The way of blessings 福 (Fu)

福 (Fu)is a Chinese word which means fortune, happiness or luck. It is a favourite and important word in the Chinese culture – to be blessed (幸福).

As such, it is similar to the word ‘blessed’ or blessing in the Bible. While  (blessing) is a noun, 祝福 (to bless) is an active verb. Genesis records God blessed His creatures (animals in 1:22, man in 1:28, Noah in 9:1) in the context of being fruitful and increasing in number. His blessings on man include rule over all creations and provision for food (1:29). To increase in number and be fruitful is one of the fu elements. Traditional Chinese parents and grandparents are proud of their big clans. They take much delight in having many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This of course implies that they live a long life to be able to enjoy the company of many generations.

In Genesis 2, God blessed the seventh day – making it holy and being a day of rest. Rest and peace are also part of enjoying fu. God rested after he created the world. To enjoy rest, peace at the end of one’s labor is a Chinese relish. Many Chinese people are extremely industrious; they work hard to provide for their children. For many traditional Chinese, they have the mentality of wanting to provide for their children and even for their children’s children up to many generations. They hope to attain rest and peace knowing that their children will be well-provided for.

In Genesis 12, God blessed Abram. What blessings were named? Becoming a great nation and having a great name, being a blessing to all people. Chinese people put great importance on their name. The family name brings with it honor, prestige and status. To fail is to bring shame on the family name. We Chinese value our ‘face’. To save face means to avoid embarrassment and ridicule. The ‘face’ cult is a wide and deep Chinese cultural issue all on its own. To be disowned from the family for losing face is to be disinherited from the family blessings and fortunes.

In the patriarch stories, God pronounced blessings on His children – these blessings come in the form of wealth, livestock, good harvest from land, victories over enemies, children, long life, peace and well-being. All these are elements in fu: longevity, wealth, and peace to virtue, and death without illnesses. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses all lived to ripe old age and there was no mention of them dying in sickness.

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)

While the Chinese meanings of fu and biblical blessings have similar elements, their origins and means of achieving fu are radically different. In the NT, the blessings in the beatitudes come to mind in a radically different context. In Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus preaches blessings of a different kind.

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These blessings are counter-cultural and paradoxical. First, blessed are the poor. Being poor in spirit is being dependent and helpless and relying on God’s mercy and grace. Henri Nouwen observed: “The Beatitudes say ‘Blessed are the poor.’ They don’t say ‘Blessed are those who care for the poor.'” “The followers of Jesus participate in God’s reign by humbling themselves before God, giving themselves to God, depending on God’s deliverance and following God in caring for the poor and oppressed. Blessed are the humble before God who cares for the poor and the humble.”[1]

Second, blessed are those who mourn. In our grief, we experience the blessings of unspeakable joy and comfort of God. Blessed are those who mourn (in grief and repentance) what is wrong and unjust and sincerely repent, for God comforts those who suffer and those who truly repent.[2]

Third blessing is for those who are humble. The biblical meaning of being humble is being surrendered to God and God is going to deliver us. This humility is not being mild or unassertive but being oppressed or bent over by the injustice of the ungodly. Clarence Jordan prefers to translate the word as tamed instead of meek. Blessed are those who are surrendered to God, who is the God of peace.[3] Chinese certainly do not associate humility, meekness and lowliness with fu. Neither is fu associated with want, hunger and thirst, grief and reproach or persecution.

In the OT, righteousness is concerned with preserving the peace and wholeness of the community. Therefore the fourth beatitude is for those who hunger and thirst for a justice that delivers and restores to a covenant community, for God is a God who brings such justice.[4]

The fifth blessing has to do with being merciful. The Greek word has to do with being generous in doing deeds of deliverance – deliverance from bondage of guilt, through healing and giving. Blessed are those who like God offer compassion in action, forgiveness, healing, aid and covenant steadfastness to those in need.[5] Revenge and vengeance are favored themes of Chinese martial arts movies. Taking revenge is the anti-thesis of being merciful.

The sixth beatitude is for the pure in heart. This is about a holistic devotion to God – outward action matched with integrity of heart. Blessed are those who give their whole self over to God, who is the one worthy of the heart’s full devotion.[6] There must be no split between God-serving and idol-serving. Idol-serving refers to those actions done to please people or to gain people’s approval for one’s effort.

The seventh blessing is for the peacemakers – those who are willing to make peace with their enemies as God shows love to His enemies.[7] This is similar to being merciful and not taking vengeance.

The eighth and ninth beatitudes are for those who suffer because of their practices of loyalty to Jesus and to justice.[8]

The Beatitudes speak of blessedness that comes from the heart. These blessings are not the temporal external material things of this world. These blessings speak of the eternal, intangible values that God is concerned about. To be blessed is not gaining the favor of the world, being famous or popular.  To be blessed is to be called sons of God. To be blessed is not having wealth and long life. To be blessed is inheriting the kingdom of heaven.

It is paradoxical that blessings are found in hunger and grief because in our hunger for righteousness, God fills us with blessings beyond the worldly context of fu. In fu, man seeks after wealth, health and longevity to achieve happiness. The blessings of God come on His children through the lowly birth of His Son, in His humiliating suffering and death on the cross, the Word Incarnate living among men, in a world of evil and sickness, overcoming sin and rising victorious over death to give us eternal life.

Davies & Allison link the Beatitudes to the messiahship of Jesus: The dependence of Matthew 5:3-12 upon Isaiah 61:1-3… implicitly reveals the identity of the one who proclaims the sermon on the mount…Jesus is the anointed one upon whom the Spirit of God rests. He is the Messiah. Moreover, he and his ministry are the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.[9]

Reflections on blessings as a Chinese Christian:

Fu is fortune and luck in the Chinese context. It implies coincidence. In Filipino, we say ‘suerte’ (luck) or ‘tsamba’ (chance). As a Christian, I believe that being blessed is not coincidental because blessings of God come by His grace, mercy and sovereignty. Nothing is by chance. While old Chinese philosophers believed that good and bad fortune exist in each other or that luck and calamity have no door, God’s children believe that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28). God causes all things (good and bad) to work together for good (even bad can be good but never the other way around) to those who love God, to those called (only those who have a relationship with God – those who actively love God and are actively called by God) according to His purpose. Nothing is by chance or coincidence because God’s purpose exists in all things and His purpose will never be thwarted.

To appropriate blessings, I need to follow Jesus in His humility, being poor in spirit, His whole devotion to God. When I sin, I will find joy in grief and repentance as God gives me comfort in forgiveness. I experience blessings when I am merciful and make peace with my enemies. Blessings come in being filled as I seek His righteousness and justice to reach out to those in need of God’s justice and righteousness. The way of fu is the way of the suffering Christ who remains loyal to God and to His justice.

[1] Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downer’s Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 39.

[2] Ibid., 40.

[3] Ibid., 41.

[4] Ibid., 43.

[5] Ibid., 44.

[6] Ibid., 45.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 46.

[9] Ibid., 47.

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