In the Old Testament, sacred objects, sacred people, and sacred places would aid and mediate on behalf of the people to enter the Holy of Holies. By entering the Holy of Holies, they would receive a special blessing and purification for their sins.
READ HEBREWS 9-10 – pay attention to the different sacred objects, sacred place, and sacred people.
The author encourages the readers of Hebrews with a message that says, “you are closer than you think.” A message that says, “the former sacred objects, places, and people were only a shadow of things to come. Now, you can draw close to God.”
Throughout Southeast Asia, we can discover many people with a similar mindset and worldview.
For example, I once visited a small island to visit the several thousand Teochew Chinese. While on the island, we met several families and began talking with them about various things. During the course of the conversations, I asked about whom they worshipped. I asked, “Do you worship Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy?” (Guan Yin is seen to the right) They said, “No.” I asked, “Do you worship Guan Gong, the god of war?” They said, “No.” Then I asked, “Do you worship Ma Zhu, the god of the sea and protector of fisherman?”
One man said, “Our family does have Ma Zhu on our family altar.” He then continued to tell me how he acquired the sacred object known as Ma Zhu. He said, “One day, when I was fishing, I saw a sunken boat. Being curious what was on the boat, I decided to swim down to the boat. Looking inside the boat, I saw the idol of Ma Zhu and grabbed it. Upon returning to my home, I decided to place the sacred object known as Ma Zhu on my family altar.”
In the course of the conversation, I soon discovered that the man did not know the story or legend of Ma Zhu. Neither did he know what particular “blessing” he would receive from worshipping the Ma Zhu. He only knew that others saw Ma Zhu as sacred and that others revered Ma Zhu expecting Ma Zhu to give them some special “blessing.”
Many Chinese people have a worldview and mindset that there exists a secular realm and a sacred realm. They believe that the sacred realm is the place that offers good favor, merit, and that contains special “blessings.” Moreover, they believe that sacred objects, such as the idol of Ma Zhu, aid them in entering the sacred realm and receiving a special “blessing.” (The man to the left is in a Chinese Temple entreating a god for a blessing.)
Sometimes the special “blessing” means having a healthy baby. So women go the temple and show respect to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy. Sometimes the special “blessing” means having a better and a wealthier life. So Hokkien Chinese businessmen will show respect to Guan Gong, the god of war. No matter what special blessing they desire, the sacred realm is viewed as offering a better life.
They recognize that without the aid of sacred objects they are inadequate and incapable of entering the sacred realm and receiving a special blessing. In addition, they recognize that without the aid of sacred places or sacred people they are unable to enter the sacred realm and receive a blessing. In other words, they recognize that there is a dividing gulf between the secular and sacred realms. Christians would call this dividing gulf sin or the awareness of missing the mark or an awareness of falling short of the glory of God.
On the other hand, sacred objects, along with sacred people and sacred places, mediate on their behalf to enter the sacred realm in order to receive a special blessing. For instance, when Chinese go to a temple, which is a sacred place in their eyes, they will stop at the threshold or doorway and worship (bai bai) (a lady seen to the left at the threshold of entering the temple) facing both toward the inward part of the temple and facing toward the outside of the temple. In the temple, they will use many different sacred objects to help them enter further into the sacred realm. One such object looks like two small kidneys. They will take the small like kidney objects and throw them on the ground expecting to receive a special answer and blessing from the sacred realm. Oftentimes, they will look to certain people to aid them in entering deeper into the sacred realm and receiving a special blessing. Sometimes that person will be a monk and on other occasions a mediator.
Throughout Southeast Asia, we can discover many people with a similar mindset and worldview. But, Southeast Asia is not the only place that we find such a mindset and worldview. The people of the Old Testament had a similar worldview and mindset. They believed that sacred objects, sacred people, and sacred places would aid them and mediate on their behalf to enter the Holy of Holies. By entering the Holy of Holies or sacred realm, they could receive a special blessing and purification for their sins.
The missionary challenge of Hebrews says, “you are closer than you think.” A challenge that says, “the former sacred objects, places, and people are only a shadow of things to come. Now, you can draw close to God.”