Address given to the first graduating class of Chung Chi College, June 23rd. 1955, by R. O. Hall, the Bishop of Hong Kong
Compiled by Michael Poon
Sheng Kung Hui Documents
Ch'ung Chi College is part of something much bigger than itself. It is part of the whole story of God's dealing with His Chinese people, a tiny part of the whole story of God and China. But if tiny things did not matter to the infinite mind of God He would not have made this earth of ours such a tiny fraction of the immensity of creation.
Ch'ung Chi recognising both its own smallness, and the importance of small things to God, is experimenting to find its own proper part in the long story of God's dealing with his Chinese people. One part of this attempt is Ch'ung Chi's required course in "Philosophy of Life." This has been a thread running through the four years of your College Life. The Course is an opportunity for each member of the College to think out the place of his own life and his own special study, in the whole picture of the life of his generation. This Course is planned not so much as a teaching course but as a Conversation. It is a conversation between each student and the great minds of the past, both Chinese and Western. It is also, through the tutors who lead the classes, a conversation between each student year and current thinking about life and life's meaning. The Course is planned to be the beginning of a conversation between you and your experience in life. We hope you will continue this conversation throughout your life.
This one word then, the word "Conversation" is the subject of my talk to you today.
"Conversation" is a Latin word. The Greek word for the same is "dialogue." Dialogue comes from the same root as the over-used word dialectic but is very different in its meaning. The word dialectic suggests finality, a dialogue which will lead to a final understanding of the true nature of reality. I do not believe such finality of knowledge is possible nor any final perfection of world order. That is why I prefer the word dialogue to dialectic, and, even more than the Greek word "dialogue," the Latin word "conversation." Conversation is a less argumentative word, and carries with it, also the sense that in the world we are, in fact, in our own home-place sharing life with those to whom we belong.
THE ENIGMA OF LIFE
In reading as we so often do the famous XIIIth Chapter of St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, I could wish that we paid as much attention to verse 12 as we do to the remaining verses. Let me read this 12th verse to you? " For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face 10 face : now I know in part: hut then shall I know even (is I am known." The Greek word for which the translators chose the old English word "darkly," is the word "enigma." We still use this Greek word "Enigma" in English for a question to which we can give no answer. Human life is an on-going conversation with the un-resolved enigma of good and evil. "Now we see through a glass darkly." We go on looking into the glass, holding a conversation with this puzzling experience which we cannot fully understand. The next phrase "face to face" also fits my word conversation, it speaks of that face to face conversation with God which is eternal life. It begins now but can never be perfect or complete in tills life.
LEARN TO MAKE YOUR OWN MISTAKES
A very saintly old teacher of mine once heard God say to him in a vision, "Learn to make your own mistakes." One certain lesson of history seems to be that God is always saying to his creation "Learn to make your own mistakes." Because God leaves men to learn by trial and error, by experiment, by learning, to make their own mistakes, there have arisen many religions, many philosophies and many forms of Government.
Human life then is an enigma. It is made for conversation not for perfection. Human life is made for conversation with God, not for equality with God: for conversation with experience: not for the mastery over experience: for conversation of man with man not for the dominance of man over man.
So I see the present world struggle as a conversation between two great human groups each with an imperfect understanding of truth. The belief that perfect understanding is possible has misled the thought of the West both in its Liberal and in its Totalitarian form. Liberal and Totalitarian are both mistaken in so far as they believe that there is the possibility of knowing final truth, They are also both mistaken when they claim that they are on the only right road to final truth, and that the other side is on a totally wrong road.
Human life is a continuing conversation between man and God, man and experience, man and man: a continuing conversation between groups and parties who hold to their own interpretation of experience. And they must indeed hold to their own understanding of experience. True Conversation can only take place when you have a point of view which you hold firmly. But there can be no conversation unless you are ready to listen to the other man, believing that he also has something to say on the subject which you can learn.
Do not be misled by slogans, even by such as "freedom" and "democracy." There can, for example, be no freedom for anybody except by denying freedom to those who threaten the freedom of others. That is why we have policemen and prisons. In other words while sin remains there can never be freedom for everybody. If you press the freedom slogan you will find it does not mean "freedom for everybody." It means " freedom for me and for my friends to do what we believe matters." So with the democracy slogan. If you study the history of democracy you will see it has only been successful when it has been more aristocratic than democratic, or at least a real conversation between aristocracy and democracy.
If you accept my word conversation you can find an intelligible way through life, believing that life will always be a conversation between two or more imperfect interpretations of experience, a continuing conversation with experience and with those who differ from you. You will find also this word conversation suggests an essential unity of pattern in God's Government of the world, a unity between His relation with human beings and His relations with the natural order. Both books of the Christian Bible are called " Covenants:" a covenant is a form of conversation. Jesus Christ is the "Word made flesh," the word made flesh, so that there can be a still more intimate conversation between God and man in redemption and in illumination. Christians are those whose conversation with God is in Christ's name. We pray in Christ's name. Prayer is only one part of our on-going conversation with God and his on-going conversation with us. All living is in fact such conversation.
In nature there is also continuing conversation, a conversation between the larger and smaller masses of matter which we call the law of gravity; the continual conversation between positive and negative in electricity; between male and female in the creation of life; between the sun and the earth; between light and darkness; between land and water, heat and cold. In the latest attempts of physicists to describe the conversation that goes on in the atomic structure of matter, there are some who say they can only describe this conversation in terms which appear to be as much opposed to each other, as the Totalitarian and Liberal interpretations of the nature of man are opposed to each other.
You will also I think, find in this word conversation the nearest one can get to understanding the relation of the Kingdom of God to history; the relation of the Church to the world, and the relation of time to eternity.
CHINA'S LONG CONVERSATION WITH HISTORY.
Hold on to this word conversation and you will never fall a victim to a slogan or be content with shallow interpretation of life's enigma. It will always remind you that your country is engaged in a long conversation with history. For the last three hundred years this conversation of China has been in the main a conversation with the West. It began as a conversation with the traders and missionaries of the Sea-going Nations of the West. It is being continued now with another great dynamic Western experience, an experience mainly of the continental not the Sea-going Nations of Europe. This phase of the conversation has led temporarily to the division of your country, as it has led to the division of Germany and of Korea.
But there is nothing to be afraid of in this on-going conversation between China and the West. Just because it is a conversation, the Great China of so many centuries is going to have as much to say in the outcome of the conversation as the more strident Western partners in the talking.
YOUR OWN CONVERSATION WITH LIFE
Similarly your own life will be a conversation between yourself and the opportunities that will come to you. In that word opportunities I count also the disappointments that will come to you; for disappointments, remember are in themselves opportunities. You will find this out if, when disappointments and sorrows come to you, you keep your end up in the conversation.
One of my great teachers now Professor of Philosophy at Edinburgh University did much to help my generation of students when he told us we were wrong to call the Christian life, "a way of service." He said "It is a way of friendship," Jesus said "I call you henceforth no more servants, but I have called you friends." (St. John 15. 15.) Friendship implies conversation, an exchange of mind and heart between two persons. Service is much less personal and can easily become an instrument of power, and of pride.
Let conversation then and friendship, friendship as part of conversation, rather than service be your watchword. Let it be a golden thread running through your life. When the Creator made the world He began a conversation with His creation. Human life is an unending conversation an unending friendship, between man and his Maker. Now we see in a glass darkly, we see life as an enigma, incomplete, and puzzling, but after this life it will be "face to face." "Now we know in part, but then shall we know even as we are known."
[Outpost (August 1955): 21-24.]