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The hunger to know God in China

Cold selfishness: Justin Ross Harris, the father of a toddler who died after police say he was left in a hot car for about seven hours

I just returned from China. We stayed in a hotel at Nanjing University, in the city of Nanjing. Right next door to that university is the largest children’s hospital of any repute in all of China. My wife and I would go to a small Parisian Café just outside the gate to the university, and while sitting there we could see the endless parade of human beings, many, many, many of whom were parents holding a child. These children were sometimes very ill looking, and sometimes they were bandaged, or they walked with a limp if older, and occasionally they were just alone. Consistently, the parents all kept their children close, hugged them and clung to them with what looked to be affection.

Meanwhile, I read that a man in the States left his infant son in a car in the heat long enough to kill the child. He was apparently more interested in talking sexy trash with several women while his child was dying, and he had even researched how much it would take to kill a child that had been left in a car in the heat. That makes me angry.

In China the people get relatively inexpensive healthcare, but there is no insurance whatsoever, and that means that if parents do not pay the cost, their children do not get the heath care. Consequently, near the hospital it is common to see mothers with developmentally disabled children sprawled across their laps, sitting in the dirty street, begging for the money to take care of their children.

The man who left his child in the car is trying to collect on life insurance coverage taken on the child. He had pleaded not guilty during a court hearing. Previously, he had also researched on the internet how to survive in prison. I suspect he’ll need that information, but the contrast between those poor parents in China and this other guy really sticks out for me. The Chinese had hardly anything by comparison, but they were committed to lovingly care for their children, many of whom were real burdens.

It’s not that China is a country filled with poor peasants struggling and begging to take care of their families. It isn’t. It is a mix, however, of the very rich and the very poor. It is a country with brand new, four-lane highways, expensive cars to run on them, huge buildings, a thriving economy, and a strong, centralised government to hold it all together. However, it is a country in which the people, largely speaking, lack spirit. They wait to be told, they expect the voice of authority, and creative, spontaneous initiative is lacking.

In countries like the United States the people do not know what they have. I am not talking about material things, because the economies are shrinking and the lifestyles of the middle class are diminishing. Rather, people in the United States squander their freedom. They take for granted the fact that they can take hold of their lives and do something different with them if they want to. Of course there are the poor, and there are those who are discouraged and have given up, but they do not characterise the whole population. Theirs is not the tone of the whole country.

In China one of the most striking passionate expressions was how to take care of one’s wounded and sick child, but in America a striking passion is how to use the system, some kind of system, to feed one’s personal hunger and get what one wants, when wanting is a cold selfishness that uses a child like firewood to make oneself more comfortable. Is that what freedom and initiative are used for?

Perhaps I’ve got it wrong actually. Perhaps the hunger to know God in China is the real treasure and the illusion in the west that religion is a cause of suffering, the home of evil, and that people no longer need God is the more debilitating poverty. While I was in Asia it seemed like people really wanted to know about my relationship with God, about my knowledge of God, and they kept inquiring. The moments when one has to be ready with an answer, ready to tell what one knows of God, never stopped. They were blatant in Korea, less obvious in Hong Kong, but still very present, and even less obvious in Nanjing, but still present. They emerged as if someone pulled open a veil and then suddenly there was someone talking with me about faith, about God, and about forgiveness.

While walking to a coffee shop, a visiting professor said she was reticent to talk with me, because she knew I’d been a pastor and she thought I was going to tell her that she was going to hell. Instead, I said the situation is like this: imagine you are standing at a bus stop and there are a number of people all waiting for a bus. You wait, and you wait. The bus seems to be taking forever, and some people begin to despair that the bus will ever come. So, they decide to take things into their own hands, and they start to walk. They try to get there on their own. Finally, however, the bus does come, and when you get on, you see it’s a wonderful bus. I said, it’s not that God SENDS people to hell; it’s that they never get on the bus. God has provided a way to eternal life, but many people don’t believe it. They would prefer to walk, to try to get there by their own means. But there’s only one way, and the Bible says that those who know God, who have come into relationship with Him because of their faith in Christ’s death, have been given a ministry of reconciliation, as though God were entreating through them, begging people to be reconciled to God. Begging people to get on the bus. After listening, the professor said, “I like that version of the story.”

Indeed. So do I.