Francis said that one of the reasons he had such a hard time accepting the idea of God's love is because he grew up in a very traditional, authoritarian, Chinese household. His father's word was law, and harsh punishment would follow any infraction. For Francis, he could understand God as a holy, just God whom he needed to obey; he just couldn't wrap his head around the fact that that same holy God could actually love him. A lot of Chinese seem to have a similar experience with authority.
I've recently joined a lifegroup at my church. It's basically a group that meets weekly to talk about God and our lives, and pray for one another. There's only three in my group so far, Josh, Lillian, and I. Although we certainly don't agree on everything, we've been having a lot of fun together. We went out to eat for dinner, and our talk also brought up some interesting insights into authority.
I don't even remember what we were talking about, but Josh made some comment about how a guy would need to talk to a girl's dad before asking her out. I said that I wouldn't want a guy asking my dad first, and they both seemed very shocked. I was actually a bit surprised how shocked they seemed, since asking the girl directly is not exactly a groundbreaking concept.
Josh explained that he believes that the father is the head of the household. As the leader of the family, he has the responsibility to guide his children in their decisions. Josh went on to say that he had asked his father's permission before moving to Hong Kong, and initially his father had said no. Had his father continued to say no, he would have followed his father's wishes.
While I totally respect where he's coming from, I think in a completely different way. The independence stereotype is alive and well in my life. At eighteen, Dad told me that I was now an adult and I needed to start making my own decisions. During major life decisions in my life, I would call up my dad and talk to him about the pros and cons. He would listen and give advice, but he'd always tell me in the end that it was my decision, he couldn't make the decision for me. When I told him about our dinner conversation, his comment was, "What are you, fourteen?"
Basically, my parents tried to instill in me good sense and direction when I was younger; now they trust me to make the right choices. Even if it is a bad choice, it's my choice.
I can see the good and bad in both viewpoints. In the more authority-driven viewpoint, life decisions are made in the context of your family, your community. You have an older and wiser head to rely on, a leader to care for you. Maybe you would get bogged down by emotions or whims whereas a father could look out for your best interest. Francis Chan also pointed out that, unlike his other American friends, he understood the concept of God's authority. He didn't try to argue with God or get angry at God's decisions. He's God after all.
On the other hand, that can lead to a reliance on others. When things don't turn out, it's not your fault, it's your leaders fault. If only he wouldn't have made such a bad decision. It can take away incentive to think things through and figure out what God wants you to do. Also, what do you do about bad advice or bad leadership? Yes, God is the perfect authority that we all bow to, but authority figures on earth will never be perfect. They can make bad decisions. While I definitely condone getting the advice of older, wiser leaders, the ultimate consequences will be on you.
On my independent side of things, I think that we are ultimately responsible to God. Yes, we need to be in community, yes we need to listen to leaders. But God is the ultimate leader to who we should look. When we make our decisions, hopefully we are relying on his wisdom to help us make our decisions. Besides, this is my culture, the way I was raised. I can't just throw all of that away; it's stuck to me now.
Although I am stuck with this independent mindset, I need to remember that I am not a lone-ranger. I do need others and I cannot rely solely on myself. This can breed a narcissistic and self-righteous attitude that is not good for me or others. I need to watch these tendencies and root them out!
I'll conclude with our final dinner agreement. We're different; that's cool.