By Ron Kempen, Gospel Light Ministries
Confucianism is the topic of this month’s article as we examine this belief system to see how it compares to the Bible. Granted, the Bible as we know it today wasn’t around back when Confucius lived, but the truth was still around. The Bereans had no problem checking what was told to them by Paul before the Scriptures were printed (Acts 17:11). Romans 1 tells us that even those without Scripture have no excuse because: (1) people can witness the awesomeness of creation and get a sense that it was designed and didn’t just happen by chance; and (2) everyone has a conscience that speaks to them of right and wrong. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I’ll give you some information from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/Library/Confucianism/Origins.html.
Confucius, whose Chinese name was Kong Qiu (K’ung Ch’iu), was born around 552 B.C. and died in 479 B.C. He traveled from state to state teaching the sons of the nobility, even though he was not famous during his lifetime. His ideas became well known only after his death. Confucius attributed his teachings to the Duke of Zhou, a heroic figure from his home state of Lu who was regarded as the founder of that state. He was also inspired by the rituals and institutions of the Zhou dynasty (founded several hundred years before his birth), by the classic literature of his time, and by legends of the early sage kings.
Confucianism: Sacred Narratives,Ultimate Reality, and Divine Beings
The idea of learning from the past is fundamental to Confucian thinking, and the early histories and biographies are the closest thing to sacred narratives in Confucianism. Among the “classics” are many stories that contain a moral component or exemplify an effort to understand why things happened as they did. Confucius did not deny the existence of a reality beyond the human world, but he said that the nature of ultimate reality and the intentions and expectations of divinities are beyond human capacity to know or understand. Human morals should therefore be based on human relationships, without reference to any higher order.
Confucianism: Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence
Confucian scholars have long debated what essential human nature is, without agreeing on its fundamental characteristics. Most agree, however, that the purpose of one’s existence is to reach the highest potential as a human being. Through a rigorous process of self-cultivation that lasts a lifetime, one may eventually become a “perfected person.”
Confucianism: Suffering and the Problem of Evil, Afterlife, and Salvation
According to some interpretations of Confucianism, suffering and evil are inevitable in human life, but can promote learning and growth. A mistake is not a “sin,” but an opportunity to learn and do better next time. Empathy for the suffering of others also provides motivation to grow morally, but not all humans are capable of empathy. Confucius stated that the afterlife was beyond human comprehension. Humans should live and behave in such a way as to promote ideal social relations, rather than to act based on the expectations of rewards or punishments after death.
Confucianism sounds like a very peaceful way of life; however, life’s problems remain and always will when someone lives life without Christ. Confucius’s type of religion sounds good enough. It came from the teachings of a “heroic figure” and was inspired by the rituals and institutions of an old dynasty, classic literature, and legends of kings. While it might be good to learn these things, they fail to address man’s biggest need -- a solution to a sinful heart that doesn’t have the means of attaining desired perfection. Confucian-type thinking is nothing more than one man’s opinion, with no consideration of what the Bible has to show us as absolute truth, Confucius didn’t consider any “higher power” when he was thinking about morals. But his inspiration should have come from the Bible instead of from dead men and legends. The Bible tells us ”All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Scripture, written by a living God, is certainly far more reliable then what he was trusting in.
But trusting in human relationships to find morality is self-centered, because each person is focused on what he or she believes is right, and that, by human nature, is always changing, so there’s no absolute right and wrong. Man has this common fault, as Jeremiah tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Human nature is described well in Romans 3:10 beginning with: “There is none righteous, no, not one” and ending in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What Confucius’s real world has ignored is that there is a God whom we are accountable to, who is our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is suffering and evil in this life because we sin against the one holy God. It’s not just that suffering and evil are inevitable, but they are so because of man’s sin.
Sins are more than just mistakes, and the only perfection we will attain is when we have accepted a new way of living in Christ and God sees us as perfect in Christ because He took away our sins on the cross. In Colossians it says to “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Confucianism says the “purpose of existence is to reach one's highest potential as a human being.” The Bible tells us, on the other hand, of a different supreme purpose for man in Ecclesiastes 12:13 where it says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” The Bible also tells us that we die once and then comes judgment. No second chances. Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6) and in Luke 9:23 He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Confucianism might make people think they’ve found peace and a life with good morals. The Bible tells us that there is only one way to happiness. It gives us the clear message of Jesus Christ providing the road to eternal happiness by His death on the cross, attaining a place in heaven through His shed blood for all who trust in Him. If you know those who follow Confucianism, remember that Jesus died for them also, and share this message with them. Don’t think they are as happy as they appear to be. Scripture tells us, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Tell them the message of Jesus message today.