I met with a student the other day to talk about her faith. She had filled out a survey (along with the rest of the Middle and High School students), and it was my honor to follow up with her and discuss it. She is a Senior, a Chinese girl who has been in our school for 5 years. That means she has heard 5 years of Bible teaching, received 5 years of Christian education, and been 5 years growing in an atmosphere of God’s love.
One question on the survey read, “Do you believe in the existence of God?”. Possible choices of “yes”, “no”, and “not sure”. She had circled “not sure”.
I must pause for a moment and try to capture in a few sentences what I am beginning to learn about certain cultural responses to questions as direct as these. To my American mind, if I’m more than 50% sure of something, I’d probably reply “yes”. If I’m 1-49% sure of something, I’d probably reply “not sure”. If I’m 0% sure of something, I’d reply “no”. In many Asian cultures, however, the thinking is drastically different. It is possible that they would not respond “yes” until they are 100% sure. 20%? Not sure. 70%? Not sure. 99.9%? Not sure.
So, when I met with this girl, I asked her, “On a scale of 1-10, can you tell me if you believe there is a God?”
Long pause... “2”, she answered.
“And what did you think before you came to GGIS?”
“And IF there is a God, does He love you?”
“10”. No hesitation.
We talked about faith and how a seed of faith starts very small, and that God waters and provides sunshine and nutrition, and our faith grows. We talked about the things that keep us from putting our faith in God.
I asked her where she puts her faith. “In myself”. It’s much safer that way. “If I fail, I get depressed, get over it, and then get on with my life.”
In other words, there is no one to disappoint this way.
I told her about God’s relationship to us - that He doesn’t change in the way that He thinks about us, even when we fail.
“But I will still fail.”, she relied with her head down, ashamed. As if the ultimate goal is to not fail.
Yes, you will fail. But failure does not have to mean disapproval.
We talked about forgiveness... forgiving ourselves, and forgiving others. We talked about Corrie Ten Boom’s story of forgiving the prison guard who had killed her sister in a Concentration Camp during WW2. She couldn’t do it on her own... it was God’s forgiveness through her. We need God'd forgiveness to forgive ourselves when we fail. "Forgive myself?!", she said, almost laughing.
We talked about the glory of the cross - of Jesus looking at sin in the face, recognizing and accepting its horrors and taking it on Himself. About the burial and the darkness of waiting, and about the miracle of the resurrection and the freedom of a new life.
There were a few moments when her eyes were teary, although I couldn’t help my own from streaming down my face.
This conversation was a bud. I saw something new... something growing and changing... the promise of new life!
At first, I was discouraged by her answer of “2”. It seemed so small, and maybe insignificant. I spoke with a Chinese friend of mine and told her the story. When I told her that my student had answered “2”, she was visibly excited. “Really?! That’s amazing!”, she said.
I was a bit taken back by her response, and tucked it away to think about later. The next day, I was relaying the story to another Asian friend. “Why was my friend so excited about “2”?”, I asked.
“Oh. Because the greatest distance is from 0 to 1.”
From nothing to something. It is the greatest distance. From dark and cold and dead to a tiny little green bud, filled with hope and possibility. There has been work being done... life inside the deepest parts, waiting to blossom and bloom and bear fruit. It has been waiting through the dark, dismal winter. And now Spring has come!