Every house, every building, must have a foundation – an adequate foundation. I have led crisis response teams to many disasters. In every disaster we can see buildings that have withstood the earthquake or the storm, and also buildings that have completely collapsed or even blown away. Before the crisis, no one knew. They all looked good. But the crisis tested and showed which buildings were anchored to strong foundations and which were not.
If buildings need foundation, what more we as humans? Like buildings, we too were designed by God to have strong foundations. We too are tested by crisis. Jesus spoke about His teaching and putting it into practice as our foundation. Sooner or later, whether at the final judgment or by the trials that will befall us in life, what our foundation was, if any, will be revealed (see Matt.7:24-27). So what is our foundation? What are the principles that we are anchored to by which we live out our lives? What about societies? As with individuals, societies also need foundations. What are the principles by which we are to live together on this planet? There is much to say about foundations for our personal lives, but for this article, we want to look more at foundations for society.
What are the foundations for society? The answer to this question becomes increasingly important and urgent as we look at the many issues that the world is facing today. So much is going on in the world right now that is tearing societies and people apart. Issues of ethnicity, race and religion, unequal economic opportunities, unemployment, corruption in government, the collapse of the economies of nations, disillusionment of young people, etc. today, are unprecedented. Sadly, every day, the news is persistently negative. As we listen to the news, the underlying and unexpressed question that I hear is, “Can man live together?”
When we use the term “society” there is a sense in which we must accept that we have no choice but to live together. So we develop and formulate laws and societal customs and norms that we hope will create societies that enable us to live peacefully with each other. I believe however that that is a poor and sad approach to life. The truth is, we do not just “have to” put up with each other. We were meant for more than that. Not only is it true that “no man is an island” (John Donne), I believe that we are actually incomplete without each other. I believe that God designed us to enjoy life together, and to enhance life for one another. We thrive only when that happens. A better word to describe that is “community” rather than “society”. For that reason, I shall be using the term “community” rather than “society” as I will explain later why we were actually designed to be community, not just societies that survive without self-destructing.
In this article, which is the introduction in a series of articles on foundations for community, we want to ask what are the basic foundation stones for community, and how do we determine them? The answer I believe is this – what we are and how we are to function as individuals and as communities must come from the source of all life on this planet – from our Creator God who designed and created all things. In fact, whenever we want to know what a problem is with anything, we must go back to its original design. Only then can we know what has gone wrong with that thing. So what is God’s original design for us? Why did He create us?
Whenever I ask this question in the Kingdom workshops I conduct, the usual standard answers I get are : to serve Him, to worship Him, to steward creation, to obey Him, etc. and most people will say to glorify Him. Those answers are no doubt correct, but I believe they all miss the target. To glorify Him comes closer to the “bull’s eye”, but what does it mean to glorify God? How or when and in what circumstances is God glorified?
Interestingly someone (about 70 years old), said, “I think your question is like the question “What is the purpose of life?” I have thought about that for a long time and I have come to the conclusion that God must have His purpose why he created us, but we cannot be sure, and we will never know. Life will always remain a mystery.” She is right that the two questions are the same, but sadly she is mistaken that there is no answer or that we will never know.
If God is sitting right here with us and we were to ask Him this question, I am certain what He would answer. I am certain because He has already told us in His Word. In Gen.1:26 which I consider to be the most important verse in the Bible, God said, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness ...” In other words, “I created you to be like Me.” If God made us to be like Him, then for us to know our purpose, we must know what He is like because whatever He is, is what we should be. For example, if God is an architect, then we were made to be architects. If God is a fisherman, then we were made to be fishermen (BTW, God has revealed Himself to be architect, fisherman, gardener, shepherd, etc.) Since we were made to be like Him, then who God is or what He is like must define for us what we are to be in this life and in this world.
So what is God like? The church has been faithfully teaching some aspects of the character of God like love, holiness, righteousness and justice. There are however other aspects that God has revealed to us of Himself that I would like to draw our attention to. These other aspects give us a more complete picture of who God is, and therefore of what we were designed to be, or how we were designed to function. In fact, I must add that it is because we have not been seeing these other aspects that we have misunderstood what true spirituality is, and we mistakenly think of spirituality only in terms of inner piety. These aspects also reveal to us what the Kingdom of God is because the character of the Kingdom comes from the character of the King. We will look at them in more detail in subsequent articles in this series, but for this article, here’s just a brief overview
Community and Love
Most Christians know the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be the “Holy Trinity”, but seldom stop to consider that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a team, a partnership and a community. If we were made to be like Him, then God intended us not just to be individuals but to also be community. That means we are to live in love and harmony. In fact, by the very fact that we were born into a world with other people, that, by itself, should tell us that one of the main purposes of life must be for us to learn to live together. Going further, if God is love, and there is nothing greater than love (1 Cor.13), and love is the greatest commandment of all (Mk.12:30-31), then surely our main purpose in life must be to love God and to learn to love each other more and more.
