Horizontal & Vertical Relationships

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday August 4, 2016

What is the fundamental difference between Confucius thoughts and Biblical teachings? Although Confucius lived 500 years before Christ was born, in faraway China, there are similarities in their precepts.

Confucius’ teachings deal with horizontal relationships between people. He makes no reference whatsoever to relationships with God. He begins with precepts for relationships between children and parents (as they are the first people a child comes in contact with), older siblings, friends and society in general. He lays down the principles of engagement with integrity, honesty, loyalty and incorruptibility. If one were to use the analogy of learning to drive a car, Confucius’ teachings would be likened to the highway code, the rules which every driver should learn and abide by in order not to do harm to others or to themselves. This is best summarized in his saying 己所不欲,勿施於人 “That which you do not wish to have done to you, do not do unto others”.

This tenet is mirrored by a Biblical Creed in reverse expounded by Jesus: Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also unto them. (Matthew 7:12) This Golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you lays down the Biblical rule of engagement between people. Moreover, the Bible also presents a vertical dimension, a relationship with God through Jesus who said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. (Matthew 11:28) If we apply the same analogy of learning to drive, the Bible not only instructs us on the highway code, but also provides the driver. This invitation by Jesus is for us to rest, take the back seat and let Him drive.

Whilst the objective of Confucius’ teachings is to change behavior, the aim of Biblical teachings is to change beliefs which will in turn change behavior. The vertical and horizontal dimensions of relationships are beautifully and aptly symbolized by the cross.