ACST 22. The Social Being

Genesis 1:27 shows that human beings were invested at their creation with an authority and responsibility for the rest of creation by virtue of their being created in God’s image and likeness. The verse is also important because it defines human beings as “male and female.” Here is the foundation for a recognition of human beings as social beings. Human beings are capable of being alone, but are designed at the outset (as Genesis records) to operate in groups.

This fact is essential to the study of the human nature. A theology that merely accents the nature and destiny of the human person as an individual misses much of what the Bible has to say. It is in the context of our relationships with God and with other sentient beings that humans learn what God wants from them. The Bible does not just consist of didactic material, but also provides a great deal of history as a record of human interactions and human-divine interactions. Even much of the didactic material in the Bible consists of instructions on how to live among other human beings.1

Political theorist Hannah Arendt speaks of humanity as having a two-fold origin: “As God’s creature, man has his origin in his Creator, before whom he stands as an individual; as descendant from Adam, man has his origin in his First Parent, which is a common origin ensuring the unity of the human race and accounting for the human person’s social nature.”2

Each of these origins has implications that help us to understand who we are as human beings. The fact that human beings had their origin as a distinct creation of God leads to an awareness that humans are not independent of God. This leads to many implications, among which are human creature-hood, mortality and responsibility (as discussed in chapters 19-21). Likewise, the fact that all human beings trace their origin to that of Adam accents our unity, and leads to an awareness that humans are not independent of each other.

This unity and inter-dependence manifests itself in a diverse number of social contexts in which interpersonal relationships are developed and thrive. The core context for relationship development is the marriage. Moses recounts that in creating Adam God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”3 A great deal of theological information is packed into that short statement.

1. This is the first hint in the Genesis historical account that something is not quite right. It is not yet an account of sin, or of the coming rebellion, or of the subsequent fall (about which we learn in Genesis 3). Instead, it represents the creation as needing completion in order for it to function properly as God intended it. The creation of light on the first day4 needed the help of special lights which were created on the fourth day.5 The creation of an expanse of sky and a planet of water on the second day6 called for air and sea creatures to fill them on the fifth day.7 The creation of the land on the third day8 called for the creation of land animals and humanity on the sixth day.9 So, in Moses’ first creation account, God is said to have created both male and female together.10 In his second account Moses elaborates on the creation of humanity itself, pointing out that Adam was created first, then Eve was added to be a helper to him. These two accounts are both historical. The first highlights how humanity is needed to complete the picture of creation as a whole. The second highlights how Eve was needed to complete the picture of Adam – for Adam to become what God intended of him.

2. God identified the element that was “not good” in Adam. It was not good that Adam – of all the creatures of the earth – was alone. Adam was capable of functioning alone. He had been placed in the garden “to work it and keep it.”11 He was capable of relating to God alone. God gave Adam instructions about what he could eat in the garden, and what he should avoid. God warned Adam not to eat of the forbidden tree in the midst of the garden. Adam apparently understood those instructions and that warning. His relationship with God was intact. We are not told how long Adam existed in this state before Eve was created. We are only told that God decided (or at least declared) that the situation was not good.

3. Adam needed Eve because of the plan of God. The creator wanted humanity to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”12 Adam could not do that himself. God brought the human relationship of marriage into existence in order to complete what he started in creation. He could have created billions of perfect humans himself and immediately filled the planet. Instead, he chose to complete his masterpiece utilizing those who bore his image. It is also difficult to imagine Adam having dominion over the earth without reproducing himself and sharing that dominion with other humans. So Adam needed Eve in order to fulfill both the reproduction and the dominion mandates.

4. Eve was the proper fit for Adam. She complemented him. Her strengths bolstered his weaknesses. Her weaknesses gave him opportunity to manifest his strengths. Perhaps the story of God’s surgery on Adam suggests this connection between the two:

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man,
and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the
flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman
the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to
the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And
flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was
taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:21-23 ESV)

What is left of Adam is incomplete. Likewise, Eve was created for a purpose and finds her purpose (at least partly) in the completion of Adam.

