Deeper thoughts on Qing Ming & The Resurrection of Christ : Where would humans be after death?
Posted on 31 Mar 2021 by Wei Jie Ang
Qing Ming and The Destination of Death
I often thought about where people would go after death.
These thoughts were on my mind even before I became a Christian. Growing up in a Chinese family, as is typical of our traditional practice, our family members were obligated to visit our ancestors’ tomb and perform a rite known as 扫墓(“Sao Mu”, which literally means “sweep tomb”) during the Cheng Beng Festival (also known as “Qing Ming”). Most commonly, we will see people burning paper-made luxurious items and “hell” money as “offerings” to our ancestors every year. A few years back, before I came to Christ, my siblings and I were showing off to each other about burning the latest IPhone for Ah Gong (grandpa) and Ah Ma (grandma). Proud, funny, and silly.
I remember a year when I was sitting beside my uncle looking at the “offerings” being burnt. Perhaps even catching himself off-ground, my 50+ years old uncle asked “Where do people go after death? Are these offerings really going to them?” My answer to that was, “I think they are not receiving it, but indeed we are adding burden to the environment and the earth.” (A small digression – burning joss paper yearly does indeed cause the pollution, and affects the quality of air, according to studies.)
Due to the pandemic, we won’t be sweeping tombs for 2 Cheng Bengs. If the traditional Chinese understanding about death is true, then about 18% of world population have not been burning and providing income sources to their ancestors, and that will definitely cause an economic crisis in hell. But think about it carefully again – “are our dead ancestors really receiving those “money”/ paper goods that we burn? Why are they not complaining to you in your dreams if they have not been receiving their assets for 2 years? Perhaps some will say, “Ah Gong and Ah Ma very understanding one, they know we are restricted from crossing states for Cheng Beng because of the Movement Control Order!!” or “maybe Ah Gong and Ah Ma have more than 2 years’ reservoir of savings leh?”
The typical understanding of Cheng Beng tells us about what the Chinese typically think about the afterlife – that our ancestors are happily enjoying their luxurious life and spending their unlimited money there. But what if hell is not as we thought, and much more terrifying than what we imagined? In the book of Matthew, it is described as “the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing teeth” (Matthew 13:42). If that is the reality of hell, why wouldn’t we pay more attention and serious thought to it?
Cultural Consensus vs Imperishable Truth
Our minds and views are always shaped by cultural and educational consensus. We were taught and raised with humanistic philosophies and cultural definitions such as “men become ghosts after death”, “good men end up in heaven and bad men in hell”, “men will be reborn into different life cycles”, “If you eat animals, you will become an animal in your next life”, etc. If we cling too tightly to them, these cultural, humanistic consensuses can restrict us from thinking deeply, thoroughly, and deliberately about what the truth of life and death really is.
If there is an imperishable truth and a system of death and life in this universe, how should the rule of death be known and defined? Who is the one we should seek the answer from? How can we know whether the things we know are true?
If this world is being ruled and controlled by a certain person or party – in other words, a God – how should we understand God and the purpose of men being created and given life?
When men were created, we were created in God’s image. Men were given a certain authority to rule over the creatures on the earth and manage it under the rulership of God. We were instructed to take dominion over the other creatures and to reflect God’s glory in operating this world. In Genesis, God’s reason for creating the world, and the purpose and role of men are well-described.
Origin of Death and the Outcome of Sins
How did death come into the picture? It was through the sin of mankind. In Gen 2:15-17, after God had created men, He gave instructions to men and told men not to break the one rule that He commanded – to not eat a certain fruit. Men’s breaking of God’s command was not merely about eating a fruit they shouldn’t have, but their disobedience towards the Words of the sovereign Creator of the universe.
Gen 2:15-17 15The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
If men and the world are perfectly designed and created for a purpose, there must and should be a system and structure given by God. We can see evidence of that from looking at the nature around us – the world is just so well-designed and orderly structured : the atmosphere is perfectly built to protect the lives on earth, one kind of species cannot reproduce with different type of species, and we don’t see some chaotic science like water reacting with sand and becoming explosive, killing lives at the beach. The world is made through a intelligent design and formula through God’s hands. But when men chose to overturn the system that is structured by God, death came into the world as God executed His justice and righteousness.
