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Understanding of Sin and Han for Doing Ministry in Multicultural Context
Prepared by John Lee, April 22, 1995
Ministry means serving the people of God, with the fellowship of Christ, journey together towards the wholeness of creation. The essential element of doing ministry is healing the pain and sufferings of people. Therefore it is necessary, first of all, to find the source of pain, then apply it to our ministry of justice, healing and reconciliation.
In our contemporary global village, by the development of mass media and transportation, there is a more frequent impact of different cultures and religions than at any other time in human history. This new tendency causes an influx of individualism and relativism, hence without valuing each individual's culture, tradition and religion, we cannot have a communal life. In this perplexed social context, the traditional Christian theology lacks a relevance to the world and becomes alienated from reality. New theological developments in two thirds world and the feminist and black theology movement, by starting from our context, made the church’s proclamation relevant to the world. However these contextual theologies, which stay within the paradigm of sin and salvation, can not answer exhaustibly the problems of the world.
For the solution of complex problems in our culturally diverse context, a paradigm shift is essential from "sin and salvation" to "han and its resolution." To develop the paradigm of han and resolution, it is necessary to examine the traditional doctrine of sin and salvation, and explore the cause of humanity’s pain and suffering in our context.
2. UNDERSTANDING OF SIN AND HAN
A) The Problem of Christian Doctrine of Sin
The traditional theology speaks of sin, only from the perspective of sinners, as humanity’s separation from God by personal introjection to self: pride, sensuality, self-love self-centredness, ingratitude, unbelief, moral imperfection, rebellion, pride, estrangement, slavery, surrender to the world, and the like. There are two problems with this classical doctrine of sin and salvation resulted from viewing this at the personal dimension. Firstly, the traditional theology misinterpreted the meaning of sinners; “sinners” in the Synoptic Gospels is the language of the ruling class, and they are the powerless people for whom Jesus ministered. Secondly, by referring the concept of sin to the fallenness, the traditional theolgy supported the ruling class for their misusing the concept of sin, thus oppressed the innocent powerless people. The doctrines of sin and salvation therefore has been used as an ideology by the dominating power group only for their benefits. The sinner/oppressor centred doctrine of sin leads the Christian mission to conquering the power of sin, hence it pays little attention to their victims. As a result, the church has been seeking the way for redeeming the sinners who are victimized, and teaches them for penitence and repentance of sin. In this context, salvation comes by God’s grace only for reconciliation by paying back the human sinfulness through Christ’s crucifixion. Through this way, the church has neglected the victims of the oppressors; and the victims have been regarded simply as recipients of pity, compassion, and mercy.
The contemporary political theologians and the two thirds world theologians recognize the problems of the world caused by the traditional doctrine of sin, and suggest that we must start from the context of human suffering in the terms of the oppressor and the oppressed.  They emphasize the social dimension of sin and understand it as an econo-socio-political concept. Through this new approach, they discovered that the term “sinners” in the Synoptic Gospels has a sociological essence that denotes those who are oppressed.
In our multicultural society, when we stay within the paridigm of sin and salvation, in spite of these contemporary theologians’ efforts to solve the problems of the world, there exists untouched problems and these still remain unsolved, since sin and evil are unique Christian concepts which have become a major part of understanding the troubles of the world. Moltmann finds the answer to the theodicy question in human suffering as "God suffers the sufferings of the people." However, when we stay within the boundaries of sin and salvation, Moltmann’s Crucified God does not answer all the different problems of today’s culturally diverse world. Latin American liberation theologians suggest a base community, but it has difficulty applying it to our Canadian multicultural context. It is evident that the traditional and contemporary paradigm of sin and salvation simply does not work in our culturally diverse context.
B) A New Approach from the perspective of Han.
Before I discuss the nature of han, I would like to find a reference from the Bible why we need to develop a theology of han. From the scriptural witness to God’s liberation of the people, we learn that the content of liberation is the resolution of han rather than salvation from sin. The Exodus event of the Israelites and the cross event of Jesus Christ teaches us that God is with suffering people, minjung. From the Exodus event, we learn God’s preferential option for the minjung. In the cross event, Jesus represents the fate of the minjung, and Jesus identifies himself with the suffering people, minjung. It is not an event of after “sinned” but an event right at the locus of han. It is clear that, in answering the world’s problem, the church must pay her attention to the victims of the oppressors through re-interpretation of sin and salvation in light of the concept of han. Through this way, we can find the complete basis upon which to understand and respond to the problems of evil and suffering. This is why we need to develop a theology of han for doing ministry in the culturally diverse context by counting han of victims as a vital element in resolving the world’s diverse problems for the salvation of the world.
a) Han in a Political Dimension
Sin is the language of the oppressor and han is that of the oppressed. Korean minjung poet, Chi Ha Kim, defines han as “minjung’s accumulated feeling” of angry and sad sentiment from oppression, which turned inward, hardened and stuck to their hearts. The founder of the minjung theology, Suh NamDong, defines han as resentment and bitterness; a deep accumulated feeling that rises out of the unjust experience of the powerless minjung or a just indignation. Han can be further defined as the collapsed pain of the heart due to psychosomatic, interpersonal, social, political, economic, and cultural oppression and repression. In summary, han is the condensed feeling of pain of the oppressed, and the cause of han is from either social structural or individual oppression which points to “sin” as human fallenness.
b) Han in a Cultural Dimension.
