“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of
kindred minds is like to that above.”—John Fawcett, 1782
I see a dilemma—one I fear most people never consider. Consider three words—dependence, independence, and interdependence—a person needs a measure of all three to have the “best of all possible worlds.” Ironically, most of us make wrong choices, often at the worst times, and typically in a poor balance. Even where believers still sing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds,” most don’t act like they are “tied” or “bound” by Christian love. I suspect many of us actually feat it.
We should acknowledge a few obvious facts. First, all of us begin and most end as dependents. A human child is the most vulnerable and dependent of creatures. A newborn baby can do nothing for itself; if left alone and unprotected, it would die in a matter of hours. Furthermore, that child will not be even remotely self-sufficient for many years. In primitive cultures, it takes the skills of near-adulthood to survive; in today’s urban society, teens clamor for independence long before they really are capable of it, deceived by the trappings of modern life.
At the close of life, age often steals a person’s independent self-sufficiency. In the worst cases, conditions like Alzheimer’s disease rob destroy mental capacity and others steal away physical abilities. Sadly, at this stage of life, many find the situation of forced dependence humiliating, because Western culture places such an emphasis on independent living, separated from the very family that might provide loving care. As a young pastor, I thought it was unfortunate how many elderly people, mostly women and often friends, lived separately, hanging on to their own homes, when they might reasonably have shared homes and helped each other.
American Christians have two traditions of freedom—one from their faith and the other from their nation. As believers, Christians gain freedom from bondage to sin and Satan, although the Bible encourages them not to imagine they are free to do as they please. As citizens, Americans are free from those who would oppress or control them—kings, governments, would-be-tyrants, and ideologies. The former helped to create the latter; Christians seeking religious freedom came to these shores and established a form of government previously unknown, based in part on the same principles their religious lives were to be.
However, this freedom is not complete independence. Grace and faith set them free, but they are, at the same time, adopted into a spiritual family, in which they are dependent on their heavenly Father and, if they understand it, interdependent on their brothers and sisters. The basis for all of these relationships is love, and there is no other suitable substitute although many have tried to find one. For Christians, Jesus’ words should have supreme authority, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35). Paul seems almost to contradict himself in Galatians 5. Compare verse 1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” and verse thirteen, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Independence leads to voluntary dependence and interdependence because of love.
Modern culture, outside the Church but inside, too, confuses these connections. Some try to live in complete independence, but life as a hermit isn’t much fun; even then, a person can only pretend to deny dependence on God. Technology in modern society has created the illusion of total self-sufficiency, an illusion because a host of people are needed to sustain the technologies we take for granted. In this technological age, people are becoming evermore isolated, lonely, and incapable of the give and take of healthy relating.
Helplessly lost in disconnection, imagining themselves independent, people seem willing to put their faith in the most remote of relationships—human government. Rejecting the benign and loving compassion of a perfect God, disillusioned and disappointed in their experience of human contact and lacking a measure of trust and security with known intimates, people reach for the least likely source of security and dependence—power without connection or compassion—to trust in those who are least personally involved, strangers really, bureaucrats and politicians.
In this 21st Century, two powerful forces are the primary alternatives to God and spiritual family. One is socialism, and the other is Islam. Both would destroy our liberty. Socialists typically speak the words of freedom, but they seek more and more resources to put into the hands of the government’s politicians and bureaucrats, with a progressive loss of freedom for individuals. It’s not hard to see that growing loss as the government takes more of our money, decides how to spend it on programs that it manages, and restricts more and more of our choices in the name of security, safety, and health. Islamists are equally dangerous but more honest; they simply hate freedom, consider liberty contrary to the rule of Allah, and see personal independence as a threat to their goal of worldwide domination and control, all in the name of Allah, of course.
As Christians, we have access to a far better option, if we take it. For some reason, many of us find the fantasies of earthly order compelling enough to believe them. Authors like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo seem to think we can accomplish the will of God through the agency of unbelieving human government, whether it is the United States or the United Nations. Do they really believe that humans can be trusted with that kind of power? History surely proves otherwise. Do they dare to think that the God who said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit”(Zechariah 4:6), expects us to fulfill His mandates through the use of earthly power? Contrary to what those who oppose the Christian Right seem to think, I don’t vote for a candidate who will impose God’s will on the country or the world; I vote for a candidate who seeks to preserve the freedom that enables believers to do the work God gave us.
The most amazing things happen when God’s people, living in loving unity, united behind one purpose, go into the world filled with His Spirit. Whenever we become self-involved, yet still aware of the needy world we’d rather ignore, we try to find other ways to “get the job done.” We pay others to preach the gospel, become missionaries, and solve the world’s problems. In all too short a time, the first two fade into formality as their value fades in the eyes of self-serving Christians, and the latter becomes prominent. The words of change—more jobs, less poverty, better education, universal health, a cleaner environment, and world peace—enable “believers” to justify their own self-centeredness as they entrust these objectives to equally self-centered leaders, who make empty promises to gain power.
