Everybody loves life. Eternal life would be all the more desirable. Since time immemorial, men have tried to find the elixir of life, which could keep them living forever. However, if men should have to live forever in misery, to put an end to it would be the better choice. So the bottom line should be: How can man live forever in happiness?
Some have said, If you want a happy, eternal life, you must believe in God. Can that be true? Now let us discuss it by finding the answers to a few questions about God often asked by interested people:
1) Is it superstitious to believe in God?
Answer: To answer this, we should begin by defining superstition. A man is superstitious when he believes in something for which he can give no reason. If we don't know who God is, and why we should worship Him, but just follow others in blind worship, that too may be called superstition. We should not be superstitious, but find a scientific, reasonable basis for all our ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, life and death and man's duty toward God.
2) What is the historical background of the term "Shang Di" (God)? How is it used in the Chinese classics?
Answer: The earliest oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang dynasty had the symbol for "Shang Di". The Canadian Chinese scholar Dr. Chen Wei-zhong wrote a book entitled "Our Common God". On page 3 he states that there are hundreds of oracle bone inscriptions on which the symbol for "Shang Di" appears, such as saying "Shang Di orders rain", "Shang Di does not order wind", "Shang Di brings calamity" "Shang Di gives me blessing", etc. Dr. Chen reports that in the Yi Jing, (Book of Changes) produced during the Zhou dynasty, the term "Shang Di" appears in the commentaries for the symbols "Yu", "Yi", "Ding" and "Huan". In the classic Shang Shu (Book of Annals)"Shang Di" appears 45 times; In the classic Shi Jing (Book of Poems) it appears 42 times; in the classic Li Ji (Book of Rituals) it appears 35 times. In these references to God, He is known to have the attributes of righteousness and benevolence. He is the arbiter of human destiny. For instance, in the classic Shang Shu, the first emperor of the Shang dynasty who overthrew the last despot of the Xia dynasty, states in a proclamation, "Not that I want to disturb the peace, but because of the iniquities of the emperor of Xia, Heaven orders him to be slain. I fear Shang Di; and I dare not disobey."
So we see that China's early forebears worshiped the true God. In the main shrine of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, there is no idol, but simply a blue upright plaque inscribed with four golden Chinese and Manchurian characters, saying, "Huang Tian Shang Di"(), meaning "God the Emperor in Heaven", revealing that Chinese emperors through ages past did not worship idols, but honored, at least in formal worship, the true God in heaven.
3) Then the "Shang Di" in our Bibles must be the same God worshiped by our ancestors!
Answer: Yes. The earliest pictographic Chinese characters had only one symbol for God, pronounced "Di"(). The short line on top of the longer horizontal line symbolized "Shang", meaning "on high". The five lines forming the symbol underneath represent the five fingers of a hand reaching down from heaven to overrule human affairs. Later names of God added a "Shang"(on high), which duplicates the original two lines making up the upper half of "Di".
Later, the Chinese also used the character "Shen"()for God. The original simpler form, without the "Shi" radical on the left, was a picture of two hands on right and left, with a vertical line in between (). According to the commentary Shuo Wen Jie Zi, this pictograph depicts the hands of God in heaven drawing forth all things in His act of creation.
4) Why are Chinese Bibles published in two versions: one using "Shang Di"; another using "Shen" for God?
Answer: That is because some Chinese Christians are in the habit of using "Shang Di"; others prefer to use the term "Shen". However, present usage in China employs "shen" as a generic term, while only some Christians have a habit of using it as a specific term. For example, in China all who worship the god of wealth and other idols are known as worshipping "shen" , not worshipping Shang Di. In English we capitalize the "G" in "God" as a specific term, while "god" spelled with a lower case "g" is used as a generic term. For example, "zhen shen" in Chinese means "true God", while "jia shen" means "false god". So if you ask a Chinese if he believes in "shen", he will ask you, "Which shen?"
The distinction between "Shang Di" and "shen" is recognized in Chinese secular publications as well. For instance, in Mao Tse-dong's story of "The Foolish old Man who Removed a Mountain" the dogged old man's heroic effort "touched the heart of Shang Di", not the heart of shen. The Chinese often combine "gui"(ghost) with "shen", referring to evil spirits.
5) What does this information about how Chinese ancients worshiped God have to do with our faith in God?
Answer: It has much to do with our faith in God. It brings out two points: a) The worship of Shang Di is the noble tradition of our ancient forebears, not a recently imported foreign religion. b) Our Chinese ancestry can be traced to the ancestor of the Jews. We all descended from Noah. The Chinese legend of Nu-Wa melting five-colored rocks to patch up the heavens can be traced back to the scene of Noah kindling a fire on a rocky altar while the first rainbow spanned the heavens as a sign that the raining heavens have now been patched up. See Gen.8:20; 9:11-17
6) What made you say the worship of our ancestors is a "noble tradition"? Can you elaborate on that?
Answer: Since antiquity and among all races, men and women have always had the worship instinct, which was planted in us by our Creator. Unfortunately, many have abused this instinct by worshipping idols and false gods. "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them are like them; so is every one who trusts in them." Ps. 135:15-18.
The Chinese ancients did not make idols for the God of heaven. That is what I regard as a noble tradition. The Bible introduces the true God in these words: "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives us all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being. . . .Therefore, . . we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained." (Acts 17:24-31)
7) This text speaks of groping for God and finding Him. What does that have to do with a happy, eternal life?
