I have spent most of my adult life doing things to make people’s lives better. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what compels me to care so much. My Christian background suggests that God is responsible, and I am content with that explanation. Yet, sometimes I wonder why it can be so difficult to motivate others to care, too. Spiritually, socially, and politically, inside and outside of churches, most people seem apathetic and self-involved. At the same time, many feel lonely, unimportant, and helpless in the face of personal and impersonal forces beyond their control. Some, most I suspect, try to find some way to control the people and circumstances around them, and many eventually become frustrated, disillusioned, and defeated in their efforts.
I have listened to and read both preachers and politicians, who try to convince and cajole people into doing what they think the masses ought to do. In my more foolish moments, so have I. In wiser times, I try to inspire and motivate folks to care more for themselves and others in their best interest, for their own good. I don’t mean to patronize, but I believe many of us, myself included, miss out on having better lives, even as opposing interests actively work to make them worse. What follows is one possible explanation.
I didn’t like eighth grade as a teenager, and I generally haven’t enjoyed teaching junior high (I love the kids, but they can be challenging at that age!). I used to think that early adolescents were just mean, and that can often true. I have learned, over time, to understand adolescence, and I have figured out that it is the beginning of a lifetime quest that frequently fails to achieve its goal. I suspect that the “meanness” I have observed and experienced is the first glimmerings of that quest gone awry. There is something we want and need, but we often do exactly the wrong things when our progress toward the goal seems blocked, especially by other people. So, what really interferes with our progress as human beings toward that goal, and what can we do to give ourselves a better chance of reaching it?
Most children enjoy the love and security of their families, at least for the first decade or so. Mothers and their babies tend to stay connected, even without an umbilical cord. Moreover, each child tends to model himself or herself after the same sex parent, imitating their obvious characteristics of masculinity and femininity, including undesirable ones. Then at adolescence, social changes begin to occur along with the physical, related to their march toward becoming their own person, to be an individual different from their same-sex parent, in particular. Individuality becomes extremely important, but relationships become important, too. Therefore, at the same time, they tend to pay more attention to the opposite gender parent, as their interest in the opposite sex grows.
Part of the social change increases the importance of peer relationships, a somewhat natural development that often becomes negative and destructive, due to over-emphasis in media and public schools. Part of what makes middle school students difficult is this extreme attraction to their peers. Because of it, teens begin to mistrust and even disrespect adults; both parents and teachers, whom they once respected and loved, become adversaries. Later, as adults themselves, they demonstrate their own misunderstanding by idolizing this distorted phase of development and give it legitimacy by calling it socialization. Sadly, as adults, many continue a confused search for something that they never find. Their efforts are often divided between extremely personal, selfish goals—work, career, fame, money, power, possessions, even obsessions—and interpersonal pursuits, such as partying, promiscuous sex, and serial marriage. Friendships often fail to achieve their potential, especially for men who fear closeness with other men as somehow homosexual. Women are often rely too greatly on their female friends because their husbands don’t connect, and both women and men create wrong ideas of the “opposite sex,” objects of physical gratification or something more like their own sex.
God considered Adam, the first human, and said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. Of course, being the sole human in existence, even in perfect fellowship with his Creator, would have been terrifically lonely. Still, I think God meant more than that; I believe He knew that men and women needed to connect with their own kind because He had made them to be social creatures, creatures who would enjoy relating to Him but who required others of their own kind for relationships. In fact, I believe He intends our human relationships to train us for relationship with Him. God designed us for substantial connection with other people. That impulse drives each person to seek friends, lovers, and family and to build active and fruitful relationships, but many fail in their quest for a kind of love that remains unknown and unfamiliar.
Last week, I wrote about “Radical Individuals” and their importance to the preservation of freedom. Each person must be true to himself or herself, to each individual’s sense of purpose and virtue, and to the responsibilities each person has. I also indicated that the individual is sometimes, of necessity, painfully alone in achieving their purpose, the ultimate example being Christ. In that, each of us must work to find the abundant life God planned for us. However, He never meant that abundance to be solitary. God designed a remedy, in several parts, to mitigate the burden of an isolated existence. He began with Eve.
God shaped Eve out of Adam’s side. Why didn’t He simply make another person, just as He made Adam? For that matter, why did He even bother to describe the process when He had simply “called forth” the rest of creation? Obviously, He intended the first couple to understand that they were connected, “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” I believe that connection is not only relevant to marriage but to our humanity. We are more than God’s children, connected to Him; we are connected, in this most fundamental way, to each other. At the very least, we owe each other respect for our shared ancestry, our common humanity, and our unique existence tracing back to this story. Furthermore, I believe we were designed for a great deal more.
People often excuse their inability to get along with others, including spouses, claiming “incompatibility.” God’s creation of Eve made her compatible and provided that each offspring would share that compatibility. Isn’t strange that we say that a dog is “man’s best friend?” How does anyone imagine, that a creature of substantially less intelligence, far less ability to express itself, and no ability to achieve a purpose, can be a better friend. Yes, dogs and a few other animals can do amazing things that show a certain protective loyalty; people do indeed draw comfort from companionship with their pets. Still, they are not fully compatible and cannot fill the void that the absence of human fellowship creates.
Of course, dogs do not sin. Eve and Adam fell short of their God-given purpose when they disobeyed Him. They broke their connection of trust with God and with each other. More than their bodies would die; their relationships would fail, too. They lost their ability to be open and naked before God and each other. They clothed themselves to hide more than sex organs; they sought to conceal their very selves. They could no longer be casually intimate, even though they could still have sex. In place of trust and love, they found fear, suspicion, and hatred. Their second son would go so far as to murder his brother.
