Made for Community
This is an excerpt I reproduced from Stanley Grenz's "The Universality of the Jesus-Story" and the "Incredulity Toward Metanarratives." I found this so helpful, and it coheres with insights from many other fields of study, including neuroscience. See, for example, Dr. Daniel Siegel's The Neurobiology of "We": How Relationships, the Mind, and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are.
From the creation of the heavens and the earth, with which the biblical drama begins, to the vision of the new earth, which forms the drama's climax, the plot of the biblical narrative is God at work creating community. The theme of the Bible is the establishment of community in the highest sense of the word-a redeemed people, living within a redeemed creation, enjoying the presence of the Triune God. The divine intent is evident already in God's declaration, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18 NIV). Yet the central dimension of community as depicted throughout the biblical narrative is the quest for the presence of God among humans.
The quest for the divine presence within the community is evident in the early narratives of the Old Testament. Before the fall, God communed with the first humans in the Garden. Then at various times and in various locations the patriarchs experienced God's presence and built landmarks, altars, and memorials to commemorate these encounters (e.g., Gen. 28:13-18). Later, God delivered Israel from Egypt and constituted them as his covenant people (Exod. 20:2-3) in whose presence he would come to dwell. During the wilderness sojourn, Yahweh made his abode among them in the tabernacle; like theirs, his house would be a tent. When Israel established fixed dwellings in the Promised Land, God also put the divine glory within a house, the temple in Jerusalem.
The theme is evident not only at the beginning of the biblical narrative but at its culmination as well. The idea that community consists of God dwelling with humankind is clearly manifested in the grand vision of the new heaven and new earth. In the future new order, the peoples of the new earth will live together in peace. Nature will again fulfill its purpose of providing nourishment for all earthly inhabitants (Rev. 22:1-3). All creation will experience harmony (Isa. 65:25). But most glorious of all, God will dwell with humans, thereby bringing to completion the divine design for creation. The seer of the Book of Revelation offers this glorious vision of God's presence in the eternal community: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, `Now the dwelling of God is with human beings, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God..."'
At the center of the biblical narrative of God at work establishing community stands the story of Jesus, who is Immanuel-God with us (Matt. 1:22-23). In Jesus, the divine "Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14 NIV). In him, God is present with humankind. Before his death, Jesus promised that he and his Father would take up their dwelling with his disciples (John 14:23). Thereby he pointed toward the subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Since his outpouring at Pentecost, the Spirit has facilitated the fulfillment of Jesus' assurance of his continual presence with his followers. As the one who now constitutes the presence of God, the Spirit effects the divine goal of establishing community. Consequently, the eschatological fellowship that arrives in its fullness only at the consummation of human history is already present in a partial yet genuine manner... Because of the finished work of Christ and the continuing work of the Spirit, therefore, God is truly among humans...
Although the concept of community arises immediately from the biblical vision, certain contemporary sociologists offer insight into its significance. These thinkers speak about the importance of the "social web" or the experience of community to human existence. The stage for such an understanding was set in part by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who theorized that social cohesion is facilitated by "collective representations," the group-based symbols with which individuals identify. In his estimation, a "conscious collective," a pre-given solidarity of shared meanings and values, is a prerequisite to social diversification. George Herbert Mead, in turn, showed the importance of community for identity formation. According to Mead, meaning is no individual matter but is interpersonal or relational. The mind, therefore, is not only individual but also a social phenomenon, and the self-the maturing personality or one's personal identity-is socially produced. Building on the work of these pioneers, certain contemporary thinkers assert that a sense of personal identity develops through the telling of a personal narrative, which is always embedded in the narrative of the communities in which the person participates. The transcending story that gives meaning to a personal narrative is mediated to the individual by the community, which transmits traditions of virtue, common good, and ultimate meaning.
Excerpt from No Other Gods Before Me? ed. John Stackhouse, copyright © 2001. Used by permission of Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group.