I just watched a movie titled “The Flowers of War“, which was directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Christian Bale and Ni Ni (my new favorite actress btw ;P). Reviews for the movie on IMDB were somewhat positive, but not as great as what normally Zhang Yimou receives. It’s about an often forgotten story about the “Rape of Nanjing” that happened during the second Sino-Japanese war in 1937 (prior to World War Two). A group of escapees fleeing from the Japanese occupation and the atrocities occurring throughout this time find sanctuary in a Catholic Church compound. An unwitting American mortician takes on the guise of the deceased Priest of the compound to protect these women from the violence and rape that was occurring throughout this city.
This often forgotten historical event was the inspiration for one of the few books I have never finished (though I tried so hard to) called The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. This book chronicles that story of the murders, raping and the worst possible atrocities happening in Nanjing in that short amount of time which led to the death of over 300,000 people (a majority being noncombatant civilians); this completely rocked my world when I read it. I cried and could barely hold the book as I felt an incredible rage and hatred well up in me… I wanted justice and saw the evil of this world more clearly than I had ever before. The reason is because it substantiated the painful historical stories told by my mother and father about the evil committed by the Japanese on the Chinese before and during World War Two. Many Asian children from China, Korea, Taiwan, and other Asian countries that had family who endured these terrible evils were raised with a hatred and racism towards the Japanese as a result. I have to confess that as a young child I shared a personal hatred and dislike of Japanese people too.
Like the recent story of Bloodlines by John Piper (which I am planning to read soon), this blog post is meant to reflect on the effects of racism in my own life and how the Gospel has radically altered my perspective on such matters. The reality is that I am a bigot, racist and hypocrite because there is no question that my upbringing and personal experiences shapes how I act and love others. So Helicon, what leads you to write about this now?!
The reason I am writing now is because this movie, the Flowers of War stirred in me those feelings of hatred and anger and brought forth those teachings that I learned from a young age. The crazy part is that as I grew before I came to know Jesus Christ… that during college, I had quickly befriended many Japanese friends and became really close friends. This radically shaped and changed my perspective and as time passed, I came to realize how ignorant and wrong those perspectives were. Despite my willingness to change my behavior towards the Japanese due to friendships, I realized that those thoughts were still there in the background haunting me.
But it is also due to these stirred up feelings in my life and my current state of mind that I realized that the underlying racism can be seen in our culture today too! Consider the way people talked about Jeremy Lin’s playing for the New York Knicks, the heartbreaking shooting of Travyon Martin and George Zimmerman’s involvement… to even the anger and frustration about Rue’s race and color being an issue from the Hunger Games. The reality is that if one is really honest to themselves, we’d admit that we personally hold some subtle racism and bigotry in our soul. Whether our discomfort at seeing the homeless person at the stoplight right off of a freeway, or the “scary” looking person walking on the same of the street as us at night… or the ease in which we are able to bring out stereotypes or jokes about other people groups… to the natural judgments we have towards certain cultures we interact with in our daily lives, we all struggle with this dangerous subtlety of hatred towards others that probably began with some form of our upbringing, the media or other experience exposing us to these forms of thinking.
The truth is that no matter what race… there is an inherent distrust or hatred for another group(s). But why? I think a reason is because of the fear of what is different, and what we cannot understand. Another reason is due to our ignorance and our inability to perceive the world and share an objective view of another. One other reason that comes to my mind is some sort of painful negative experience (perhaps violence) that leads to a hatred that was not there before.
But what it really boils down to, as I tossed and turned after watching The Flowers of War… is that this world is occupied by a tremendous evil… and that the potential to violence and rape and murder is possible within any person… starting with me. Inherently we all carry this potential of death and destruction and violence and racism, which propagates into more violence, pain, injury, hatred, and racism. Left alone, we will hate and potentially kill others that are different. It is our natural propensity towards this that kept me awake. Why? What leads a soldier to be able to pull a trigger and shoot another person based off a command?! Do they know the other person’s story? Do they know the other person also has a family? That thought really bothered me and brought me no peace.
But you know what ended up helping me to find a measure of peace? The Gospel of Jesus Christ. The reality was that as much as this world is fallen and broken and as much as I struggle with a heart and a predisposition to judge or be racist, the only thing that was helping me to find a light in the midst of an unchanging darkness of my sin was the hope that comes through Christ. You see, this world since the fall into sin of Adam & Eve has been imperfect and only getting worse and worse (consider Genesis 3 and the progression of sin as it pollutes humanity). Nothing has changed because sin is ageless. No matter the time and the place, sin still corrupts and manifests itself!
What ends the cycle of violence or ignorance is an act of sacrifice that stops sin in its tracks. It is the absorption of sin by God, who is a man as well. Sin and its violence was and is borne upon that historical figure of Jesus Christ because God loved us; it is the insertion of the infinite into the finite timeline of history. It is God’s powerful answer to all the sin and injustice in this world (past/present/future). It is His blood for our blood owed due to the debt of history’s countless acts of violence and hatred. Yet this is NOT the end of the story. The story then points to a Savior that rose after three days. Revealing His victory over death and the washing away of sins, Jesus Christ is brought back to life and rises to sit at the right hand of the Almighty God interceding and speaking on man’s behalf… as the lawyer that defends us from the consequences of our actions… the racism and sin of our lives. This is the Gospel that is a paradox of justice and love, truth and grace. This is the peace I come to and the only source of my comfort towards the racist, evil heart that beats within. It is my only hope.
What we need to realize is that the racism and the hatred from the movie and the rape of nanjing… that which drove the soldiers to murder and rape the civilians was sin… and it was NOT the way the world was meant to be. This was not God’s plan, but the result of sin and evil. The promise is that through Christ… one day, this will be redeemed… things will be different:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen (Revelation 7:9-12).
I find this hope comforts me because race no longer matters…only God does. This promise that one day things will be brought to the way it was meant to be… helps me to find hope amidst the despair of seeing my natural tendency to be racist. It is to remember ultimately that Christ has paid for my past, my present and my future acts of bigotry and that by the help of the Holy Spirit, I am continuously being refined and directed towards Christ and strengthened to live a life different… no longer dictated by simply the natural tendency of racism but freed to love and manifest grace towards others.
How were you raised and taught about other cultures? What are the places of racism and hatred hidden deep in your hearts? How have you allowed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to refine and change your heart in those places? I invite you to share with me your stories and to partner in letting the Gospel change those areas of death into areas of life.