Cross-Cultural Evangelism; August 24, 2019

Psalm 89:24 My faithful love will be with him,
and through my name his horn will be exalted.

As we saw yesterday, Ethan the Ezrahite is recounting the things that God had done and said in the past in order to reassure himself and others that the present situation isn’t as bleak as it seems. However, he overlooks the severity of the sins of Israel, even though he mentions in verses 30-32 that God had promised consequences for disobedience. God’s promises are eternal, but we overlook the conditions attached to them to our peril. One point of linguistic and cultural difference in the translation jumps out to me right now. I had noticed that a majority of these readings, which were chosen in English based on the word “love,” don’t use “love” at all in the Japanese, but rather “grace.” The more I read them, the more I realize that from the Japanese perspective, “love” is to an equal or someone above you, which makes John 3:16 somewhat scandalous. (Of course, since the translators of John were working with Greek, they could justify it in their minds by making agape a separate category.) Actually though, Japanese is very inconsistent in this, because a pet is a “love-dog,” and even a well-cared-for car is a “love-car.” I sometimes point out the inconsistencies in the Japanese understanding of love when I’m doing marriage counseling. Actually, it was pointed out to me just this year (after all my years of living in Japan) that from standard Japanese usage, Jesus couldn’t have any real friends, because a friend is a peer, an equal, and Jesus had no equals. John 15:15 (“I have called you friends”) is essentially dismissed as Jesus saying nice words without real meaning. Such extreme awareness of social classification is very alien to Americans in particular, and can be a major barrier to the communication of the Gospel.

Naturally this is of extreme relevance to me, having been born and raised as an American in Japan. It was a real shock to discover the point about “friend” at age 70! I was born in Japan, but I was raised as an American, essentially, and the only Japanese school I attended was kindergarten, where everything is egalitarian anyway. As the child of an extremely high-status person (my father was a university chancellor) I was allowed to get away with almost anything, socially speaking, so these things were never drilled into my head the way they are for most Japanese. Even today I count people of all social strata as my equals, and for that I am grateful. I strive to maintain Christian equality in this church, and I think I’m mostly successful. Everyone has different gifts and therefore different functions, but we are all of equal value. I have long been sharply aware that people considering me as “other” has been a major barrier to their accepting the Gospel I proclaim as applying to them. Whether they see me as above them or below them doesn’t make much difference. That’s why I am convinced that it is Japanese who need to evangelize Japan, but they have to be given the vision that it is even possible, and many of them do not have that. However, nothing is impossible for God, so I must never give up.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It was certainly unexpected, coming from a reading in Psalms! Help me remember that I never have the answers on my own, but that You have all the answers. May I be fully yielded and obedient to You, so that my every interaction may draw people to You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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