It is easy to understand the meaning of han as a language of victims. However, han as merely the opposite word of sin narrows down the full meaning of it. The cause of han is not solely from the sin of oppressors. Especially in the culturally diverse society, insisting on one's own difference without opening to others, creates han to the powerless. In this sense, han is a culturally directed term. One of the most significant causes of han in our modern complex world is introjection of oneself into one’s own value system which is formed by her/his own cultural and religious experience. This closedness into oneself causes prejudice and develops into discrimination, thus one perceives her/himself as superior to other cultures or religions. Therefore racism, which comes from one’s perception of superiority, denies the order of creation which God installed, and creates han.
c) Han in a Personal Dimension
There are also other personal aspects of han. Han comes from one’s own inability, own personality, and natural forces such as illness, accidents and disasters, or something that block one’s will to fulfil her/his goals. In the story of the blind from birth (Jn 9:1-5), we are able to notice han of the blind man. To the disciple’s question, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus answers that "Neither this man nor his parents.” This clearly reveals han which comes neither from any political oppression nor cultural discrimination.
d) The Structure of Han
Han produces pain, sadness, resentment, aggression, hopelessness, shame, guilt and self hatredness. Continuous and prolonged shame, guilt and self-hate lead the han-ridden victim to the pseudo-safty of non-feeling or numbing state. Han exists both in individuals and groups. Han can be distinguished as concious and unconcious, and active and passive in its expression.
Han is frozen energy that can be unraveled either negatively or positively Han of the oppressed in its active mode, in a negative way, can seek retaliation against the oppressor in a form which is often itself unjust. Han sometimes causes individuals and communities to sin against the enemy. Therefore the han-ridden victim is not excluded from sin. When han explodes in a negative way, the oppressor will in turn react in a way that is yet more harsh and unjust. As a consequence, the vicious cycle of violence continues.
Han develops frustration, and sometimes, hostility. However, people’s hostility, in many cases, cannot be steered directly to the source of frustration because the culprit is unknown or too powerful to strike back against. Sometimes they lose their control and “letting go” happens. This is realized by resignation, self-renunciation, and self-abnegation which also can be termed as han. In Asian culture, where dominance-subordination has persisted for centuries, such an experience of han is evident. It appears in folk tales, folk songs, folk music and folk plays, releasing people’s sorrow, frustration, and anger.
The source of han varies: oppression in a political dimension; discrimination in a cultural dimension; and inability in a personal dimension. However the common denominator of han is the pain and sufferings of the powerless. We also experience the complex entanglements of both sin and han in our complex reality, i.e., we are the oppressed and at the same time the oppressor; we are han-ridden at the same time han-giving. In our practical life, we realize only one side of han in ourselves. However the fact that we are in both categories at the same time is the most important aspect of han that we must pay attention to in doing ministry.
God is with han-ridden people regardless of whether they are sinful or faithful. It is clear when we compare the grace of God which is revealed in the stories of “the Prodigal Son” and “Abraham’s offering Isaac.” From the perspective of han, we realize that God is revealed in the han of the suffering people. As in the Exodus event and Jesus' ministry with the marginalized people, God accepts us “as we are.” God's being with us by accepting us “as we are” does not mean a simple guarantee of comfort or preservation of the status quo, but means that God is with us as the han-ridden Spirit, and suffers all through the resolution of han for the wholeness of creation.
3. RESOLUTION OF HAN FOR MINISTRY IN CULTURALLY DIVERSE CONTEXT
Why do we have to focus on han instead of sin in doing ministry? The answer is fairly clear from the examination of sin and han. From the examination of han, we recognize that there are varieties of causes of han which comes from many things other than sin. We recognize "who I am" within the culturally diverse context.as han-ridden and at the same time a han-giver by being both the oppressed and the oppressor; and this han comes from the varieties of sources such as from oppression, discrimination and personal inability. In this complicated situation, resolution of han for us is not an easy task. How do we resolve han in these situatinons? With the traditional paradigm of sin and salvation, is it possible to gain a resolution of han?
