36 Strategies and the Bible

After a study on Sun Zi Art of War, the natural follow-up is the study of the 36 Strategies. However, I have always considered the 36-Strategies, some say 36-Tactics, as a bag of dirty tricks that any good Christian should not waste their time on. (note: On deeper study, it is not and we can learn much from it).

However, if you are ever in counseling or are trying to correct a bad behavior of a friend, my previous direct approach of telling the truth does not lead to a good result. At best, it encounters a defensive wall and at worse, it changes a friend to an enemy! The direct, frank approach of good intention seldom achieves the desired change and frequently ends badly. The approach used should be dependent on the person receiving the input and the situation. Truth, while right, could hurt and hence it needs to be packaged properly. Paul specifically pointed out in Eph 4:15  'But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things ...'. The truth, in order to be received well, must be packaged in love. The hardness(yang) of truth must be covered on the outside with the softness(yin) of love. Otherwise, it will be too hurting.
Putting the hard(yang) within the soft(yin) is one of the main principle of 36-Strategies. (note: there are other principles as well)

Nathan & David
The Bible provides a good example of a 36-Strategies. King David committed grave sins of having adultery with Bathsheba and the murdering of her loyal husband. Who dares to confront the King and point out his sins? Even so, will the King repent or will he argue that he had the right to do as he pleased? Nathan instead told the King a story of a rich man taking away and killing the lamb of a poor farmer to feed his friend. Nathan asked David what should be done to the rich man? Then he pointed out that David was the rich man. This led David to discover for himself his horrible deeds (2Sa 12:1-7). Can you tell me which of the 36-Strategies that Nathan used? I think it is #26 指桑骂槐 Point at Mulberry but scold the Sophora Tree.

Is Strategies Morally Neutral?
On deeper thought then, strategies are like money, they are morally neutral and powerful. It is the use of it for good or bad, by the person that determine its right or wrong.

e.g. 'Strategy #05 趁火打窃 Looting when there is a fire' teaches us to exploit the opportunity. Even though the pictorial description uses it in a bad sense of looting, we can also see it as an opportunity to do good. The Japan March 11 9.0 Earthquake is a great opportunity to show love and give help to the Japanese. It is up to us to make good or bad use of the opportunity. This is also where a Christian can make a difference. When worldly wisdom teaches us to loot, Christians make a difference by doing the opposite, going there to give and to help.

Then, we get into an interesting moral issue of whether white-lie is a lie? I think the following have Biblical support:
  1. Telling a lie, or a partial truth when knowing the truth, to distort and malice a person is wrong. It is a sin.
  2. Telling a lie, or a partial truth, to over-project the goodness of a man is also wrong since it is not true.
  3. A white lie is a lie no matter what the intention is since it not a truth. Telling a partial truth knowing the truth is different from the intended meaning of the message is a lie and is wrong.
  4. Withholding information under obligation agreed to non-disclosure directly or indirectly is ok unless there is a higher order over-riding the non-disclosure commitment. Usually, it is best to get the source to disclose himself. We should be aware that our own story is not necessarily the whole truth but a point of view for others to judge but it is as true as we can see it. In Prov 11:12-13 Keeping secret is a virtue. (12 He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbor: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.
    13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter
  5. Putting up a bold front when the inside is panicky is not a lie but an exertion of effort, a self-control, to overcome our weakness, to maintain a sound mind, to do a good work. It is asking Christ to enable us to do the thing assigned and to bring us to greater capability. Having a vision and then acting to accomplish it is wise. It is not boasting or lying.
  6. Furthermore, to the impure, everything is impure. At times, our doing the right things, especially of love, create suspicious for them and confuse them. 
  7. Finally, we have to trust that God is the God of justice that is in charge. The sins of the evil will come to visit them and our righteous act, though at the time, seems foolish to the world, will vindicate us.
  8. With the above understanding and established righteous and truth framework, we can apply the 36-strategies to make our hard truth more palatable, and be like David, received the revelation to do well. We can also, with the knowledge of such strategies, be as wise as the serpent to understand the evil tactics, and to take precautions against such.
Have a look at what the 36 Strategies are. I have re-organized them into Twelve Success Principles from the Chinese 36-Strategies and The Patterns of Chinese 36-Strategies.

May God give us wisdom and ability to extend His kingdom on earth.

Lim Liat copyrighted April 2011

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