Friday, July 24, 2009

outsourcing guilt

Yesterday I stopped at the SLU Library on my way home and picked up a couple of new books from the "browsing section." I've already finished off one, Jan Wong's A Comrade Lost and Found. It is an autobiographical tale of her search a couple of years ago for a long-lost acquaintance from university days. Days in the early 70's when Canadian Wong was one of the first foreign students at Beijing University. Days in the middle of the ten-year reign of terror known as the Cultural Revolution.

Now a journalist, Wong was then a young "Maoist wannabe" and Marxist True Believer who voluntarily ratted on a bright young Chinese student for expressing a desire to go to America. This women disappeared soon after. Under a burden of guilt, the fifty-ish Wong returns to Beijing for a month-long, quixotic quest to discover what happened to one of the Cultural Revolution's millions of victims, in a country with a collective amnesia of, and missing records from, that decade.

I recommend the book, an entertainingly fast read, a combination guide to present-day Beijing and a detective story of tracking down a long-lost woman thirty years after the fact in a country of over a billion people.

Against all odds, Ms. Wong finds the woman, hears her story of suffering internal exile and punishment as well as of her story of eventual financial and social success in modern China.

Wong of course apologized for ratting her out. It eased her guilt a bit to be forgiven by the victim as well as to learn her part in the downfall was actually relatively minor.

The book ends with a sense of closure, even on a note of redemption. However, there is also a sense of incompleteness. Ms. Wong knows that all she did, and all she received in terms of forgiveness, was not enough. She and everyone did all they could, but it was not enough to undo all the wrong she committed as a young woman.

The book ends with its own sort of collective amnesia. Like the Chinese who try to forget, ignore, and be silent about Cultural Revolution because it was so terrible and because so many victims also victimized others that there is nothing that can be done now, Wong wants to think that since there is nothing more that can be done about what she did, things must be passingly okay.

I don't think she really believes it though.

She is right. It is not good enough. There is nothing she herself can do to make it good enough. No one can doubt her sincere desire to make things right. No amount of human effort can make things right.

There is only one source of complete redemption, only one source of complete and total forgiveness for what she did. Ms. Wong, as do the rest of us, needs to outsource her redemption. We all need to accept what Jesus Christ did on the cross: His payment, His redemption, His forgiveness.

Anything else is ultimately phony. Deep down inside, we all know but try to forget that our best is just not good enough. We tend not to recognize the truth of the situation because we can't handle the truth. Any other way that tries to bypass the truth of Jesus is incomplete, unsatisfying, and ultimately dishonest.

We have a great God who is not only able to redeem the guilty, but is desirous to redeem the guilty who are completely undeserving of redemption.

That my friend is grace. That my friend is the love that surpasses all understanding.

Be blessed.

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