One thing God said was not good

Over the last 75 years, researchers at Harvard have tracked the lives of 724 men.* These men were children when the study began. For 75 years, they’ve been tracking these lives to record the state of their home life, work, health, outlook.

Some men in the study became rich and famous. One became President of the United States. Others fared poorly. Boiling all this time, life and data down to its most basic lesson, this is what Robert Waldinger (current director of the study) labels the clearest message to emerge from this effort: “The message has nothing to do with fame or wealth or working harder. The real lesson from these lives is this: ‘Good relationships keep us happier and healthier … Over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.”

It took 75 years and 724 men to prove Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  

Seven times in the creation story, God makes things and calls them good. The seas are good. The sun and moon are good. The plants and fish and animals are good. People are good. But then after seven scenes of goodness, God finds a flaw — one thing that isn’t quite right.

It is not good that the man should be alone.

This isn’t God adjusting a piece of furniture to get the right effect. This is God instilling in the pinnacle of his creation his most essential quality. He is a God who loves, even within himself.

God has infused his creation with his own personality. Creation will not be defined by independence. It will not be one toddler saying to the universe, “I can do it myself.” Creation will be defined by the same love that defines the Trinity. The first creation story in Genesis emphasizes the partnership between a man and a woman. The second creation story emphasizes the man’s need for relationship.

God’s brand of love only happens in community. It is the pre-fall answer to the sin of autonomous solitude — the state of believing I am all I need. Solitude is not good when solitude leads us to believe that one person alone — without community — can somehow image the God who created us.This is not good.

We are not islands unto ourselves.

This is why we join churches and go to movie theaters and happily pay $4 at Starbucks for coffee that costs less than ten cents to make at home. It is because we are designed for relationship. We are made for community, because we are made in the image of God.

And this is why the enemy of our souls would like to attract us into solitude with things like porn and video games. The enemy of our souls is working against our design. Likewise, the enemy would prefer that we view marriage as a tool primarily for fulfilling our own needs. This popular view saps the glory out of it. It fails to point to something beyond itself. Marriage is not designed primarily to get my sexual needs fulfilled. When we reduce it to a mechanical solution that meets a primal need, we miss it … completely.

Here is the real shame of what our culture has done to marriage. It isn’t that we’ve made it disposable or that we’ve made too much of the wedding and not enough of the relationship.  The real shame for the Church is that we’ve failed to teach the rich and relationship-rooting theology beneath it. We have focused more on mechanics or “chain of command” than on submission to something bigger than us. A covenantal marriage paints a picture of the love between Christ and his Church and of the covenant between God and his people. Marriage tells the Easter story — Jesus lays down his life for us — and marriage points to the glorious conclusion of the creation story, when all things will find their fulfillment not in getting our needs met cheaply but in the rich-beyond-measure love, cover and hope of a good and faithful God.

 

* “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” is a TED talk. Watch here.

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Is God Crazy? (or is it me?)

The Gods Must Be Crazy is the story of a remote African tribal village that finds a Coke bottle in the jungle. It seems to have fallen from the sky, though in fact it was dropped from an airplane. These tribal people have never seen anything like this before. They aren’t sure what its purpose is. They find uses for it — to pound things and crush melons and even make music.

This foreign thing makes life interesting. Separated from its purpose, it also creates jealousies and envy and even anger — something this village hadn’t experienced before. There isn’t enough of the bottle to go around. Everyone has their own reason for needing it and the bottle becomes a reason for them to compete rather than being in partnership. At the end of a day people grabbing the bottle from each other and using it get their needs met at the expense of others in the group, they all sit around a fire, and the narrator says, “A strange feeling of shame had come over the family and they were very quiet.”

This story is such a great example of how human design works. When a thing is separated from its purpose — when our bodies are separated from our spirits — we lose sight of the point of them and can even begin to misuse them for things other than their intended purpose. In doing so, we discover our own selfishness, much like Adam and Eve.

Before the fall, before we lost sight of our created design, God created partnership. The first creation story in Genesis describes the work of man and woman together.

“God blessed them,” Genesis 1:28-29 states, “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” This was the work of the first people, to steward the rest of creation in partnership with one another.  If the first creation story emphasizes partnership, the second creation story in Genesis emphasizes the unity of man and woman.

Genesis 2 paints a beautiful image of mutual servanthood: the woman comes out of the man to give him companionship and the man comes out of his home to give her companionship. There’s this very deep sense of interrelatedness. There is a clear sense from the creation story of God’s intentions for men and women: to populate the earth and to give us to each other for companionship.

Men and women are cut from the same cloth, as it were. It is the combination of the two — male and female — that reflects the image of God.

Then comes the Fall. Genesis, chapter three, turns a partnership of equals into an antagonistic relationship. Adam and Eve, both condemned by their own failings, will experience suffering in this life. Adam will fight against the ground as he works it for his existence. Eve will no longer have a partnership with Adam; he will rule over her.

And God isn’t the crazy one in this story; this is our doing. Genesis 3 shows us just how the enemy of God distorts the created design. Why didn’t anyone tell us? Why didn’t they tell us that on this side of the fall line, we’d deal with shame and it would drive us to destroy ourselves. Why didn’t they tell us that the enemy would make it his number one priority to separate us from our created design, to separate us from our truth, to separate us from God, from each other? Why didn’t anyone spell it out for us, that there is an enemy whose main goal in life is to convince us that self-protection and self-interest and just plain selfishness is our only hope.

No one told most of us that so much of our pain comes from this break with our created design.

If that were the whole story, it would be a deep discouragement, but it isn’t. Sin might have been what broke us, but Jesus is putting us back together. Jesus, a sacrifice for sin, hung on a cross to become the first of a new kind of humanity. Jesus is restoring us to our created design.

Jesus came to restore what the enemy broke. So we thank God for the cross. When Jesus overcame the effects of fallenness, he became the first of a whole new kind of human, which means we can become a whole new kind of person.

This is what makes Easter worth the celebration. It is the holy day for new beginnings. It tells us that no matter what we’ve done, no matter how far from God we’ve wandered, not matter how much water has gone under that bridge, we can begin again. This is the promise of the cross. It is that there is no mistake so far out there that it can’t be made right. There is no wound so deep that it can’t be healed.

God can make all things new. As long as there is an empty tomb, it is never too late.

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