This is the price of disconnected independence, of freedom without “the ties that bind.” It is not the only cost. Disconnected people are lonely and unfulfilled. They replace love with casual, impersonal sex; they place their children in childcare imagining that the things they can buy with the money they earn are the greater treasure. They exchange depth of relationship and genuine fellowship with parties, drinking, and drugs, and they turn the gratification of work into the shallowness of making money, often becoming consumed by employment that fills their lives but leaves them empty.
Sadly, much of the Church seems to follow the world rather than the Church leading the way. Too many ministry trends look to the wishes of people rather than to the wisdom of God. I have found myself struggling to find the balance between “audience research” and “marketing,” on the one hand, and “speaking the truth in love” on the other. I believe the answer is to love those we would reach by getting to know them directly.
Another of the signs of the modern age is bigness. As the population of the world grows larger, technology and information make it seem smaller. Mankind has become obsessed with “global solutions” to everything from rising temperatures to poverty, from world hunger to interpersonal conflict. Since the Internet, assisted by satellites orbiting the planet, can bring the civil unrest in Myanmar into our living rooms, we feel we must somehow fix whatever is wrong there, despite the fact that we cannot resolve the conflict we have within our own
neighborhoods and families.
The list of trouble spots is huge—Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Iran, Korea, Columbia, Indonesia, Myanmar, China, and many others—and we have to do something, don’t we? Thinking that way, little room remains for individual responsibility or freedom. Ironically, God does not hold us responsible for how we solve the world’s problems but for how we live our individual lives. One may “think globally and act locally,” if it helps, but most tend to try to act globally, through the agencies of government and other organizations, and act selfishly and apathetically with the people close at hand. Guilty consciences are no substitute for genuine compassion.
An old question may serve to clarify this: “Is God powerful enough to create a rock too big for him to lift?” Of course, the answer is in the absurdity of the question, but global thinking is equally absurd. It’s as if humanity seeks to become the god of this contradiction by empowering an oppressive government to end oppression.
Since the problems appear too vast and too remote for ordinary folks to work out, we must create an equally vast and remote governing agency, never considering that the monster we release will turn around and destroy us all.
Is it enough to say that this won’t work? Will people abandon an approach if they see it is both hopelessly ineffective and dangerously counterproductive? I fear not, as long as people harbor guilt over their own grossly selfish lives. Somehow, we must show them that God’s way is both the right way and the better way, that it has the greater potential for solving global problems and the greater likelihood of bringing personal happiness. For Christians, it should be enough that God said it, but many of us are not just in the world but too much of it (John 17:16-18).
Mathematics contains a process called “geometric progression.” It is the basis for making a temporary job, that lasts only a month, that pays a penny the first day, but that doubles the wage every day for the month, more than a good deal. By the tenth day, the daily payment will be a bit more than $10; by the end of the 3rd week, it will be $20,000. Payday on the 28th day will yield 2.5 million dollars. By the thirtieth day, our worker will have gained in excess of $20 million. If he had agreed to work for 2 months, he’d pretty much own the world’s entire wealth.
Spiritual obedience is the key to changing the world. If each one reaches two and disciples them to do the same, we gain the whole world for Christ. Will it work that way? Jesus has already demonstrated it by what happened in the first century, starting with his inner circle of 3, his 12 disciples, and then the larger group who followed him; they in turn profoundly changed their world. Even a world of billions can be reached, one by one; and as we reach them, we begin to solve their problems. Mathematics and the power of God’s love and spirit will make it happen.
It can work, but only if we are connected, only if the “ties bind us” together, and only if we find the right balance of dependence, independence, and interdependence. We must rely on God and not on human government led by self-serving, often godless leaders. We must work to become responsibly independent, taking care of ourselves without only caring for ourselves. We then may learn to work together, giving and taking in a healthy exchange that enhances our effectiveness, finding in loving relationships contentment and joy well beyond the illusive alternatives in our decreasingly Christian culture.
“Blest Be the Tie that Binds”—it’s kind of a hokey sounding song, but the idea is anything but trivial. Perhaps
someone needs to take these lyrics and give them a contemporary sound. More to the point, we need to take the ideas and put them back into practice, and I mean something far greater than occasionally church suppers. Benjamin Franklin said, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately,” referring to their choice of fighting the British together or dying for their act of treason. His words are even more apropos for true Christian believers who face not only earthly enemies but spiritual enemies as well. Too separate, disconnected, and independent, we risk all that we hold dear, right to the threshold of heaven. United, bound in love, and interdependent, we can rely on all the promises, power, and blessings Christ has provided through his Church. It is a critical choice; I pray we make the right one. Our own well-being and the future of this world’s people depend on it.
Blest Be the Tie that Binds—John Fawcett, 1782
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.
We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.
From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.
* * * * * * * * * *
(Einstein’s Dreams is an interesting book that imagines worlds where time functions differently. By doing so, it enable the reader to reconsider numerous aspects of life about which we are often prone to complain. It really makes one think!)