Purification and Wa 和 ‘Harmony’

(This is an excerpt from my Masters thesis on a Contextualized Theology of Purification in and for the Japanese)

Promoting harmony is a key idea in Japanese culture and observable in many areas of their social life. (i) The concept of uchi to soto 内と外 ‘inside and outside’[1]. (ii) Shinto festivals and its focus on community building. (iii) Ancestor veneration. (iv) Favoring ambiguity over making direct statements[2]. (v) Japanese tea ceremony[3]. (vi) Strong emphasis on hierarchy and family based off Confucian principles[4]. The general understanding of harmony based off these examples is that it seeks to keep a tranquil balance and order in all things. This desire for harmony should not be despised since we can find evidence for the value of harmony in the Scripture. This theme of harmony can be traced all the way back to Genesis and be used to further develop a theology of purification.

In Genesis 1-2 we read how God established order at creation. He created cycles, seasons, day and night, animals, birds, and creeping things all according to their kind. The text gives the impression of complete order, peace and tranquility, a mist going up from the ground (Gen 2:6), a river flowing through the garden (Gen 2:10), these natural scenes were all very good. God also created man in His own image (Gen 1:27). He made them male and female, two creatures who would complement each other in their respective functions, producing offspring by means of a harmonious, unifying and intimate act. God also established a hierarchy in creation, giving human beings the responsibility to be stewards over His creation (Gen 1:28). However, God still maintained His divine authority as Lord over all that He has made. To demonstrate His loving rule, He gave His creatures only 1 command, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). After everything was established by God it was declared very good (Gen 1:31). All creation enjoyed a pure existence where everything had an ordered place and existed in complete harmony.

Genesis 3 tells the tragic story of how this beautiful harmony was ruined. The tempter tempted Eve to step out of her place of purity, to challenge the legitimate rule of her Creator. Soon Adam followed her in this rebellion and from there the curse of sin entered their hearts to defile them. As God’s appointed stewards, the consequences of their sin spread to every part of creation. It spread to their descendants, it corrupted their relationships, and to this day all creation groans under the weight of this curse (Rom 8:22). The harmony of life was ruined. Their bright fellowship with God was turned into a dreadful sense of fear and shame as they hid from their Creator in the garden (Gen 3:8). They died a spiritual (Gen 2:17) and physical (Gen 5:5) death because of their disobedience. The woman would have pain in child bearing (Gen 3:16) and the ground became cursed (Gen 3:17). The complementary relationship between husband and wife became damaged, husbands will now seek to rule their wives instead of leading them in love. Wives will now try to fight against their husband’s God given headship (Gen 3:16). They were driven out of the garden (Gen 3:24). Their descendants demonstrated jealousy that led to murder (Gen 4:8). The rest of the Bible echoes the tragic events of Genesis 3 as all the whole world was thrown into chaos.

But the Creator God did not simply stand by, allowing His good creation to be thrown into chaos forever. Genesis 3:21 gives us a tiny glimpse into the gracious provision of God. He clothes his naked and shamed creatures with the skin of an animal. The very first sacrifice recorded in the Bible. In spite of their sin, God was still gracious and although sin continues to echo throughout man’s history, another story began with Genesis 3:21 which would also echo forth. The story of God’s provision of a Savior. This Savior has been revealed in the person of Jesus who came to restore the purity of man and creation. He came to restore the harmony that was lost. His harmony restoring works are well described in Colossians 1:19-22,

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

The above Scripture details how Christ reconciles to himself, all things in heaven and on earth. It especially highlights the vertical reconciliation. Man was alienated from God but has been reconciled through the incarnation and death of Jesus who is the agent of God’s purifying work.

Ephesians 2:14 is another important Scripture that explains the horizontal aspect of reconciliation. Jesus in His body on the cross, broke down the wall of hostility that separated Jew and Gentile, making them one people. Jesus also declared, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

As a Christian I want to live in the harmony God has achieved through the death of His Son. Harmony with God, and harmony with my fellow human beings. The Christian’s purpose: Love God, love people.  Mark 12:30-31

 

[1] Controls the way a Japanese person relates to those inside and outside their group. It is employed to produce a sense of balance and harmony.

[2] Davies (2002:11) writes that ambiguity, aimai is essential for Japanese social interactions. People learn to become aware of how others think and feel and ambiguity maintains harmony by working as a lubricant in communication.

[3] Sen no Rikyuu 千利休 was a famous Japanese tea master who taught 4 important spiritual values for the Japanese tea ceremony, wa 和 ‘harmony’, kei 敬 ‘respect’, sei 聖 ‘purity’ and jaku 寂 ‘tranquility’ (Nesbitt, 2017:198).

[4] From an Asian perspective, harmony is the measure of all things. It is maintained through hierarchy where relationships are built on the inferior person’s respect rather the superior’s domination (Wu, 2012:82).

 

Citations

Davies RJ and Ikeno O (eds) 2002. The Japanese Mind Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. Tokyo: Tuttle.

Nesbitt M 2017. Jesus for Japan Bridging the Cultural Gap to Christianity. © 2017 by Mariana Nesbitt.

Wu J 2012. Saving God’s Face. A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame. Pasadena CA: WCIU Press.

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