I was in a meeting today during which someone made the statement: “The heart of the Fall, theologically speaking, is human autonomy – people cut themselves off from God and then from each other.”
It’s early days on this blog, but you can probably guess already that that’s something I find really significant.
Autonomy is one of our buzz words. It’s considered to be a good thing in 21st century Western society. The fear of losing autonomy is incredibly powerful.
The philosopher John Harris once wrote that “It is only by the exercise of autonomy that our lives become in any real sense our own,” and this concept permeates much of the song our culture is singing.
But it’s not true. Christianity teaches that our lives are not our own. we belong both to God (because he made us) and to each other because he made us to be in community.
A friend reminded me tonight, too, that it’s not just a question of community, of respect, of interdependence – vital though they are, there’s something that is needed long before any of those things can come into play.
We are to love one another, and love our neighbour as ourselves.
Humanly-speaking, that’s impossible. We just couldn’t do it. I find it tricky even with the people I get on well with, let alone with my neighbours and my enemies!
But we can do it because we’ve had it modelled by Christ, because we’re having it poured into us daily by the Spirit, and because we were loved even in the depths of our sin by the Father.
It is because he is love that he has created us to be communal beings. I want to change our culture because God loves each person in it and his heart breaks at their suffering. He is beginning to break mine for it too. I see the anguish caused by the disconnect between people’s expectation of how life should work and the way it actually pans out when they try to live that way. I see the loneliness and the emptiness of lives lived in separation from God, and I want to help.
Learning to love one another won’t save people’s souls, it won’t solve their problems, or, for the most part, heal their wounds. But it will give them a glimpse of the way life could be, it will be a glimmer of light shining in their darkness, and showing the way to the freedom, and the love, that can be what their hearts are longing for.
Interdependence is hard, but it is far more satisfying than autonomy will ever be.