Persons and Individuals

Have you noticed how the trend these days seems to be leading us further and further away from human interaction? We tend to keep up with most of the world’s “happenings” via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and news websites. We “connect” with people via chat or email, and experience people’s lives vicariously through their posted pictures. It seems we might be in danger of losing the sense of what’s really…real. 

I was recently reading a book recently by James B. Torrance entitled Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. I would recommend it to anyone who would love some very thoughtful observations on worshiping appropriately and what it means to worship God in a Trinitarian way (a very important distinction explained in the book). One of the most helpful concepts in Torrance’s book was the idea that we ought to think of ourselves (and others) as persons in community rather than individuals in a society.

An individual in society interacts with others on a primarily transactional basis, i.e. what I can offer you and what you can offer me. This is a huge contributor to our sense of isolation because it shuts us off from knowing and being truly known by others. People don’t really matter. What matters is what I can get from them. In contrast, a person in community interacts with others in order to give rather than take. It is based on loving relationship instead of relational commodity or benefit. People are valued for who they are, not for what they can do for me.

Torrance’s point in making this distinction (and what was so fascinating to me) was that the idea of personhood in community is actually part of what allows us to be who we are in the fullest extent. When we are in a community based on love, giving and receiving out of the abundance of the heart, it will both free us internally to be ourselves, and reveal to others our truest identity.

The problem with living in a give-and-take mindset is not only that it de-humanizes us and creates distance between us, but it actually hinders us from being who we really are. Think of it this way, can a rose be most beautiful if it is never seen or admired? Or to put it another way, can a rose be admired for its uniqueness if there are no daisies or tulips to compare it to? I think not.

This has challenged me to reconsider the true meaning of life in community. Instead of seeing life in community as a duty or a chore, we should think of it as the way that God has chosen to reveal his design of who we are to ourselves and to others.

This not only honors and glorifies God (which is worship), but it is how Jesus said we would show the world that we are his disciples (John 13:35).

Simply put, if we want the full life prescribed in John 10:10, we need people around us to help us get there.


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