Divining the will of God
According to Moses Maimonides, a Spanish rabbi of the Middle Age whose writings are regarded as authoritative teachings on the Jewish faith and ethics still applicable today, there can be a problem in describing God as being good. He believed it was better to say “God is not evil and does no evil” because a genuine understanding of God’s goodness and will is beyond the limits of the human mind. The so-called negative theology allows God infinite attributes in regards to his knowledge, power and presence without limiting them to a human understanding that is confined by time and space. No human can dare to claim he knows the will of God. Anyone who says he does would be placing himself on an equal footing with God and all of his infinite qualities.
A series of past comments and writings by Prime Minister-designate Moon Chang-keuk has raised some controversy. One was a set of comments Moon made during an address in a church in which he said that Korea’s colonization by the Japanese and the division of Korea had all been a part of God’s plan for the Korean race. His comments even divided and confounded Christians. A progressive set of Korean churches criticized him for misrepresenting God’s will. Conservative churches came to Moon’s defense and said all he meant to do was to honor the great achievements of today’s Korea by pointing out the hard times in history we overcame through God’s blessings.
Christians believe everything happens by God’s order. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” This is based on the belief in the sovereignty of God, that all things are under God’s rule and nothing happens without his direction or permission. That does not mean, however, that the free will of a human being and responsibility for his own actions are negligible. Humans have been created in the image of God, Christians believe. Humans, therefore, have inherent value as independent beings. Jesus prayed, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If everything in this world happens upon God’s command and plan, Jesus could not have taught a prayer about the glory of his Father’s kingdom being manifested on Earth. Neither St. Augustine nor reformist John Calvin in their ideas of the sovereignty and will of God has meant to interpret it in the context of what happens in human lives in this world. The core idea behind the doctrine of predestination is that God decides whether we will be saved or not.
The crimes against the Jews were the doing of Hitler, not Heaven. Korea was colonized to meet the egos and ambitions of the Imperial Japanese, not to manifest God’s great plan. The idea of invading South Korea came from North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, not from Heaven. All the misfortunes in this part of the world cannot be attributed to God. God does not act actively to stop humans from committing evils because humans are not his puppets. But it is in Christian belief that despite all the badness, evils and uncertainties in the world, God is present and has a plan to guide humans toward good. Personally, I assume this is what the prime minister-designate meant when he spoke from his church podium. It might have been less refined in presentation than it could have been, reflecting outspoken habits from his journalist days.
I don’t want to believe that Moon was condoning Japanese colonization and justifying Korea’s bisecting. But the comments take on entirely different meanings out of the church or Christian context. Christian belief cannot entirely be understood and agreed to by non-Christians. Moon’s comments touched the biggest scar left on the Korean race. It is obviously too much to attack Moon as being pro-Japanese, but his coarse generalization does raise questions about his belief in historical affairs. In a university lecture, Moon said Korea had already been compensated for Japan’s aggression through the financial package agreed to when diplomatic ties were normalized and therefore should not claim separate damages for the women who were mobilized to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II. This view is hardly appropriate from a Korean intellectual, not to mention a candidate for prime minister. Fortunately, Moon apologized to Korean comfort women victims and assured them that his view on Japan does not differ from the general view of Korean people.
All religion ultimately teaches the practice of love. Anyone who in the name of religious freedom inflicts pain on others has breached his faith. What comes above the teaching of God’s sovereignty is the practice of neighborly love. Moon has been called to a high new office not by God but by the people of this nation. A public figure must come more humbly before the people and their history and ask the will of the people and God (if he or she has faith) before deciding to accept the new role.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 16, Page 35
*The author is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, PC, and former head of the Seoul Central District Court.
By Lee Woo-keun