As a reminder, the topics I post each week on “From the Pastor’s Desk” will tie in with our current teaching series, “The Church: Upward, Inward, Outward.”
What is the most important part of any society? (By society, I mean any group of people either living in community or associated because of shared interests, profession, etc.) Some might say rules, laws, or leadership; others might say values or interests shared by the people; still others might say resources, frequency of meetings, or something else I have failed to list. All those things do indeed affect and shape societies, but the most fundamental, most important part of any society is the relationship(s) between persons. Without relationships, no society can survive or, for that matter, even exist. The bonds formed and shared between two or more persons are the essence of any society. And what is true of a group of persons must first be true of each person.
Nothing is more basic to human experience than relationship(s). In the beginning, God created Adam (and Eve) with both a body and a soul, each of which was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Why two parts? Without a body, man could not fulfill his creation mandate in relation to the physical world: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…over every living thing that moves on the earth,” (Gen. 1:28). Without a soul, man could not fulfill his sole purpose in relation to God, to glorify and enjoy him forever. How can someone without a soul enjoy God, who is spirit (cf. John 4:24; Ex. 20:4)? Only by possessing body and soul could Adam (and Eve) exist the context in which they were placed, in relation to God, to each other, and to creation.
“[T]hen the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” ~ Gen. 2:7 (emphasis mine)
If body and soul are the “raw materials” of humanity, relationship is its essential function. Relationship (“to know and to be known”) is the context, as it were, of all human experience, physically and spiritually. Without relationships, life is meaningless (or, quite literally, not life at all!). To have any purpose, to accomplish any task, to understand anything whatsoever in life, people must exist within the context of relationship.
To take this one step further, what or, even better, who existed before creation? Of course, God alone existed! So, who or what is God? “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (WSC 4). How many Gods? “There is but one only, the living and true God” (WSC 5). When reading Scripture, we learn this one God exists in three Persons: “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (WSC 6). This last point is crucial to understanding what it means to “exist” at all. God is eternal life, and God eternally exists in relationship with himself (cf. John 1:1-4).
The truth about God’s eternal self-existence – one God, three Persons, living in perfect, harmonious relationship – is crucial to understanding why relationships are so necessary for human existence. Because God infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably exists as a divine society of three Persons (the Trinity), all things created by God must likewise exist in relationship to him and to one another. Man is the image of God, but all creation reflects the glory and character of God (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19-20). No person (or created thing) is ever wholly “isolated” (Ps. 139:8) but to varying degrees and at different times remains related to something. Consequently, anything without a living relationship is, by definition, “dead.”
As a brief aside, this is why all dogs do not go to heaven. This world is passing away because of man’s sin, of which death is the consequence. Any living physical “thing” (plant, animal, or even a human body) not possessing a soul / spirit cannot exist past physical death in this world because it no longer exists in living relationship to anything else in this world. Its physical “raw materials” (atoms, molecules, subatomic particles etc.) continue to exist in relation to creation as inert matter, though without a context in which to live, truths actually reflected in the Laws of Thermodynamics. Sorry for the philosophical rabbit-trail, but such things are worth pondering!
Perhaps this helps you to understand even better why death is such a tragic consequence of the fall. This present creation is dying and must finally “die” at the return of Christ because the living relationship it once enjoyed with God through humanity was corrupted / severed by Adam’s sin. Christ (the Second Adam) must bring with him a new heavens and new earth at his return because only through him can anyone (or anything) possess a life-giving relationship to God.
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. ~ John 17:3
For human beings, the first death rips apart body and soul (bad enough!), but the second death (Rev. 21:8) is a “living” death. All human bodies, both of believers and nonbelievers, will be raised at the Second Coming of Christ because all bodies are “related” to Christ in his resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15). “Death” (i.e., the first death of this present world) and Hades (i.e., Hell or the temporary holding cell for unregenerate souls) are themselves said to be destroyed (Rev. 20:11-15) because they are part of the former things passing away after the resurrection (Rev. 21:1-8).
For believers, whose souls already exist in life-giving relationship to Christ, the resurrection is a joyful reunion of body and soul, in which both perfectly and eternally experience the bliss of life-giving communion with God (and, as a result, to all other people and things in the new heavens and earth!).
For nonbelievers, the resurrection is the unimaginably horrific binding together of a living body (i.e., resurrected body) and a “dead” soul (i.e., not in living relationship with God), both of which then perfectly and eternally endure the wages of sin. The second death is not without any relationship to God (which would be non-existence or annihilation); rather it is the final consummation of a “life” lived in the context of or relation to God’s infinite, eternal wrath upon sin. Now that’s really bad!!! In life, whether now or in eternity, and death, whether the first or the second death, relationship remains the context for human existence and experience.
So, then, after wading neck deep into existential questions of what it means to be human, what does this have to do with our current teaching series: “The Church: Upward, Inward, Outward”? I will leave most of the answer to that question until Sunday, but for now, remember that the Church is a society, a group of human beings, with shared relationship(s). The Church is not a building, set of activities or programs, or even a worship service. Those are parts of what the Church does, but to exist, the Church must first possess living relationships. I look forward to teaching more on Sunday!