The Big Picture – Act One: Creation
Many times, in the process of helping people grow (or in our own growth), we forget the big picture of what God is doing in the human race. We get caught up in the particulars of helping someone restore his or her emotional or spiritual health, heal a hurting marriage, or make life work, and we lose sight of the bigger picture.
But there really is a big picture. It is the story of God and his creation that was lost, and of his work to restore it to himself. This big picture is very important as we think about entering into the specifics of people’s lives; we must not lose sight of what God is doing in the world.
Many times we forget the way things should be, and we forget what we are trying to accomplish in helping people grow. We focus on the wrong issues. We zero in on the “problem,” such as depression or intimacy, as though this problem were the main issue. Or we hammer in on a pattern of behavior we think is the sin behind the struggle, and we think that if we can get the person to be good enough, then we have helped him or her.
This thinking happens not only when we help people with personal problems, but also when we preach, teach, disciple, or encourage people to engage in spiritual disciplines. We speak to problems and “symptoms” or try various religious formulas, and we miss the real life-changing dynamics of the “ministry of reconciliation.” After all, it is far easier to focus on a particular problem in someone’s life, or to focus on his or her particular way of “missing the mark,” than it is to figure out the ways that the Fall is still operative in the person’s life and discover a redemptive path that will “reconcile” his or her life. We focus on the symptom and not the root issue.
But the call to reconcile people to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) is a call to address the root issue. We are not just to help others “feel better” or relate better or perform better. And God forbid, we are not just to try to get them to “do better” either. This is the essence of the pharisaical life. But as Paul said, we have been given this “ministry of reconciliation.” We are to be working with God as he reconciles all things “to himself.”
The question then becomes “What are we trying to reconcile?” First, we are obviously trying to get people back into a relationship with God. But beyond that, we generally see only two other emphases; one is to reconcile people to each other, and the other is to reconcile people to the idea of holiness and pure living. For many, these three emphases constitute the ministry of reconciliation. Great life changes and healing are to be had when these three things occur.
But there is more to be done. Spiritual growth is not only about coming back into a relationship with God and each other, and about pursuing a pure life, but it is also about coming back to life-the life God created for people to live. This life of deep relationship, fulfilling work, celebration and more, gives us the life we desire and solves our problems. As Paul says, we are “separated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). We must be reconciled to life the way it was created to work. The essence of the book How People Grow covers how we believe this process works. But to get started let’s take a look at the way God created life (Creation), what happened to that life (the Fall), and what God has said about getting it back (Redemption).
Act One: Creation
Big Idea #1 – God is the Source
In the beginning there was God, and God created the heavens and the earth. Everything starts out with God as the Source. This is point number one in the Bible, and this is point number one in our theology of growth as well. Nothing was created before God, and everything that exists came from him. This includes all the “stuff” of life—the resources, the principles, the purposes, the meaning—everything!
After making the “stuff,” God made humankind and breathed life into them (Genesis 2:7). We have to understand this to mean that it includes bringing life to dead situations in our lives. God is not only Creator but also re-creator of life. It becomes the system of how one overcomes a depression or heals a marriage or rescues a failing business career. It is how God works with us to bring a marriage or career back to life.
Big Idea #2 – Relationship
When God created humans, he put them into relationship, first with him and then with each other. God made people for himself and for one another. Adam depended on a relationship with God for life. But even with that relationship, he needed human connection as well. As God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Man was incomplete with God alone. So we see at the outset that relationship was at the core of the way things were created. The relationship was designed to be vulnerable and open, without duplicity and without brokenness or breach.
Big Idea #3 – God is the Boss
Relationships were not just tossed in a bowl like a salad. There was an order to them. First of all, in the relationship between God and humans, God was the Boss, the Authority. Not only was he the Source-but he was also in charge. He spelled out what people could do and enjoy, and what they shouldn’t do. He wanted them to take care of the garden and have a good time. But he also gave them a warning about exceeding the role he had given them. There were limits. He gave the limits because he knew that exceeding those limits would actually cause death. Life and submission to God were one and the same.
Big Idea #4 – Roles of God, Roles of People
We have distinctly different roles in this order of creation. Let’s look at those roles.
- God’s role was to be the source; our role was to depend on the source. God’s role was to provide and our role was to receive. Our role was to be a dependent one. Independence is not an option for us. God existed without us, not vice versa. So the role we must take in life is not only for dependency, but also against self-sufficiency. Our role is to recognize our limits and to transcend those limits by looking outside our ourselves for life.The same limitation applies to our relationship with each other. We are limited in our ability to provide what we need for ourselves without another person to relate to. We need other people and cannot live independently from them either. The results of trying to live apart from our need for others is disastrous and never works. We must depend on the outside for love.
- God’s role was to be in control; our role was to yield to God’s control of the world and to control our self. God had done the creating; Adam and Eve could not control that. God had placed them in the garden; they did not control the environment in which they found themselves. God was in control of the universe and what happened. He was in charge of the big picture. So many of people’s problems come from trying to control things outside of their control, and when they try, they lose control of themselves. Our control of the “big picture” was limited. In fact, we had none. But we did have control of our own behavior, and we were to exercise that responsibly. God’s role is to be in control of the big picture, and our role is to be in control of our self and our responsibilities.
- God was the judge of life; we were to experience life. Another role God had was to know good from evil. He had that role and did not want it passed on to humanity. He did not want humans to know what he knew about evil or have to judge it. He simply wanted us to live the good life: doing good, enjoying good.
- God made the rules; we were to obey them. God designed life the way it was supposed to be and the rules on how to live it. We were to obey them. God did not consult us on setting up the rules and the design of life. He just made the reality and then told us to obey it.
The Whole Package
If you think about it, this was pretty much the life everyone is looking for: a great place to live, the perfect mate, lots of good things to occupy your time, and a job that fits your makeup.
If these things had remained in place, there would be no need for this website. We would not need to think about how people grow or how to overcome life’s problems. We would still be in the garden experiencing life as it was designed, and we would not even be aware of what life would look like any other way. But this did not happen. Instead of remaining the innocent crown of creation, we took a great tumble, which brings us to Act Two, where we try to gain independence, take control, become the judge, and make our own rules.
Taken from How People Grow, © Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan 2001
This article is part 2 in a series of Feature Articles adapted from How People Grow.
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