Thursday, December 25, 2014

Heaven shows no partiality

Yung Suk Kim

Look up to heaven, and you will marvel at its incalculable size and no-end space. At the same time you will be dumbfounded at its relentless impartiality under which everything, human or not, is treated the same. That is what Jesus also acknowledges: "so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). This saying follows the command of "love your enemies." The sun shines equally on all, the good or bad. So we exclaim that the heaven or the skies are great not because they are simply big but because they are impartial, not adopting a tactic of favoritism.

Likewise, we can say that God is great not because he is simply sovereign or he has absolute power as such – in ways that anything would be possible. In fact, that kind of thought is very dangerous because God's name or power can be misunderstood or misused in wrong context. God (heaven) is great because of its impartiality. God follows the way! Interestingly, this idea of God following the way is also found in Lao-tzu's writing, a famous wisdom book written in 5-6th century BCE China, the Tao Te Ching which I translated into English. Lao-tzu says, "Heaven follows the way." His idea of heaven-following-the-way lies in heaven's impartiality. Heaven is great because it runs with impartiality.

If we understand heaven or God this way, God is great because of his impartiality. Any God-talk or theology that does not operate with this mode would seem vague at best or dangerous at worst. The bottom line is that even God cannot do everything; if he does so, he is a despot. Even God follows the way!

Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) shows this point of God's impartiality. As opposed to the popular reading that God can do anything with his power, my reading of this parable emphasizes the character of God's impartiality with which early birds and late birds receive the same "usual daily wage." The owner of this vineyard represents the impartial God who sees the need of both the early and late birds. The landlord knows that all need work and equal pay for their families. Their needs are the same. By the way, according to the story, the late birds are not lazy people; simply, they couldn't find a job early enough. Interestingly and expectedly, the early birds complained to the owner of the vineyard about the equal pay. These people did not understand what the contract was; the landlord promised a usual daily wage. Otherwise, they did not see the need of other fellow workers.

God is great not because he can do anything but because he is impartial. Great does not mean that anything is possible. The notion of greatness does not depend on manipulative power but on impartial love for all. All under the sun are to be equally respected and cared. If that happens, we say God is great. If that happens, we say that we follow the way of heaven – the way of God.

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