Don’t be surprised if those who make up the emerging Gen Z (or iY generation) look at you with puzzlement if you raise the subject of the church  with them. As the culture moves further and further away from the patterns and paradigms of the previous Christendom era, the concept of the church becomes more and more distant to those who have had no contact with it. At best, it may register with them as some kind of weird organization for those have some need of ‘religion’ but may be met with a shrug of the shoulders, and a “so what?” when the subject is raised with them. At the same time, there is always that (perhaps) dimly burning quest for meaning: What does my life mean? … and all those accompanying questions: Is there some center to life that I am missing? Is there some authority out there that I should be aware of? Is there some creative source of which I am not aware? Is there some guiding line to lead me through all the crap I deal with day by day? Yes, and is there some final goal to which I am blind? These questions are quite common, though we tend to brush them aside with distracting immediacies. But they are there. Where do those questions come from? Is there meaning to my life? Does anyone really care that I am even alive? And, is this life all that there is? It is quite easy to be lonely in the crowd. So, where do we begin to seek out some answers, some direction on this quest?

I, personally, am so thankful for that brief (but poignant) account of the beginnings of the human community in the opening chapters of the Bible. They says ‘worlds’ in just a few short paragraphs. First, the account posits that it is God who has created all things, and that they were created good. The crown of God’s good creation was the creation of the human, whom God made in his own likeness and image (Wow!). He was made to have intimate access to his Creator, and to be totally at ease “walking with God in the garden.” This human would have had no question who he was and where his life derived. Then that same sensitive God was aware that this human creature would not prosper in solitude, so made him a complementary woman, … and so we see the beginning of the human community. These three components give us clue on the meaning of our human existence (and, if you want to throw in a fourth, add that they were made stewards of their environment, keepers of the garden).

Then the mysterious intrusion of the temptation to declare autonomy, to be their own gods, and the whole scene short-circuited. Guilt entered since they knew that they were not God, and so they hid from God. But more, they were estranged from one another, and sought to hide from each other by making clothes to hide in. Darkness entered, then, in those three dimensions. These primordial humans lost their true humanity, and in that tragic episode all those questions listed above began to fester. Some despairing person has said: “It’s been lonely in the world since God died.” … Ah! But God didn’t throw up his hands in disgust, but rather began to unfold, what an apostle centuries later would describe as: “… the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed …” (Colossians 1:25-26). That mystery that was revealed was that God came into the human community in Christ to inaugurate his “all things new” recreation, his eschatological design for his creation, … and a huge piece of that was the recreation of the human community—the restoration of true humanity, and of true human community. When one looks at the life and teachings of Jesus, all his teachings and promises speak of God dwelling among us, of abundant life, of beyond asking or imagining freedom, self-understanding, loving relationships, and intimacy with God. Ultimately, comes the word that at the consummation of all things: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them …” (Rev. 21:3).

In that huge reality of the coming of God to dwell among us in Christ, lie the answers to all of those questions that lurk in the deeps of the human psyche, and our understanding of the church. (to be continued …)

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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