The Norm, But Not A Mandate

These texts fall short of mandating that every man must become married in order to fulfill God’s plan for his life. Neither do they say that every woman must be married in order to be in the center of God’s will. The texts do establish that the male and female relationship solemnized by marriage13 was God’s intention for humanity as a whole, in order for the human race to accomplish God’s will and find personal fulfillment in doing so. The Bible speaks of those who have left their houses (or households) because of their commitment to Jesus, and of those who choose to remain unmarried as a sign of their Christian commitment.14 One must avoid giving the impression that an unmarried Christian is somehow missing God’s will. At the same time, Scripture encourages healthy marriages as the norm. Christians are told to “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”15

Husband and Wife

The Bible affirms heterosexual marriages as part of the original creation mandate16 and always speaks of marriage as a union between males and females.17 Homosexual practice is regarded in the Bible as a sin that needs to be repented of, not as an alternative lifestyle that should be accommodated.18 Homosexual thoughts fall under the category of sexual sin, or works of the flesh, which must be crucified so that believers can walk by the Spirit.19

One reason that the Bible takes a hard line in its promotion of heterosexual marriage alone is that marriage is the core social unit. The social units are horizontal relationships which can help believers better understand and function in our relationship with God. By means of the social units, God teaches us his purposes and values. When the social units work correctly, we learn wisdom and spirituality. When the social units break down, we learn foolishness and depravity.

In view of this, it is not surprising that The Bible has a great deal to say to wives on how they are to relate to their husbands,20 and to husbands on how they are to relate to their wives.21 Both parties are responsible to uphold the relationship while maintaining the dignity and integrity of the marriage. For this reason, the Bible speaks of marriage as an analogy for the relationship between God and his people,22 or between Christ and his church.23 The potential dynamic of mutual love and adoration combined with mutual submission and respect that can be manifested in human marriage serves as a helpful similitude for God’s relationship with his people.

Families

Another social unit that serves as a factory for producing spiritual success or failure is the family. Once again, the Bible takes family relationships very seriously, providing insight and instruction for fathers and mothers24 and sons and daughters.25

The children who learn to respect their parents honor them, while foolish children dishonor and abuse their parents. The parents who take advantage of their children’s loyalty to lead them into sin reap the consequences of the rebellion they encouraged.

Other Communities and Societies

A variety of social units exist which can be used by the Holy Spirit to turn us into the kind of people God wants us to be. Connections with some of these societies are geographically based. Some, however, find these connections by means of identifying with personal interests, goals and associations. Sociologists have long understood the vital ties between voluntary associations with communities and personal well-being.

Benefits Derived from Social Connections
26

• Recognition of others; feedback from others about ourselves
• Acknowledgement and reciprocation of emotion and feelings
• Provides safety net or social support
• Enhances health and well-being, recovery from illness, longevity
• Expands friendships and creates new social networks
• Connectedness gives life meaning and happiness
• Connections are necessary to meet basic needs of survival
• Connections are the way we learn the rules for living in a particular culture
• Connections link the past and present
• Through connections we identify with others, share ideas, and talents that may benefit larger groups of people

We not only learn from these voluntary associations with communities, but we also have opportunity to minister to others through them. God intended for this to be the case. The second greatest commandment he gave humanity was to love our neighbors as ourselves.27 In fact, a great deal of the Mosaic Law had to do with neighbor relations.28

The Church

Chief among these communities and societies is the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is not an evolutionary by-product. It is God’s intention for every believer. Chapters 55-60 of this book will explore the nature, purpose, and identity of the Church. At this point it is important to address the Church’s role as a means of producing human beings that function as God intends them to. Acts 9:31 highlights five aspects of the church’s role in making human beings the kind of people God intended: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

The church should seek peace in all it’s forms, but should also be prepared for persecution. Christ warned that persecution and trouble would never be far from the church.29 But it was the church’s responsibility to seek peace, both politically and culturally.

