by Peter Law
Autonomy versus Interdependence
It’s easy to think that pain, suffering and disappointment would keep us from knowing God. We might conclude that an all-loving, all-powerful God should make all my problems go away, so the presence of struggle in my life might serve as evidence that God isn’t among us. Yet it seems the opposite is actually the case. It is in the place of need and discomfort that people cry out to God for help, for comfort and for guidance.
Our culture has taught us that autonomy is something we should long after. I should have enough money that I don’t need to rely on others. On a family level, my family should be able to take care of my needs without taxing the community. Autonomy means that my options are open, the possibilities are limitless. But is autonomy really what we need? Does it fulfill us, or does it merely numb the pain of life in a fallen world?
In the book of Revelation, the author records instructions from Jesus seven church. In the letter to the church at Laodicea, Jesus confronts the complacency that the church’s material abundance has produced: “you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NRSV). It seems the people of that church were satisfied with the status quo, but Jesus tells them they’ve set the bar far too low. They had become satisfied with the best that the kingdom of this world and had lost sight of the greater kingdom to which God was calling them—his kingdom. Their relative comfort had led them to forget that there is something beyond what they can see, hear, taste and touch. They became like a toddler so caught up with playing with the box, that they miss the wonderful gift their parents have given them.
We can fall for the same trap. On January 14 of this year, the american lottery Powerball, offered a 1.5 billion dollar jackpot. Even people from Canada were heading in droves to the US to buy tickets. The allure of having more money than you could ever spend is powerful. Even though your odds of winning were astronomically slim —1 in 292 million—the rush of so many people to buy tickets should cause us to ask a fundamental question: would winning that much money really enhance my life, or merely blind me to the blessed reality of my need for God and his church? It comes down to competing values autonomy versus interdependence.
Learning to rely on one another
God created humans to live in relationship to himself and with each other. Humanity’s choice to sin alienated us from God and that alienation flows out into human relationships (We see this dynamic in place in Genesis 3, where God confronts Adam about his sin and he throws Eve under the bus, blaming her for it all in order to avoid personal responsibility). Through Jesus, we are invited into the Kingdom of God, a place where we have been reconciled to God and the power of that reconciliation overflows to our human relationships.
The kingdom of God is not merely one where everyone lives as an island unto themselves in a private, blessed, relationship with God. Rather, in God’s kingdom, God has chosen to make us dependent not just on him, but also on one another. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul talks about how God made the members of the church different so that we might meet one another’s need, ” God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be” (I Cor. 12:18-19 NRSV). We’ve all been given abilities and shortcomings that allow us to be a blessing to one another, but also allow us to be blessed by others. This is because interdependence, not autonomy is a value of God’s Kingdom. It is relationship with the other, specifically the different other, that enriches my life.
at nightlight we seek to build bridges between the the church and “the other” those who are unlike the people we tend to see in our Sunday morning gatherings, because it’s in these relationships that I finally find the gift that God had been hiding inside the box that has so mesmerized me. Riches and unending good fortune allow me to forget that I have needs for God and need for others. In life’s more humbling circumstances, when I realize my needs I can’t meet myself, that I discover the true wealth of community.