I am going to find the reference for the resolution of han in the ministry from the Bible since, to me, Jesus is the role model for the resolution of han in our ministry. As I mentioned above in the story of the blind from birth (Jn 9:1-5), Jesus’ ministry clearly shows that Jesus comes to the han-ridden blind from his birth and ministers for the resolution of han by naming it as God's mission and proclaims that ‘born as blind’ is for “God’s work might revealed in him.” Jesus teaches that the blind man has nothing to do with sin and heals the blind man. Jesus' healing is not to demonstrate the supernatural power, but rather to move the han-ridden people towards the messianic koinonia. It is certain that Jesus did not point healing towards a miracle or forgiveness of sin but rather to the resolution of han. This is the process of resolution of han in which we find justice, healing and reconciliation.
In the sermon on the mount (Mt 5:1-3), Jesus also shows us the resolution of han. In this context, han-ridden minjung is the subject of the kingdom of heaven: Jesus proclaims that they are already in the kingdom of heaven. On what basis does Jesus proclaim this good news? Jesus does not romanticize the poor. The proper understanding of this text is not by the words themselves, but by recognizing the "event” as Jesus’ coming to the han-ridden minjung. By Jesus’ coming to and being with the minjung, they are happy and the kingdom has already been realized. This text teaches us the context of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ ministry is the work of the resolution of han for the people being oppressed by politico-socio-economical structural power and cultural discrimination.
In the Bible, there are numerous examples of the resolution of han; they are the works of God and Jesus’ ministry that create new life for the han-ridden victims. In our shared life experiences, we find that the Bible opens up the possibility of new life through the stories of God's partnership at work. However, in our contemporary world of modern civilization, and cultural and religious diversity, the Bible does not provide all the answers. As Letty Russell claims, the stories in the Bible are open-ended, therefore, there is "more to come": an invitation to the stories that provokes hermeneutical suspicion as well as a witness to God's grace in our own life of hanful situation. God wants to hear the story of han-ridden people: Where is Abel your brother?; What have you done?; The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground (Gen. 4:9-10). This is why we have to make the story of han our frame of reference for doing ministry in a multicultural context. The story of han is the story of the powerless in their own social experience and in their own language; and it is the most biblical story that witnesses to Jesus' life and mission. The story of han provides the most comprehensive historical context for the Christian mission and the most inclusive message to be proclaimed through the church. This is why we have to share the cries of the han-ridden Spirit that comes through our neighbour's pain.
Sharing the story of han itself is the process of the resolution of han, a process of new creation. It is not merely giving an information through stories, but rather valuing each other and accept as they are. There is mutual respect and an intersubjective relationship in the process of sharing the han-ridden story. It is the very foundation of justice that leads us to the koinonia. Only through this process of the resolution of han, are we able to celebrate differences. Therefore sharing the story is our faith commitment in “God's being with the creation."; it is not an option for Christians, but an order to the disciples of Christ.
In our multicultural society, it is evident that the traditional and contemporary paradigm of sin and salvation simply does not work. Valuing others means to recognize the varieties of sources of han from oppression in a political dimension; discrimination in a cultural dimension; and inability in a personal dimension; as well as the unique gifts in each individual and groups. We experience the complex entanglement of both sin and han in our complex reality. The common denominator of han is the pain and suffering of the powerless, and thus the resolution of han is the very fundamental element of doing ministry: confessing our faith in God's creation of all things good; and our commitment to God’s preferential option for the victims. Therefore our openness to others with intersubjective mutual respect gives us a solution and it is God-given justice.
The church of Christ as the church under the cross in a multicultural context means that we value each other. Valuing others is an invitation of Christ for the koinonia in the coming kingdom of God through solidarity with the minjung by sharing stories and life of han-ridden people. To be the church that proclaims the gospel and witnesses to it for all classes, age groups and cultural differences, the church must be the place where han is resolved. To be the church that lives by the Spirit of Christ, it must be with the minjung and speak out their han-ridden story for the resolution of han. These are what the Scripture witnesses to God’s being with the minjung of Israel, and Jesus’ identification with the minjung through the passion and the cross event. This is the reason why we need to develop the theology of han and recognize that the resolution of han is the locus of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
The church becomes the true ministry of Christ when the story of han is shared and, through this sharing, moves towards the hope of the resolution of han. The transformation, not transposition of power occurs in this process and we experience the power of the life-giving Spirit. The resolution of han sets up the church's mission and carries it out among the people, enabling them to become inter-dependant subjects in the messianic kingdom. This is how the church takes part in Christ’s mission and exists and lives among the people and for the people. In this process, the subjectivity of minjung is restored, hence the church becomes the community that witnesses the cross and the resurrection of Christ; and we as the body of Christ become the partners of God’s new creation.
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