It began in a garden, the bible tells us. God working to bring life into being…creating the sky, the flora and fauna, land, animals, creatures of all kind and finally, in a stroke of genius, the likes of human beings. It was all brought into existence – life and limb, leaf and branch, root and fin, pulsing heartbeats, all with the breath of life. Genesis says that life was surging through creatures of such variety that they defy definition. It was “all good”, the narrator tells us. It was “all good” until Yahweh strolls through his world one day and notices the first “not good” of the beginning of existence as we would come to know it…it was not good that Adam was alone. So, as the narrative continues its sweeping overview of the beginnings of God’s relationship with humanity, God is said to bring into living reality human community.
Please understand that there is a bold context in this statement that cannot be ignored – God had been enjoying eternal community in the context of the Trinity. I would be lying to you if I had any clue exactly what that means…trust me, much better men and women than me have waded into Trinitarian waters only to drown in the ultimate quicksand, the “mystery” of God. Yet, it stands outside of debate…it is proclaimed and revealed without a hint of a need for apology or explanation – the eternal mystery of the Community of the Godhead. And it is that Community that becomes the foundation, the image if you will, of that which is built into the fabric of human beings.
Now, you know, to quote an American cultural icon, “the rest of the story”. You know how that community came to be severely damaged with the onslaught of deception and the taste of a fruit that symbolized humanity’s detachment from everything God had created. You know how once relationships of trust ruled the day only to be followed by a deterioration of soul and spirit that pitted man against woman, brother against brother, human against creation and, ultimately and most tragically, human against God. Yet, even so, the seed of Community, the imago dei was placed within the hearts of people, that image of which drew them not only to relationship but also placed within them a hunger for community that could not be satisfied until enjoyed to its ultimate splendor.
The Biblical story tells us how we were created for and how we long for that which God sowed within us…true, life-giving, meaningful, relational connection. Yet for so long I’ve wondered, why is it that community is so infrequently experienced? Why is it that experiencing community is so difficult and apparently unattainable especially among those who are counted among those enjoying the covenant of grace and love demonstrated in the life and passion of Jesus? To rip off a little bit of Billy Shakespeare, “O Community, Community, wherefore art thou Community?”
Eugene Peterson, in his powerfully thorough overview of Christian spirituality makes the following comments on Community:
“We bypass the community of Jesus when we cobble together a group of people whom we judge to have far more potential for carrying out Jesus’ kingdom work than the merely baptized. When they tell us that mere people, ordinary people, aren’t all that important – it’s big ideas and urgent causes and stirring visions that real Christians are concerned with…then it is time to re-submerge ourselves in the story of Jesus…we (also) avoid the community of Jesus when we slip into a spectator role…we (also) interfere with this Spirit-created community when we try to take over”. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, sum of points in the final section, “Christ plays in Community”
You see, human beings…you and me work overtime to tear down what God has created. There is something within us that keeps crying out “me” every time God calls us to “others” and into relationship. We know that community bestows true identity but we fight it tooth and nail all with the mindset that if we could only get our act together, then we would have time for relationships and acts of love. So, we make a habit of exclusion. We become professionals at incestuous relationships that only benefit our goals and directions in life. We opt out for control and titles and one-upmanship roles in a selfish attempt to minimize obstacles that get in the way of me getting what I want. We justify every end run on God’s design with platitudes based on efficiency, proof-texted sections of the bible, the latest business model of success, or simple “I can’t help myself” excuse. We relegate those around us who long for a life in the “game” of the Kingdom to spectator roles as we abuse them with what we want in order to get what we feel is God’s will for their lives.
I really believe that more Christ-followers need to be praying for more love and deeper love for people than they do for parking spaces, God’s will for their business, the latest new car, the church’s building project, or even for faithfulness and fruitfulness in their ministries. With all the seminars, conferences, books, and classes that I have been exposed to in over 35 years of following Jesus, I have rarely, if ever, seen significant time and energy spent on simply what it means for us to explore love. Community is what we need. Community is the place where reality of love and forgiveness is experienced. I would venture to say that the more there is of us, the less there is of God AND the less there is of imago dei. God’s image is community. That’s why we all need to long for it, look for it, work for it, teach it, live it, model it, struggle to discover it, and ultimately enjoy it. “O community, community, wherefore art thou community?”