The Church should promote edification among its members through the operation of spiritual gifts.30 As each member uses the talents and supernatural ministries and manifestations, the whole body is built up, which in turn strengthens every member.

The Church should promote a healthy balance between fear of God and the comfort the Holy Spirit can bring. Fear of God keeps people from taking him for granted, or abusing the privilege of his presence or his name. Church discipline helps to maintain that healthy fear.31 The Comfort the Holy Spirit gives promotes a social atmosphere of peace and courage. Prayer during times when that peace is challenged is an important role for the church.32

The Church should manifest growth due to local witnessing33 and global missions.34 Just as growth is expected in healthy organisms, so it is to be expected in the church, which is described as a body.

The Heavenly Realms

Paul shows that the church plays a very important role in terms of proving God’s wisdom to the spirit beings among us as well:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him (Ephesians 3:8-12).

This highlights the important role human beings play in confirming the faithfulness of the elect angels, and condemning the rebellious ones. The context in which we manifest God’s wisdom is our social relationships. Theologians recognize that “to be human means to be a social being. Our existence is always embedded in some wider social reality.”35 That social reality is even more immense than the planet. It reaches to the heavens themselves.

_______________________

1 Note, for example, how the OT Wisdom literature and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount concern themselves with how to live properly in the context of human societies. Their principles are not abstract, but apply to those who are seeking to skillfully live among other human beings.

2 Stephan Kampowski, Arendt, Augustine, And The New Beginning (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2008), 229.

3 Genesis 2:18.

4 Genesis 1:1-5

5 Genesis 1:14-19.

6 Genesis 1:6-8

7 Genesis 1:20-23

8 Genesis 1:9-13.

9 Genesis 1:24-31

10 Genesis 1:26-27.

11 Genesis 2:15.

12 Genesis 1:28.

13 Genesis 2:24.

14 Matt. 19:29; 1 Cor. 7:1-40.

15 Hebrews 13:4.

16 Genesis 2:24.

17 1 Cor. 7, Eph. 5.

18 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10.

19 Gal. 5:19-24.

20 Ezekiel 16:45; Amos 4:1; John 4:18; 1 Cor. 11; 14:35; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6,10.

21 Prov. 5:15; Eccl. 9:9; Ezekiel 18:6,11,15; 22:11; 33:26; Mal. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 7; Eph. 5:25-28; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7.

22 Isaiah 54:6; 61:9; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2, 32; 3:1,20; Ezekiel 16:1-32; Hosea 1:2; 2:2.

23 John 3:29; Eph. 5:32; Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9; 22:17.

24 Prov. 23:24; 30:11.

25 Exodus 20:12; Prov. 23:25.

26 John G. Bruhn, The Sociology of Human Connections (Las Cruces, New Mexico: Springer, 2005), 10.

27 Leviticus 19:18; Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31.

28 Exodus 20:6; 22:7-15; Leviticus 19:13-18; 25:14-15; Deuteronomy 19:4-12.

29 Matthew 24:9.

30 Acts 13:1; 1 Cor. 14; Eph. 4:11-12.

31 Matthew 18:17.

32 Acts 12:5.

33 Acts 1:8; Eph. 3:10.

34 Acts 11:21.

35 Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), 425.

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One response to “ACST 22. The Social Being

  1. Human beings are capable of being alone, but are designed to operate in groups – the
    core group being the married couple – husband and wife. Through the interrelationship
    opportunities provided by marriage, families, communities and societies,
    we learn our purposes, our values, and shape ourselves. These horizontal
    relationships can also help us to better understand and function in our vertical
    relationship with God.

    In this chapter, I explore the various social connections that define our humanity.
    These include gender relationships, family issues, friendships, political affiliations,
    school and church involvement.

    Like

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