By: Ross Appleton
This series of posts is about unity, but to get there we need to talk about disunity first.
A Distorted World
God is the consummate artist. He created the universe from the blueprint of his imagination, with human beings as the crown jewel. The Fall distorted that beautiful work of art, but it didn’t destroy it. I remember the second wedding I ever officiated. My 5 year old daughter defaced a beautiful wedding cake by sticking her finger into it and scooping out a notch of icing. Everyone still knew it was a cake, but that 4 inch gash across the midsection classed it down a bit.
Sin has a similar effect on God’s creation, particularly people. We were designed for face to face interaction with God and each other. We were made for intimacy and love, for unity. Yet what comes most natural to us is quite the opposite. Sin has distorted the way we see God, our neighbor, and ourselves, which keeps us from our original design:
Our View of God
While we are certainly spiritual people, in reality we are suspicious of God, which leads us to refashion Him to our liking. Some are so suspicious as to reason Him out of existence. Most are suspicious enough to reason Him out of relevance. It’s hard to say which is more tragic. Either way, you won’t love a God you don’t trust.
Our View of Neighbor
While we experience real love for others, we don’t love everyone (especially those different than us), and those we actually do love we could love (much) better. Our disconnect from the love of God means we don’t know love. Which means we are going to reduce it to something like a contractual approval. An “I’ll love you if you love me” kind of thing.
Our View of Ourselves
We aren’t going to stop loving. Only now love is directed inward. The great David Foster Wallace once said, “there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of.” Nailed it. He had his finger on the pulse of humanity. But this is contrary to design, and that’s the problem. Deep is meant to call out to deep. (Psalm 42:7) Our hearts are designed to fit perfectly with God’s. He’s put eternity in there. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Apart from Him, we are stuck in a loop. And that’s why we are self centered. With no God to worship, we worship ourselves.
Disunity: the Lovechild of Distortion
This unholy trinity of distorted god, distorted neighbor, and distorted self produces a love child by the name of disunity. Why? Because unity requires love to flourish. I’m talking about love that is more than a second hand emotion (Tina Turner), and more than a feeling (Boston). Love on God’s terms, which, due to the fact that He’s God, is kind of the final word. This kind of love is seen in the pouring out of self for the benefit of others. We see it within the Triunity of God Himself, in God’s pursuit of His people to bind up the wounds caused by their own folly, in the life and ministry of Jesus – most intensely at the cross – and in the supernatural life of the early church and at too few times throughout history. Love is weighty. It’s substantive. It’s meaty. It requires access to an eternal fountain. That kind of love produces unity.
Yet we are all caught in self love (the loop above). Not the healthy kind of self love like self respect. I’m talkin’ the Gollum from the Hobbit that loves self more than others to the extent that you’ll drown your cousin to get your precious kind of self love. A love that seeks its own, and because it is addicted to seeking its own, is unable to seek others. What can we do?
God’s Vision of Love: Where He is Taking Us
Wallace’s solution was to try and see things from others’ perspective. That’s helpful. But it goes deeper. Self centeredness, at its root, is theological. Something has to be done about human nature. There is something wrong with the creation that only the Creator can fix.
Enter the Gospel into the conversation, where the great Artist takes up His brush and does something special, and we see true creativity at work. He’s gonna tend to that gash in the wedding cake. In fact He’s gonna make a whole new cake. This sounds strange because, in our world, you can’t have both. You need to tear down the old one and start from scratch. But God takes our broken lives and doesn’t destroy them. He re-creates them into something new. All because Jesus was torn down in our place. Through Him alone our distorted views of God, neighbor, and self are all renewed. In short, Jesus came to put self-love to death so that we could love God and one another. So that we can have unity.
All of it because He loves us.
The next post in this series will talk about human attempts to accomplish unity, and why those attempts ultimately fail.