No one is sure how or when Christianity first arrived in the Far East, but there are clear signs that God was at work. From the ancient times to the modern day, the rich Chinese culture continues to hold signs of God, often tucked away in plain sight.
Chinese language characters often find their roots in being pictorial symbols and representations of reality. Chinese words are also frequently built upon smaller characters adding its meanings together.
For example, let’s look at the modern Chinese word for “I” which also can mean “me”: 我 (wǒ). Throughout Chinese history, the left part of 我 is the character for hand 手 and on the right part is the character for weapon 戈. So, therefore, the picture of 我 is a person holding a weapon, which we all know can use to kill and defend or sometimes do both at the same time.
The Bible tells us that one of the first sins is Cain murdering his brother Abel in Genesis chapter 4. Just as the Chinese character我 has changed its outward appearance overtime, the core components have remained the same. Since Genesis, humans have been killing one another through conflict, war, drugs and with every other horrible evil in the world.
This was clearly against the peaceful and good order of Creation that God had intended. By simply looking at ourselves, We are reminded that every person is born a sinner and wields the weapon of fighting against God’s rule.
Before we surrendered to God, we all lived lives as if we were king over everything and everybody in the world. When people choose to ignore God, consequences of sin are visible and impact widely in our society.
But God did not create humanity without a solution to our iniquities. The Bible reminds us in John, chapter 3, verse 16 that God sent Jesus to pay the price for our sins so that we can be saved.
You might be wondering what this has to with Chinese at all? Let’s look at the word for “righteousness”: 義. It is a combination of two Chinese characters with “goat” or “lamb”: 羊 above “I” or “me”: 我.
From early in the Old Testament and especially in Leviticus chapter 16, the sacrificing of goats for the sins of the people was important for the Israelites in the Day of Atonement. The High Priest would then symbolically place all the sins of the people on to another goat before letting it run into away into the wild. Such sacrifice and scapegoating in the Old Testament were a foreshadowing to Jesus in the New Testament.
Jesus has achieved complete atonement for our sins. Hebrews chapter 4 verse 14 states that He is the great High Priest, while Revelation chapter 13 verse 8 reminds us that He is the “Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” as a sacrifice to cover for our sins. Jesus is also our scapegoat. 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”.
As Jesus was crucified on the cross outside of the city, the sins he carried also separated Him from the presence of God. He endured the separation from God that we all deserve because of our sin in the rejection of God’s rule. Because our sins were laid onto Jesus despite Him never having sinned, He carried the entire burden of our sins just as the scapegoat took the sins of the Israelites.
Even though Christianity would arrive in China centuries after Jesus, God has been preparing the hearts of the Chinese for Good News even through language such as the character for “righteousness” 義 (yì). Only God could create such richness in a language so foreign and distant from ancient Israel.
Over thousands of years, 義 has gradually changed with modifications to how 羊 and 我 have been written. But the everlasting fact remains, that only with the lamb (which is Jesus Christ – who has been sacrificed and “scapegoated” in our place) above us, can we be in a righteous relationship with God.
For the majority of Chinese civilisation, most people were farmers that grew their crops. It was considered a blessing and good fortune for someone to have land that could be fruitful. Once someone enters into a righteous and restored relationship with God, they feast on the Bread of Life and will not go spiritually thirsty.
The Chinese word for “blessing”: 福 (Fú) contains imagery of the Garden of Eden. In Genesis chapter 2, we learn that the Garden of Eden was the place where God would be alongside His people and that this was a place where Adam and Eve had all their needs provided.
Let’s investigate the four components of the word福. 礻 is God, 一 is one, 口 is mouth (representing a person and their basic needs), and 田 is fields (or farmlands). Christians will know that they have been blessed because they have accepted the opportunity to live with God by our side, and when we reach Heaven, all our needs will be met through Christ.
The Book of Revelation promises believers in Christ that when God’s eternal kingdom is fully revealed, believers will never again go hungry, nor will we have to struggle anymore. 福 is often something that Chinese wish upon on each other at Lunar New Year, but maybe it’s time to take a step back and think of the eternal blessing that has been offered to the world through Christ. The world had changed much since when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, just as there have been changes to how the word 福 has looked, but the meaning behind it has always remained constant – like the promise of God’s eternal blessing for those who remain in Him.
This article was originally published at Christian Today Australia on Friday 28 June 2019