Master calligrapher: God’s imprint is written even in ancient Chinese script
Sound of Art // June 30, 2020, 12:38 am
Images of grace: Psalm 1:1-3, by calligrapher Ruan Tian Chao. All photos and links courtesy of Sound of Art.
God reveals Himself to all of mankind. Even in a world that seems extremely diverse, He has left imprints of Himself in the cultures of the world, all of which point to the one Creator God.
The written Chinese script is one such example that offers insight into God’s revelation of Himself to the Chinese people.
The Chinese language and script began with pictographs over 3,000 years ago. Each Chinese character is a window into how the ancient Chinese thought of a particular concept.
These pictographs can still be traced in the ancient Chinese seal script calligraphy, which dates to around 220 BC.
Although the pictographs can no longer be seen in modern Chinese script, their cultural origins remain embedded in the Chinese psyche.
By meditating on Psalm 1:1-3, we will not only explore this beautiful passage, but also consider several insights that we can see when examining the Chinese script.
不 从 恶 人 的 计 谋 ， 不 站 罪 人 的 道 路 ， 不 坐 亵 慢 人 的 座 位 – 詩篇 1:1 (Chinese Union Version)
Do not follow the plans of wicked people, do not stand on the path of sinners and do not sit in the seat of profanity. – Psalm 1:1 (directly translated from Chinese to English)
The world thinks that it is smart to scheme, to be deceitful and to conspire against our enemies. In fact, those who speak crudely and do evil things are often rewarded.
But do not be tempted to join them. Sinners are, in fact, walking down a “path” which leads to destruction.
So how do we detect and avoid sin? The Chinese revelation gives us a clue.
罪 (zui) or sin in Chinese is made up of two parts. The top, 自(zi), is a pictograph of the nose to represent “yourself”. The bottom is 辛 (xin), which means “bitter”.
Rather than being self-centred, we need to be God-centred.
Sin is caused by self-centeredness, which produces bitterness.
Rather than being self-centred, we need to be God-centred. Embarking on the path of sinners produces bitterness against God and in our relationships.
Walking on the straight and narrow path, on the other hand, leads to eternal life and the enjoyment of God’s shalom peace.
惟 喜 爱 耶 和 华 的 律 法 ， 昼 夜 思 想 ， 这 人 便 为 有 福 ！– 詩篇 1:2 (Chinese Union Version)
To love the law of Yahweh, and think of it day and night, this person has blessings! – Psalm 1:2 (directly translated from Chinese to English)
We are not merely called to follow God’s laws. We are to love and cherish them.
Next, we notice that we are not merely called to follow God’s laws. We are to love and cherish them.
God’s laws revive our soul! They refresh us and keep us in step with the Holy Spirit.
When we cherish God’s laws and ponder their wisdom “day and night”, He promises that we will be blessed and happy.
What does it mean to be blessed? The Chinese word for blessing, 福 (fu), provides us with some clues.
礻comes from 示 (shi), which is a pictograph of an altar for sacrifice. 畐 comes from the pictograph of a jar held up by two hands (see the picture “A” above). It symbolises offerings and sacrifices.
There is no greater offering than to obey God’s law and live under His precepts.
The pictograph reminds us of the woman who offered her expensive alabaster jar of perfume to worship Jesus. (Matthew 26:7)
Our blessings originate from worship. Laying our offering with two hands on the altar of sacrifice is how we become truly happy. There is no greater offering we can give to God than to obey His law and live under His precepts.
In these uncertain times, we are constantly told to be cautious and to focus on wealth preservation. But indeed, the way to be blessed is expressed in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
他 要 像 一 棵 树 栽 在 溪 水 旁 ， 按 时 候 结 果 子 ， 叶 子 也 不 枯 乾 。 凡 他 所 做 的 尽 都 顺 利 。– 詩篇 1:2 (Chinese Union Version)
He is like a tree planted by the stream, bearing fruits on time, and the leaves will not dry up. Everything he does is smooth. – Psalm 1:3 (directly translated from Chinese to English)
If you want to bear fruit, you need to be planted, and be planted in the right place. This would be beside the streams of living water. When we obey God’s laws, we will be nourished by God’s living water and bear fruits of righteousness.
We will also never be thirsty again. Neither will we wither, because God refreshes us with His Holy Spirit over and over again.
But it is important for us to remember that we are not righteous because of our works. Our righteousness 義 (yi) comes from God.
義 (yi) is made up of two parts. The top is a lamb 羊 (yáng), which covers “myself” 我 (wǒ). We are righteous because the Lamb of God covers us.
The word 我 (wǒ) is made up of a hand 手 (shǒu) and a spear 矛 (máo). The lamb of God was pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5) by our own spears. It is not because of our good works but it is God bearing the punishment for our evil that makes us righteous.
So let us stay humble, always remembering that no one can boast. There was nothing good in us. But thank God! He is changing us from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18) and we are becoming just like Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God!
In Asia, many of us have a culture of “saving face”, to be image conscious and to hide anything that may be considered shameful. But as Christians, we do not need to “save face”. We are clothed with God’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and we do not need to justify ourselves before Man.
Following God is countercultural. It is easy to want to be part of the crowd, but we must never compromise.
We must love and cherish God’s laws and meditate on them day and night. This is the only way for us to drink living water (John 4:13) and bear the fruits of righteousness.
However, we should be encouraged. We have a great cloud of witnesses in heaven (Hebrews 12:1) who have gone before us.
Even the ancient Chinese saw glimmers of God and embedded these perspectives into the Chinese language. During these coronavirus days of isolation, let us consider how we may encourage our fellow believers to love God’s laws and be truly blessed.
This devotion is inspired by the ancient Chinese Seal Script Calligraphy collection by Sound of Art, an online platform promoting faith-based art.
Reflection and Discussion
- How conscious are you about being God-centered? In which areas of your life would you like God to empower you to be more God-centered?
- Reflect on this verse: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) In this coronavirus season, how have you continued to give? What are you withholding from the Lord?
- Are you refreshed in Jesus, or are you withering spiritually? How will you plant yourself closer to God’s living water?
- Do you have spiritual pride in any area of your life, where you feel that you may have earned some righteousness of your own?