What else does it mean to be a community that is like God? What kind of communities should we be? The following other aspects of who God is, will tell us that.
If God is our creator, and we were created to be like Him, then we were also created to be creative. That means we are to use our minds to innovate and overcome challenges we face. It also means that we are to not only find solutions to problems we encounter in our environment but we are to also discover ways and means to progress, to develop and to enhance the quality of life for all on earth.
Order and structure
God is a God of order and structure. Though equal with the Father, the Son submits to the Father. Therefore we were created similarly to have order and structure in family and in our relationships. We were also created to have order and structure in everything in life. Not disorder and chaos, or lack of planning or no planning at all, that we see in so many cultures and nations where the minds of the people are still deeply rooted in false religions – a reflection of the chaotic spiritual world they believe in. The Bible tells us that whatever we worship is what we value, and whatever we value is what we will become. It is no wonder then why animistic cultures exhibit the chaos we can see of their way of life – a reflection of the chaos among the gods they worship who are unpredictable, jealous and capricious and at war with each other.
In the creation, God worked six days and on the seventh day He rested. Jesus said His Father has not ceased to work and neither has He (Jn.5:17). Since God works and we were created to be like Him, then we were created to work. Not only that, in Genesis, God put man in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Gen.2:15). This was before the fall. Work is therefore not a curse (as some teach) but rather a gift and blessing to be enjoyed. Like our creator, when we work with a spirit of excellence and produce something, we can stand back and look at it and feel a sense of satisfaction and like our Creator, say “It is good”.
We can do this not just in the big things, but in even something as simple as washing dishes, or sweeping the floor, or arranging the shelves. When we produce something of order and beauty, and we take delight in it, we are fulfilling a part of the image of God that we were created to be. That would be part of the worship (giving worth) to God for creating us. Cultures that value work and excellence in work and that take delight both in their work and in the product of their work are evidently far more advanced than cultures that regard work as a curse or as a burden just to put food on the table.
Vision, Planning, Organization, Step by step Progression, Development, Time Management
Before God created man on the sixth day, He created the environment that will sustain human life. He also gave man the beauty of the natural environment to enjoy. Just from the six days of creation, we can see not only order, structure and development, but we can see God as One who has vision, who plans (Ps.33:11, Jer.29:11, Eph.1:11) organizes, and works in a time oriented systematic step by step progression towards a goal. This tells us that God created us, like Him, to function in the same way in our lives – to have vision, planning, organization, order, structure, and systematic step by step progression and development. Not trapped in a meaningless cycle of existence or reincarnation as animism dictates. It is obvious that cultures and communities today that still do not value or practice vision (Pr.29:18) and planning, and who are lacking in order, structure and organization, and time management, have little progress or development.
Productivity and Dominion
God also told man to be fruitful and multiply. So we were created to work creatively with what God has given us and to be productive. God gives us seeds to work with, but this is not necessarily limited to physical seeds that produce plants that produce fruits, but also seeds as creative ideas that can germinate in our minds to produce things in the sciences (engineering, architecture, transport and travel, medicine and heath, etc) and the arts (music, writing, painting, design, drama and plays, etc) of efficiency and beauty and that blesses the nations.
God intended man to take dominion and rule over all that God had created and placed under the authority of man. This means that we are to overcome, not to be overcomed by nature or the elements or our circumstances, nor to bow down and worship them. To overcome of course requires creativity, vision, planning and work.
Communities founded on God’s Character
If we would be communities that are creative, and work with vision and planning, order and structure, and timeliness, and be productive, and love, and share our resources and the fruits of our labour with each other, there would be no poor among us (Deut.15:4-11). Added to that, if we would live by the other attributes of God – righteousness, holiness, truth, mercy, compassion, goodness, faithfulness, under His Lordship, empowered by His Spirit, and directed by His counsel (His Word and His voice speaking in us) – wouldn’t that be a picture of the kind of communities that God designed and intended for us? Not only would that be the abundant life that Jesus came to restore (Jn.10:10), such communities would reflect His character. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt.5:16). This is what I believe it really means to glorify Him – when we fulfil what we were created to be – to be like Him. These are the communities that the Father, and the world, is waiting to see.