(I regret that this is very jumbled... I could easily turn it into a book if I really developed all of these thoughts, but for the moment it is simply an explosion of thoughts.)
Sometimes the most obscure things bring everything else into perfect clarity.
I picked up Real Sex by Lauren Winner this weekend (since I don't have enough half-finished books to read). Along with the general commentary about chastity and sexual purity, one chapter specifically responded to the individualism that is so pervasive in our culture. Though Winner addressed it specifically as regards our attitudes towards sexuality, I began to understand a conflict in my own heart and mind.
It's the paradox of individual liberty and God-ordained community and I see it everywhere.
It's a paradox in the church. A Christian's spiritual life is not complete if he attends church services every week or even perhaps if he is heavily involved with the church body. It is a personal and individual relationship between him and God. However, neither is Christian's spiritual life complete if he is attentive in personal devotions and spiritual growth if he neglects the community around him and the body of believers. Both are entirely necessary, 100% and 100%.
It's a paradox in economics. God created man to have dominion over himself and his property. We are created to be stewards and it is wrong and unjust for the government to interfere with our natural rights and liberties regarding property. However, as stewards we must also look to satisfy the needs of others. We cannot neglect the poor and destitute in our neighborhoods and around the world merely because we have responsibility and rights to seek our own.
It's a paradox in family life. I am an individual with my own ambitions, my own friends, my own pursuits and interests. But I have four sisters and two parents who are committed and connected to me and I to them. I cannot make decisions about what I'll do on a given school break without considering how it might affect them.
And this paradox extends throughout every aspect of life, I think.
You could also say that the church has responded to an increasing sense of individualism in the United States by turning to more liberal economics. Our rationale goes something like, "if Christians aren't giving or helping the poor of their own choice, let the government intervene." Translation: if people aren't choosing to live in community with one another, let the government force us to live in community with one another.
And therein lies the irony-- the selflessness that creates the truly beloved community is sacrificed for artificial and forced community; indeed, true selflessness only comes when we have freedom to choose for ourselves.
I believe the solution or explanation for this paradox comes once again from God's crazy idea to give human beings the right, responsibility, and opportunity to CHOOSE for themselves. We choose whether or not to give to the poor. We CHOOSE whether or not to be wise in how we use our money. We CHOOSE our form of government. We CHOOSE whether to participate in the local church. We CHOOSE whether we study scripture and develop our individual relationships with Christ. CHOICE. It's all about CHOICE--the free will to choose to do what is best.
So in the end, we portion our lives, we decide how something affects us and those around us, we weigh the many factors that contribute to our decisions and evaluate which is most important. What affects me? What affects those around me? God created us individually. We are individuals. God also created us to live in community.
Bastiat said that liberty is faith in God and His works. I think one reason God gave us free will is for our own soul-making, as Dr. David Smith would say. If I, living in a free-market economy, choose to give my money to the poor, that not only benefits them as a socialist economy would (claim to) do, but it benefits me because I become more like Christ in my choice to give. Regarding my family, my parents could certainly demand that I return to Homewood, IL every time we have a school break; instead they allow me to be somewhat autonomous, knowing that should I choose to return home, the the time spent with them even more significant because I made the decision myself.
So this paradox--being created as individuals yet being called to live in community--is resolved by God's big picture purpose. With every opportunity to make an autonomous decision--in political economy, in the church, in one's family--we also have the opportunity to grow more like Christ by the decision we make. To have a decision forced upon us is short-sighted. It sees merely the end and neglects to consider the means. It regards the destination as more important than the journey. In so doing, it also takes for granted God's perfect judgment in how He created us and how He created us to live--individuals woven together in community.
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