Loving and Disliking God: Why Korean American Spirituality Needs an Overhaul
“It would be hell.” That’s what this young Korean American man said at a retreat when we were talking about how heaven would be a place where we will be with God 24/7. Oh, and I also said imagine God as your father, that heaven would be like spending 24/7 with your father in the same room forever. My point was that whether we are aware of it or not, we often think of God as someone like our earthly father. While we might “love” our father, this love means something vastly different that the kind of love that God is asking of us. I have talked to so many Korean Americans who “love” their fathers but do not “like” them, nor associate them with joy and pleasure. Their filial “love” was more about honoring, respecting, being dutiful. With this kind of “love” we can do a lot, i.e. re committed, be obedient, and even be sacrificial. However, that would fall short of the kind of covenantal relationship God is seeking.
Is our gospel good news or exhausting rules? Are our churches life-giving or life-draining? Do freedom, joy, and shalom (peace and wholeness) characterize our spiritual life? In light of these questions, Korean American spirituality needs an overhaul, a re-envisioning. Even though this might sound radical I do not believe this statement is surprising to many Korean American Christians. There are different ways of articulating our problems: Superficiality, dysfunctions, and abuses in general, or more specifically, moralism, externalism, authoritarianism, and pseudo-community.
While not invalidating God’s work among us, we can’t deny our problems. And the solution is not simple. We need to plant more churches, yet we have seen enough idealistic Second Gen pastors repackaging these problems in hipper garbs, while reacting against the First Gen. Attending a multiethnic or predominately white church could be good, as long as we are not escaping and burying our problems. Wherever we go we still have to work through these problems because we carry them with us. In fact, we are a part of who we are.
So what is the way forward? The first step is to any sort of help is to own and to identify the problem. Like Jesus we need to name the demon so we can cast it out. Calls for revivals per se will not help us, because it’s not just our commitment and faithfulness that’s the problem, but how and why we are trying to be committed and faithful that we need to rethink. Early morning prayer or sacrificial discipleship won’t help us if we have a skewed view of what God is like, what God wants from us, and why he wants it. How do we know God who is utterly holy, someone so much better than all authority figures that we have known in our lives? Addressing this crucial question will require a radical overhaul of our spirituality.
Daniel D. Lee, PhD. is the Director at the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary