Yesterday my language teacher, W., and I got to talking about superstitions and luck. She told me that the government today works hard to make sure the Chinese people don’t live by the superstitions that haunted their ancestors. I pulled out the “hey-America’s-messed-up-too” card (if you want to be a missionary, you might want to learn to play that one) and told her that there’s a lot of people in the States that think 13 is an unlucky number, buildings sometimes built without a 13th floor, etc.
W. said that in China, 18 sometimes occupies that place in their culture. No 18th floor, etc. But, strangely enough, everyone seems to want the number 8 and 18. Paradoxical. But I’ve noticed it. Every business seems to cram as many eights into their phone number as possible. Best I can understand, 8 means “money,” and 18 means “wanting to get money/get rich.” So phone numbers, addresses, ID numbers are filled with 18’s and 8’s. But it’s a bad number? Hmmm.
So W. explained – there’s an ancient Buddhist/Taoist belief about Hell that lists the “18th floor” of Hell as the worst level of suffering, reserved for the worst of sinners. If a person goes there, there’s no hope of ever getting out, i.e. being reborn. I asked W. if greedy people find their way to the 18th floor (explaining the number’s association with money) and she said that’s the idea (assuming she understood my meaning). W. told me, “We believe that when a person dies, if they were a good person, they go to Heaven. But if they were bad people, they go to Hell. And if they were REALLY bad, they go to the 18th floor.”
I said, “Actually, you’re an atheist who’s never been to church. So you couldn’t possibly believe in God, Heaven, or Hell.” No, I didn’t really say that. But I was sure thinking it! My wife’s teacher, who is a professing Christian, told me once (they know I’m a Bible teacher), “Teacher W. doesn’t believe in God; you need to make her believe in God.” In front of teacher W., who was most relieved to hear me say that every person has to make their own decision about having a relationship with God. Living in Communist China has removed any doubts I’ve had that the Holy Spirit REALLY testifies to people’s consciences.
So, after telling me what the Chinese believe about Hell, she asked, “Does the Bible say basically the same thing?”
“No a lot of people think that’s what the Bible teaches. But the Bible makes it clear that there are no good people. That no one deserves to go to Heaven. I’m certainly not a good person, and I sure don’t deserve Heaven.”
“So everyone goes to Hell?”
“The Bible says that though there’s no perfect people, there are some ‘forgiven’ people. They are the ones that are able to enter Heaven into the presence of God.” It almost puts me in tears to think about how many times I’ve heard that little speech I gave her. How many times I’ve given it. But to see that truth hit someone’s ears for the first time is absolutely overwhelming. A lifetime of guilt, wondering, worrying, and conviction all brought into perspective. How many thousands will die today having never heard that truth one time in their entire life?