been replaced by a contractual agreement where the “promises” go from
“no matter what” to “as long as you are this, then I’ll be this”. But rest assured, the relationship God wants from us is a full -on, all-in covenant relationship with God.
When we refer to the Old and New Testaments of the bible, the word “testament” actually means “covenant” and they both describe the commitments God made to Israel and Christ’s church. In Genesis 15 we see a bizarre scene between God and Abraham play out, a kind of ceremony for finalizing a covenant. Abraham wants a little more legal proof from God that He’s going to hold up His end of the bargain by provided Abraham with a son despite he and Sarah’s old age. Abraham is told to prepare the ceremony by butchering a calf, a goat, a ram, a turtle dove and a pigeon. The animal pieces were placed facing each other in two bloody piles on the ground. Abraham seems to be preparing the ceremony with the understanding of what is about to happen. He is about to enter a formal agreement with the Almighty.
The intention is for two parties to make promises to each other that are to be fulfilled no matter what the consequence, and regardless of the other parties behavior. The fundamental value of a covenant like this one is faithfulness to one’s word. Along with a covenant are pronounced curses that exist if one should fail to uphold their promise to the other. In this case, the bloody pile of animal carcasses serve as the background imagery for these curses, as though they are saying, “If I fail to uphold my word to you, let me be cursed, let me be butchered like these animal carcasses.”
But this is where something miraculous happens. God’s intentional delay leads Abraham to fall in a sleep. God’s presence is represented by a “smoking furnace and a burning lamp”. One should fight the temptation to get lost in the details of what exactly is representing God’s presence here. The extraordinary thing is that as God is walking between the halves of the animal pieces, Abraham is absent from the ceremony! One would assume the ceremony was to be an exchanged of promises between God and Abraham, but what we see here is God substituting Abraham’s place. This means two things:
First, it means no matter what God will bless Abraham and if God should not keep His promise, He will accept the curse of being ripped apart. But secondly it means, if Abraham, who has been substituted by God Himself, should fail in remaining faithful to God, then God, not Abraham, will take on the curse for him. The rest of the Old testament depicts the continual betrayal of Abraham’s descendants against God, but when was God ever ripped to pieces? How can a transcendent God die? God became a human to died on a cross. Jesus kept His promise to Abraham. Recall Jesus saying the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM”
The New Covenant
If the kind of relationships in our life that give us the most satisfaction are those covenant like relationships such as marriage or parentage, then this is what we must have with God. This is the purpose of the “New Testament”, the “New Covenant”. Unlike the many rules and regulations of the Old Covenant, all its conditions have been reduced to one work, “that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). God sent His Son into the world that through believing all He said and did we might enter in a covenant relationship with God.
In any covenant relationship the greatest thing of value is the relationship itself and not what external blessings there may be. With our grocer though, the most important is the groceries, but with God it should be God. Jesus makes impossible things possible, a covenant relationship with God, apart from our belief He fulfills all conditions on our behalf. With this in view, Christians may view the world with all its temptation in a proper perspective. Just like in marriage, we must fiercely defend against all things that might damage the intimacy of the relationship, and so we have the same attitude with God. When selfish desires become more important to us than our spouse, the relationship suffers and intimacy is broken, so we combat these things with a promise. The promises we make give stability and value to the relationship much greater than the value of the kind with our grocer. How much more value should we give to God who sealed His promises with His own blood?
We are not waiting to find out if God is faithful, He has already proven it! Anyone may enjoy God now through believing His promises He makes to us, this means believing Jesus is Who He says He is.