When Adam and Eve chose to listen to the serpent instead of God, humankind in effect chose to live and rule according to their own desires and wills. Eve decided to listen to a beast (serpent) in order fulfil what she thought was good for her. She wanted to live freely away from God’s rules and control. She rejected God as God, and wanted to be her own god in her own life. Same for Adam.
We might not be able to imagine the story of Adam and Eve, some of us may even think that it is a mere myth. But just consider how much of it is aligned with what we see in the current world : “human want to be their own kings in life”, “human want to live freely and according their own ways”, “humans worship idols and materials”, “humans boast about themselves and hurt others”, “humans ignore God”, etc. Temptation of evil is not the root of sins; human desires and disobedience towards God are the root of sins. When men deny nature’s design, the systems instituted by the Almighty, and the righteous God, judgement and death await.
Gen 3:16-17 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
In Gen 3, Adam and Eve’s sins were punished by God’s curses, through which death ever since occurs. This is the world we are living in – a cursed land where we are no longer able to enjoy the privileges living in God’s garden, where the perfection and beauty of creation are no longer reflected in the realities of our world.
The Need of a Judgement, Atonement & Sacrifice
Now, who and what shall we look upon to solve the issue of death and sins? Appropriately, Good Friday and Easter are just around the corner; perhaps we should look into why Christians are celebrating.
Rom 6:23 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord
In the book of Romans, apostle Paul emphasized and reminded us again that the coming of Christ is the ultimate solution for the human’s problem of sin and death. Jesus is the saviour and Messiah who can bring men back to life through a penal substitutional atonement. He died and was crucified on to the cross for our sins. God’s righteous anger needed to be appeased before sin could be forgiven, and God in His love sent His Son who himself is God and offered himself willingly to satisfy God’s holy anger against sin. Jesus’s death and blood are needed as a propitiation for our sins, this is to show God’s righteousness and justice, as written in Rom 3:23-26. It is only the blood of Christ who is perfectly righteous and obedient to God that can completely satisfy the wrath of God.
Rom 3:23-26 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus
Throughout the history of Israel, God had consistently foreshadowed the coming of His Son to fulfil mankind’s need for salvation from the curses of death. The Bible has consistently recorded and prophesied about Jesus, who was to come, suffer and die on the cross as an atonement for humankind’s sins. God had been using the Israel’s history to teach them about who He is and reveal His plan to deliver His son to cross as a redemption. And now God uses Israel’s history to teach and reveal the same to the entire world.
We are redeemed by His blood that satisfied the righteous wrath of God. This is indeed good news to humankind, as we have been suffering under the reign of sin, unable to run away from judgement and the realities of death. This is the reason we call it “Good Friday” – it is a remembrance of Christ who fulfilled the standard of righteousness. By grace through our faith in Christ, we are no longer being slaves of death and sin, but the children of God (who created us) who are finally able to live reconciled with the righteousness and holiness of God. We are already saved by Christ, in Christ, into the eternal life of the Kingdom of God. That’s why it is Good.
Rom 5:12-16 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
Throughout history, has there been anyone who could conquer death and bring life back from death? It is only Christ. It is important to think deeply about the resurrection of Christ upon understanding death and its cause. Jesus has come. We should all be alert about what this means. We should pay closer attention to our existential truth, the facts of creations, and the need for salvation by a Messianic King – Jesus Christ.
Why do men easily believe ghosts and evil spirits, but find it difficult to believe that there is a God who embodies justice, righteousness, and is in control of everything in this universe? If heaven and hell do exist and are defined by God, should we not fear this God who taught us about His definition of life and death through progressive revelation, through history, and ultimately through Jesus who came to us, overcame death, and resurrected to life?
The purpose of Cheng Beng is to remember and show respects to the ancestors. Why not learn about historical truth from our ancestors in a biblical theological sense to understand the world with a broader perspective and deeper thoughts? Our God began revealing Himself from the first day of men, and Jesus’ death and resurrection to redeem men to God completes that revelation.
If you are a new Christian, or a non-believer who wishes to learn and think more about life and death, come check out our ongoing Geddit events! You could also contact the brothers and sisters in our church, who will be happy to speak to you. Let’s us all embrace the saviour King and the ontological truth of us being the creation of God.
Happy Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday!