Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
What you see above is a Yin-Yang symbol. Along with the peace sign and the symbol of the cross, it has become a popular ornament today. It can be found in most pop jewelry stores. It can be worn around one’s neck, on one’s ears, or even as a pendant on his clothing. One can sew it on his pants, or buy a shirt with the symbol already on it. The more daring might even choose to have it tattooed on their bodies.
What is this symbol? Where did it come from? What does it mean?
Or, are these questions unimportant and irrelevant?
Perhaps we might think that the design is only a piece of decoration that has no real meaning. We wear it simply for the fun of it. Why, then, make a big deal out of something so minor?
But is what we wear really so minor? People look at what we wear or display on our bodies and they immediately form a judgment as to what kind of persons we are. Those who display a symbol are making a statement about themselves, whether they mean to or not. They set themselves up for judgment by others. So, before simply wearing a yin-yang symbol for the fun of it, we would do well to know what the symbol means and from whence it comes.
Most of you are probably under the impression that the symbol represents nothing more than a bygone era which we call the “60s.” I know that era, because I lived through it. I saw the hippies with their long hair and their peace signs and their yin-yang symbols. I did not give much thought to it then, being a young person, but there was something going on during this period of history. It was a time of rebellion against all the established standards of our society—standards which, by the way, were still greatly influenced by Christianity. A revolution in culture took place. Young people were tired of the stale moralisms of the apostate church, tired of the Cold War, tired of social injustices—just plain tired of everything! They were especially dissatisfied with the code of ethics that governed Western society.
They were sick and tired of hearing about sin. A large segment of the young felt that our society was far too judgmental and narrow, and that it did not accept a person for who he or she was. The 60s became known as a time of sexual revolution: “free love” was the hippie slogan. Young people rebelled against the institution of marriage and decided that fornication and living together out of wedlock were perfectly acceptable. Disobedience to all in authority, from parents to government, was fostered and advanced. Western religion (actually Christianity) was said to have failed the human race and a new kind of religion was needed. A new spirituality must be encouraged: a spirituality that elevated feelings and emotion above knowledge and reason.
For that reason many young people turned to the ancient mystical religions of the East: Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, and Taoism. Perhaps these names do not mean much to you. After all, they are religions which belong to people on the other side of the world. Do they really have anything to do with us? More than we think! They have touched the very heart of the social mores of our society. During the 60s and 70s many people from the East moved to America and established huge communes to which young people flocked during this time. Besides, many singers and movie stars, who had the wealth to afford it, traveled to India and China to learn the religions of the East. They came back having thoroughly imbibed the principles of these religions. These they then portrayed to the general public in movies and in song without many even realizing it. I know I did not!
The result of all this activity in the 60s and 70s is the present culture in which you as young people are called to live. The hippies of my generation have now grown up. They have cut their hair and taken their place in the adult world, but their ideas have not changed! They promote the same godless principles of yesteryear. These are the principles that have given rise to the New Age Movement of our day. No wonder the yin-yang symbol has made a comeback.
The yin-yang symbolizes one of the basic premises of the counterculture of the 60s and therefore of modern day society. That premise is: there are no absolutes. There is nothing we can use as a standard to judge something else, since life is nothing more than constant change. This is the teaching in the main, of Chinese Taoism and Japanese Zen Buddhism. Now, it is not my intention to wax philosophical! I do not want to put you to sleep! But we ought to know what Taoism teaches in order to understand the meaning of the yin-yang symbol. After all, the yin-yang symbol is probably somewhere between 2,000 to 2,500 years old!
The word “Tao” means “the way.” In the mind of the Taoist this word best describes what is ultimate reality. We as Christians would say that God is the ultimate reality. The Taoist, on the other hand, does not look beyond creation. He is a pantheist (believing that creation is god). As he examines creation, he notices that there is a certain way, process, or order of nature. This is “Tao.” It is the ultimate, undefinable reality of life. It is the ground for all existence. It is truth. It is behind all, beneath all, and the womb out of which all life springs. To it all life also returns. It is the force of nature that gives to everything life and reality.
Nothing can be discovered concerning this “Way” other than one fact: nothing stays the same. The Tao therefore is the continuous flow and change that occurs in life. But this means that, for one to be wise, for one to discover what is true reality, he must never concern himself with absolutes. There are no absolutes. The only way to power is through mystical absorption into the flow of the universe. And this means meditation. One must empty his mind of all self-centered consciousness and concentrate on the flow of nature. He must attempt to harmonize seeming contradiction.
We will not go into Taoism any further than this, though there is much more involved. The point is: everything is relative. There is no objective, changeless truth, no standard according to which we can judge everything. In fact, things which may seem to us as opposites are in fact only different poles of the same reality. Both poles are necessary for the discovery of the way, of the truth, of power.
Huston Smith in his book, The Religions of Man, defines the yin-yang symbol thus:
This polarity sums up all life’s basic oppositions: good-evil, active-passive, positive-negative, light-dark, summer-winter, male-female, etc. But though its principles are in tension, they are not flatly opposed. They complement and counter-balance each other. Each invades the other’s hemisphere and establishes itself in the very center of its opposite’s territory. In the end both are resolved in an all-embracing circle, symbol of the final unity of Tao. Constantly turning and interchanging places, the opposites are but phases of a revolving wheel. Life does not move onward and upward towards a fixed pinnacle or pole. It turns and bends back upon itself until the self comes full-circle and knows that at center all things are one.
Let me put it simply. There is no such thing as absolute evil or absolute good. What may seem like evil could in fact be good. And what seems to be good may really be evil. Whatever the case, both are simply opposite poles of the one true reality. To discover truth one must experience the necessary tension or pull between the two. After all, in what we consider the good there is contained the seed of evil (the black dot in the white side of the yin-yang symbol). The opposite is also true: what we consider evil contains at least the seed of good (the white dot in the black side of the yin-yang symbol).
The point is this: our modem society has resurrected not only the yin-yang symbol, but the principle it bears, namely relativism. There is no right or wrong. What may be right for me, may not be right for you. What is wrong for me, may not be wrong for you. There is no objective truth. Result? The pluralism of today. The “anything goes” attitude of our society and church world. Let me give you a few examples.
RELIGION: We may not condemn anyone else’s religion. Everyone is seeking God the way he sees best. We are all going to heaven anyway; we are just getting there in different ways. All religions contain the seed of truth. Especially we as Christians ought to set aside all doctrinal barriers and unite in order to show people the way. The Bible is not infallible, it is not meant to be objective truth, it is subject to all kinds of interpretations. To condemn what others believe is judgmental, narrow-minded, and bigoted. No one has a comer on the truth.
MORALS: What right have we to judge one who refuses to honor the outdated law that sex is to be enjoyed within marriage? Marriage is only an ancient institution of certain people. Sex can be enjoyed and should be enjoyed by everyone, in any way he chooses to carry it out. We have no right either to rise up in judgment over a divorced person or a remarried person. Maybe divorce or remarriage is wrong for us, but not for them. Who sets us up as judges?
HOMOSEXUALITY: If a person adopts a homosexual life-style, there is no reason to condemn him for it, though it may not be my thing.
ABORTION: It is wrong to force something on someone. If it is a person’s choice to end a pregnancy, then let her make that choice. It could be wrong for me, but I may not condemn her on the basis of what I personally think is wrong.
FEMINISM By what law is the man given prominence over the woman? By the law of Tao every man has a feminine side to his nature, and every woman has a masculine side. In order to be a whole woman the female ought to explore and develop the masculine side of her person. The same goes for the man in discovering the female side of his character. So, we have the men and women of the 90s switching roles. There is no objective rule to say any of this is wrong. A person should be able to decide for himself one way or another.
Against this relativism of yin-yang stands the child of God who believes there is indeed an objective right and wrong. Because we believe in God who transcends creation, we believe there is one changeless norm: God! He never changes! Neither does His Word. There are not many different ways to heaven. There is one way: God’s way, through repentance over sin and a conscious faith in the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ alone is the door that opens to heaven.
Where do we find the unchanging rule and authority for our lives, young people? In the Bible, because the Bible is the very Word of our God! Doctrine can be judged right or wrong on the basis of what the Bible teaches us. The proper way of walking in holiness can be found, because it is outlined for us in the Bible in detail. When we walk contrary to the Word of God, then we are doing wrong, because we violate God’s objective rule of right and wrong. As Christians we must judge right and wrong—in ourselves, but in others too. How else can the true church bring the good news of salvation from sin?
It is exactly because we are so convicted of this rule of God in our lives that we wish to separate ourselves from the ungodly youth of this wicked world. We want to appear to others as being different from the wicked. This is why our parents placed on us a sign or a symbol very shortly after we were born. It was the symbol of baptism. By this symbol we are distinguished from the children of unbelievers and marked as those who are members of the Christian church and covenant of God. Why then would we wish to bear another sign? Especially is this true if that sign covers over the sign of baptism and makes us appear as if we are, in fact, no different from the heathen of this world?
In what camp do you wish to make your stand in this world, young people? Do you wish to cast your lot with the people of God, or with the wicked? You cannot have both! We are either for God or against Him! Let us cast from us the burden of the sin of the wicked and confess with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”