Such is the burden of fallen humanity, and modern sinners demonstrate the very worst of its attributes. Every neurosis, psychosis, and crime finds its motivation in a twisted search for what our first parents lost. From the first selfish cry of an infant to the messed up “socializing” of teenagers, from the misdeeds due to peer pressure to the riots and destruction of mobs, from the first temptations of casual sex to the depravity of rape and incest, from the heartbreak of the broken heart to the devastation of the messiest divorce and broken family, people exhibit the symptoms of broken connections to their humanity. In their desperate desire to satisfy tortured longings, women sacrifice their dignity and self-respect for the illusion of intimacy in sex; many become mothers illegitimately looking for a baby to love them. For the same reason, men act like animals in rut rather than put the effort into relating, they substitute work, play, or things for people, and they often fear the thing they most desire and need.
Even before His sacrificial death, Christ repeatedly and plainly identified what people need most. We call it the Great Commandment, but it is also our Great Opportunity. By loving God and loving our neighbors, we connect with them. In observing, hearing, understanding, and caring for others, without condition, we begin the process of restoring the compatibility that God designed us to have. Yet believers reject community and try to substitute individual, solitary righteousness. They strive to be right, to be pious, or to be religious, in flagrant disobedience and disregard for Jesus’ plan affirmation of what God commands.
Of course, the problem is chronic; we are born in sin and severely limited in our ability to connect, relate, trust, be faithful, be intimate, or love. Christ died to save, redeem, cleanse, and make us new. By faith in Him, we are reconciled; He recreates our ability to love God and each other. That’s why love is mentioned so often in the New Testament. In I Corinthians 13, Paul says that anything else we attempt to do, including pious spiritual activities, are empty, pointless, and valueless without love. Paul and others tell us to love one another, build up one another, encourage one another, be kind to one another, and pray for one another, to name only a few of the “one anothers.” The Ten Commandments already list, in brief, the things that hurt God and other people, things we shouldn’t do. With the work of grace completed, the New Testament lists hundreds of things we can and should do, in order to reconnect to our brothers and sisters.
So what stops us? Why are so many of us, who are Christians and who have this grace and knowledge, still so isolated, self-involved, and alone? Why do so many men, even and especially pastors, hide themselves in their work? Why have the world and the Church become so obsessed with feelings and experience instead of authentic, connected relationships. Why are alcoholism, tobacco and other addictions, promiscuity, and sexual addictions becoming more common, even among believers? Why have divorce, physical abuse, child abuse, and incest invaded churches and Christian families? Why are congregations and denominations so willing to accept the presence of so much conflict and strife, and why do Christians fight so much, anyway? Why have many American Christians become materialistic, secular, and fearful of expressing their Christian faith? Why has the Church given up its role and leadership as caregiver to the poor, widowed and orphaned, prisoner, and needy? Why has the influence of Christian ideas dwindled? Why have ideas like radical feminism, abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, and socialism found root among Christians, when the truth of loving, compassionate, intimate connectedness is so much superior and would reveal these movements as the poor substitutes that they are? In remaining disconnected and isolated, we lose more than the benefits; we also lose the influence and intellectual power they provide. Love overcomes our loneliness; it also makes us powerfully credible witnesses of what God can provide and accomplish. When we fail to lovingly connect among ourselves, with God, and with those outside, we miss out on the great adventure God means for us to enjoy and to bring others along.
Ignorance, fear, unfortunate experiences, habit, and complacency all contribute to people remaining isolated and disconnected, and it’s difficult to separate them. Many of us simply don’t realize that it can be different. We are afraid to risk trying, especially after others have hurt or disappointed us. We become comfortable in the routine of our lives and settle for what seems safe. Unfortunately, our God-given needs often upset our seemingly safe and settled lives, sometimes terribly, drawing us into more bad relationships or destructive personal choices. Those whose commitment to godly virtues keeps them from sinful choices often still suffer the loss of blessings that come from vital fellowship, close, fulfilling friendships, fully intimate marriages, and close, enduring families. Sadly, each of these areas of connected relationships is becoming less common and less familiar, even among Christians. As we develop, in so many other ways, modern life is losing what more primitive living often forced upon people, to a degree. People who needed other people, just to survive, often found more.
As I write this, I wonder what I can say to offset the many things that discourage us from accepting the amazing possibilities of love that God has given us. Many worry that the “couch potato” lifestyle is physically unhealthy but ignore its numbing effects on social needs. At that, who will listen to either concern? The dilemma is that I have described a critical human drive that explains many diverse problems but that most people have learned to ignore or divert into other pursuits. Whether subtly discontented or deeply involved in counter-productive behaviors, we have to put some effort into changing, and we often refuse to make that effort without strong motivation. Personally, I’d rather eat than diet, and it takes something significant to provoke me to do it, even when I know what is best for me. For most of us, remaining disconnected won’t kill us. So what will it take to inspire people to risk leaving their seemingly comfortable, subtly discontented routines for something they may have already decided is unlikely at best and hurtful at worst? All I can say is that I am convinced that something amazing, exciting, and awesomely terrific is possible, because God has made it so. Who wouldn’t want that?
 I am convinced that both men and women have certain needs or inclinations that are best satisfied in same sex friendships. Women seem to want to vent their feelings through talking to a degree that most men find excessive, while men seem to find great pleasure in sports and other “male-bonding” activities that often don’t interest women.
 No, I do not believe in evolution as the random development of living things from inorganic chemicals to DNA-based life, over millions of years, without an “Intelligent Designer.” I don’t know how long Genesis 1 took—6 solar days or 6 eons, but neither do I think it is merely a metaphor. Instead, I believe it is history, explained by God to Moses who then wrote it down.