Two or three years ago I spent some time in a convalescent hospital in the suburbs of Nanjing near the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum. Many people there were aware that I believed in Christ and at mealtime religion was often the topic of discussion. There were a few boors who would make jokes about Christian belief in the resurrection and the like. I remember one, a particularly objectionable type, who said: "You say there is a God - bring him out and show him to me and I'll believe."
To non-Christians looking at us from the outside, Christianity is just a bunch of doctrines. They would find it easier to believe without these doctrines. With the doctrines, it's just not worth it to them. Yet there are some highly educated people who do believe and find nothing ridiculous about Christianity. The anti-Christians cannot understand such people; they have no way to explain it. When they mention such people in their writings, they simply pass over their religious faith without a word - Sun Yat-sen for example, or Einstein, the writer Lao She, Dr. Lin Qiaoya, Xu Guanggi or Pavlov. Writers of essays and biographies don't mention their religion. They are presented as if they were all atheists, which seems rather dishonest.
Actually, almost without exception, the reason Christians became Christian was not because a bunch of doctrines convinced them to turn to Christ. All of us were first touched by love, compelled by love. We first felt the kind of love with which Christ loves us and, touched by the highest, most beautiful, best love there is in this world, we came to the realization that we fell short, that we were sinners. And because of this we willingly gave up everything to accept Christ. We did not first work out each doctrine intellectually. First, we were touched in our deepest feelings, in the depths of our souls, attracted and melted by Christ's love. And because of this we prostrated ourselves and submitted to Christ.
Doctrines are of course important. Their specialized language safeguards a message, a gospel - the gospel of God's love for humankind. God is love, love made manifest in Christ. This is a universe of love. The basic principle and foundation of the universe is love. We are all objects of God's love. God did not hesitate to pay a heavy price for us. Christianity moves and compels people, not by its doctrines, but by the love made manifest, love held high and spread abroad, love waiting eagerly for the final coming of a world of love. This love draws countless men and women who give their all to enlarge love's realm.
Doctrine is more concerned with matters of orthodoxy. It inevitably tends toward the rejection of any thought or faith alien to itself. Over-emphasis on orthodox doctrine always leads easily to monotony, oppressiveness and a lack of vitality. But love is lively and unrestrained, rich and varied, full of creativity. Love is the richest and most colorful spirit on earth. It is infectious, inestimable, unpredictable and incalculable.
Some people insist that love cannot be devoid of self-interest, that love always has a secret motive. When we see the love of Christ, we must proclaim that there is love without strings, altruistic love. Christ represents this kind of love. We find this kind of love in the person of many faithful Christians as well.
If those friends at the convalescent hospital could approach the four gospels with humble hearts, they would surely get a taste of this kind of genuine love.
How deep, how unchanging was the father's love in the parable of the Prodigal Son. His love tells him that the son will surely return. He eagerly anticipates it. It is this love which melts the son's heart of stone and allows the father to take him back anew as his true son. How the Shepherd loved that one sheep out of the hundred who was lost. He did not wait for the sheep to come back, but went to look for it. Finding it, he carried it home.
Jesus so loved his friends that when he saw them suffering over a death in the family, he could not help crying.
When he saw an ambitious youth, he loved him and pointed out to him what it was that he still lacked.
His love made him weep over Jerusalem.
His love for the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the sick, and those in prison was so deep that he said, whatever you do for these people, you have done for me.
The woman despised by the world because she had five husbands, the woman accused of adultery by those who called themselves righteous, the woman who wept over her sins, washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair - Jesus loved them all.
The man who saw Jesus coming and climbed a tree to see him better, who expressed his willingness to repent and return to those he had cheated nine times their due-Jesus loved him.
His closest friends fled during his passion and some denied him. He was deeply wounded, yet he still loved them.
One sentence says it all: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn. 13:1).
There is no greater love on earth than one who would lay down his life for his friends. This is the love of Christ.
This is the Christ in whom we are bold to believe. Love is the true essence of human life. Love is the greatest truth. Love is the most fundamental attribute of God. Love is the intrinsic attribute of the universe. Natural disasters - storms, earthquakes, volcanoes - happen in our universe. We do not understand why, but even so, we do not believe that the true essence of the universe is hatred or destruction. No, we believe that the true essence of the universe is love and wholeness, the love manifest in Christ. With this love in our universe, we are held firm, we can be at peace, we can live with strength and meaning, we can give thanks and praise.
This is a world lacking in love, a world that needs love. If people can have love, they can feel secure. So many people long for love, but cannot get it.
The transition from semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism to socialism wits a long process. Change was a way of life and there were setbacks. In the past the Chinese people lived an agricultural life in harmony with nature: "Work by day, rest at night; what has the emperor to do with me?" But such a life is no longer an option. In the course of all the changes and setbacks, social relationships were easily strained. Things happened that harmed all sides. Add to this some political movements we could have done without, and the suffering grew. So many people were driven to distraction and experienced the inconstancy of human relationships. They felt they had no love, and they longed for it. Christ's gospel of love can satisfy this longing.
Those who "take class struggle as the key link" cannot hear the gospel of love. To speak of love seems like speaking out of turn to them, harmful to the struggle, a failure to distinguish right from wrong, friend from foe. It seems like a surrender. China today is no longer in the historical stage of taking class struggle as the key link. Today everyone wants peace and stability. The gospel of love, the gospel of reconciliation is more to the point. If you look around, you will see that the numbers of those who believe in the Lord are increasing, not decreasing.
Some years ago, the well-known writer Ba Jin went to Japan. At one of the places he visited, his host was bald. Later the man told him his story. During the Cultural Revolution, he was swayed by the propaganda of China's extreme left and became an ultra-leftist, attacking and harming many people in Japan. Later he was struck with a deep sense of guilt. He felt lie had to do something to apologize, but there was no way to make compensation, so he decided to shave his head from then on.
When I read Ba Jin's essay, I was shaken. The "take class struggle as the key link" line, the leftist line, the line of hate, appeared in China from the late 1950s on, and there were echoes of it in the church. On some issues, this line influenced me too. I do not need to resort to the Japanese man's counsel of despair in seeking to express my repentance. On the basis of what I know today, I am doing what I can to oppose leftism. In the Seminary, in the church, in society, I use whatever strength I have to keep "leftism" from continuing to harm people. I ask God to accept this way of showing my repentance. Leftism attacks people politically, extending the scope of attack and shrinking the scope of unity. From a faith point of view, leftism tramples love underfoot; it is a negation of the gospel. We oppose leftism today and raise up love, spreading the spirit of mutual love in the world, to let love, the love of Christ, awaken the many frozen hearts.
For students at this Seminary, the situation is different. No matter what the state of your spiritual life when you came here, your first task is to enter into and go deeper into the four gospels, to enter more deeply into the Bible and there see this Christ, know this Christ, grow familiar with this Christ, be moved by his love, sit beside him and receive his teachings, welcome him among us and become more and more like him. In this way, before we know it, we will become utensils God can use. We can go out and take Christ's love into the world so that it may enter into the depths of many more hearts. As this semester begins, let us begin our pilgrimage anew.