Answer: God cannot be separated from our existence and our happiness. This text says, "In Him we live and move and have our being." Belshazzar, king of Babylon, was an idolatrous young profligate, to whom Daniel spoke words of rebuke, saying, "You have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. . . That very night Belshazzar king of the Chaldeans, was slain." (Dan 5:23, 30) Said Jesus, "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Matt. 16:26)
8) That leaves a powerful impression. It happened in ancient times, but still has a lesson for us today.
Answer: Very true! This young king had all heart could wish. A whole empire in the Middle East was his. Little did he realize that as he was enjoying himself, his capital was taken by the enemy in a surprise attack, and in the middle of a drinking bout, he lost his soul. One gain, one loss, and the result? "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
All who are absorbed in thoughts of worldly profit can easily run into the same rut. Be it an ancient monarch or a modern tycoon, they may think they are having a good time and have no need for God. Even if no harm befalls them, and they get to enjoy their riches for a lifetime, in the end it will still be the same---a man loses his own soul.
9) So many smart people are living foolishly, unsure they have happiness, nor certain how long they can live.
Answer: Correct! Many smart people are not smart enough. Bible teachings are all for real, looking at things from the eternal perspective, dealing not only with religious topics, but with every-day realities and eternal destinies.
10) Up to now you have clarified this issue, but have yet to touch on the actual way of securing true happiness.
Answer: Very true. This is a vital topic, which can't be exhausted in one or two talks. We will make a beginning today, hoping that all who have seen what is involved in this issue will not relax your attention, but will resolve to take hold of this vital subject. It has to do with your own interests and the interests of every member of your family.
11) You have shown that the God of China's ancestors is the God of the Bible. Can you now give some scientific evidence of God's existence? We must know He exists before we can believe in Him.
Answer: Well. Rom. 1:20 says, "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."
The intricate structure of all matter, the laws which govern animate and inanimate nature, the rational design and esthetic patterns of things in earth and sea and sky, all unite to testify to the infinite wisdom of their Designer and Creator. Jer. 51:15 says, "He has made the earth by His power; He has established the world by His wisdom, and stretched out the heaven by His understanding." According to the science of nuclear physics, all elementary particles in the atom are bound together by powerful forces, and it may be said that every atom is a concentration of energy placed in it by the Creator. So this Bible statement is now proved to be most scientific by modern discoveries.
12) Some have said that no one has seen an ape turn into a man; but neither has anyone seen God. Wouldn't it be nice if we could see God?
Answer: Yes, but honestly speaking, there are many real things besides God which are invisible. For instance, you admit the existence of life, don't you? Have you ever seen it? Psalm 36:9 says, "With You(God) is the fountain of life." Another simple way to prove God's existence is to reason from cause to effect. You are the effect of your father the cause. Keep going up the tree of cause and effect until you reach the First Cause, and you will arrive at God.
13) How can we know that the God who created us is also the God of the Bible?
Answer: Only the Bible gives a full account of the Creator. It is His self-introduction. Isa 45:18 says, "Thus says the Lord who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: 'I am the Lord, and there is no other.'"
14) Please explain why God is called "Jehovah". What is the meaning of this name?
Answer: "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM". This is the meaning of "Jehovah". God exists both objectively and subjectively: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come." God has no beginning nor ending, even as infinity has no dimensions. "Holy" defines God's purity, truthfulness, benevolence and perfection.
15) How does God relate to the eternal life of true happiness you speak of?
Answer: Man separated from God cannot be freed from sin and pain. In John 17:3 Christ says, "This is eternal life, that they may know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Jesus also said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. . .He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 10:10; 7:38) This is the substance of eternal life.
16) Before this we studied about God, not about Jesus. Now Jesus appears to be one with God. Please explain.
Answer: Jesus said He was sent by the Father. He also said, "I and My Father are one." (John 10:30) John 1:1-3 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
17) Jesus said that eternal life consisted in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Please explain what all is involved in this knowing. In what way is it related to faith?
Answer: This knowing experience is a deeper one than faith, yet requires faith and trust as its basis. Friendship between human beings always involves the experience of knowing one another. There is a great difference between mere acquaintance and a close, endearing friendship. God says to us, "My son, give Me your heart." (Prov. 23:26)
18) So to know God means to make friends with Him. But I suppose a man of the world would have difficulty comprehending this experience.
Answer: Yes, but this experience is needed by everyone and it is open to all. It is the privilege of every human being to enjoy friendship with God, who loves every one He has made, and longs for every one to come into close fellowship with Him, so that we may enjoy full happiness and eternal life. No one should feel he is forgotten by God.
Because sin has caused a gulf of separation between God and man, many people are now strangers to God, and feel a dreary void which money, fame, position and pleasures of the flesh cannot fill. God alone can quench their soul thirst. The Lord Jesus said, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14)
19) Can you cite from the Bible an example of a man who enjoyed this abundant life by knowing God?
Answer: A good example would be the apostle Paul. He said, "What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:7,8) Paul transcended all things worldly by knowing God. This may be the experience of all who long for true happiness in Christ.
In our next talk we shall study the entrance of sin into our world, the incarnation of Christ, and God's great plan of redemption.