China's Memory of Suffering Shapes Our Understanding of Jesus and the Gospel

A closeup picture of crown of thorns, wooden cross and hammer on ground
A closeup picture of crown of thorns, wooden cross and hammer on ground (photo:
By Li DaonanFebruary 19th, 2024

My friend went back to his hometown in a northern province to attend a wedding banquet and sent me a message saying that the whole banquet was almost meat dishes. On every Chinese New Year back in my hometown, all we eat is almost meat. For the chicken, fish, and pork that my parents prepare, we do not eat them immediately. Instead, they are hung in the aisle at the gate to show visitors who are paying us New Year’s greetings. We do not eat it until the show is over. After many days, the meat gets even a little stale.

Why do we like meat dishes at banquets and show them at the Spring Festival? This is actually a memory of suffering and a culture caused by the cruel memory of hunger. In the past, people could not even have a meal, not to mention get meat for protein. After the living conditions improved, meat became a way to contrast the memory of suffering.

There is a bitter national memory hidden behind any of our traditional cultural customs. For instance, the obsession with meat is due to hunger. Boys are traditionally preferred, which is commonly due to childlessness in ancient times. The risk of childlessness caused by high mortality made male offspring more preferable, and more children could balance high mortality.

Cruel historical memory makes us tend to yearn for material possessions. In the practice of the Christian faith, we have constantly materialized Jesus. We have shaped the image of Jesus and the gospel according to our national memory of suffering.

First, it is the materialization of redemption. Many believers in the traditional church understand that redemption is real, material, and concrete.

Their testimonies are usually the following: "Believe in Jesus, and your illness will be cured or your son’s marriage problem can be solved." Or "everything will go well in your family, and your children will be healthy." My neighbor’s toothache was ineffective for a long time. She accepted the gospel that her relatives had been preaching after seeing numerous witches and wizards. My sister was frequently ill and was believed to be under the influence of demons. Later, after following Jesus, she felt that the demons would never bother her again. In their eyes, redemption is just a way to get rid of the current suffering, which brings concrete welfare.

Secondly, it is the deification of Jesus. Jesus came into the world in order to spread the true gospel to us, but in the eyes of many traditional believers, Jesus is an immortal who has infinite power. It is out of belief in Jesus’ power that the massive cult Mentuhui or "Association of Disciples" came into being. They claim that after believing in Jesus, they will be endowed with this ability. As long as you put a handful of rice in your own rice jar, you will never run out of rice. So the heresy attracts a large group of people. There are many similar heresies; for example, some people believe that Jesus will come again in the future and establish a country, so they divide the world into different sites and give them to different believers.

Because the memory of suffering is too real, the satisfaction of the body is regarded as the first orientation of belief. In the Spring Festival season, temples are filled with visitors who get up early to compete for the first pillar of incense in order to get rich and lucky. Yet, no one cares about the richness of life, spirit, or the meaning of life.

The richness of life and spirit emphasizes the height and transcendence of mental state, and it has an overlooking perspective on concrete life. Materialistic cultural traditions have no height, let alone the height of faith, hope, and love.

The real Jesus is not so materialized; he is alive. He is considerate of everyone’s suffering and life. He hopes that everyone can live a rich life and newly establish a relationship with God.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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