Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Are you an individual or a person?

Read Ephesians 4: 1-6

The mystery of God has always confounded the human mind. We cannot lift ourselves up to the level where we could adequately speak of God, even less explain God away. We babble, we stammer, we seek the least incorrect concepts and words to speak of the mystery which surrounds us and confounds us.

During the first centuries, Christians tried to find such concepts and words to speak of the new way of experiencing and understanding God that Jesus had brought about. One of those concepts was that of “personhood.” The bishops gathered at the Council of Nicea in 325 spoke of the Father, the Son and the Spirit as three “persons” in one God.

It’s interesting that we don’t speak of three “individuals” in God. Individuality resonates with notions of self-affirmation, autonomy, identity over and against others. Becoming an individual means standing out in the crowd, not going with the flow, being oneself no matter how that might grate on others. The “rugged individualism” of westerns evokes images of lonesome cowboys conquering adversity and enemies to establish themselves as men to be reckoned with.

The concept of personhood is quite different. Becoming a person means finding oneself in relationship with others. The human person, fully alive, is part of a community; stands with others, not against them; realizes that fulfillment cannot be achieved at another’s expense.

To speak of three persons in God is to speak of the source of all being as community, relationship and, ultimately, love. And to consider human beings as created in God’s image is to understand human beings as destined not for individualism, but for personhood.

In today’s excerpt from the letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of the mystery of God’s being which lies at the heart of the Christian faith: God as Father, Lord (Son) and Spirit. And he teases out this consideration: that if our God is involved in loving relationship since before the beginning of time, then we ourselves who believe in this God must strive to live similar relationships among ourselves. There is an inner dynamism in the Christian life which impels us to proclaim one faith, to celebrate one baptism, to share the same hope. And this dynamism yearns to flower in the humility, kindness, patience and love with which we are called to relate to one another.

We do not lose our personality in this process. Unity is not fusion. But our personality is shaped by the relationships that bind us one to another. As with God, so with us. Let us therefore endeavour to reflect in our love for one another the love which lies at the heart of God.

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