For the week of September 6, 2008 / 6 Elul 5768
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9
Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12 - 52:12

Fragmented Existence

Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the LORD your God that you shall make. And you shall not set up a pillar, which the LORD your God hates. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:20-22; ESV)

As I read the Scriptures I am continually struck by how they relate to all of life. That it touches every area of life is something that many Bible readers understand, but the way it does so is not always acknowledged. The Bible sees life as integrated. While not every aspect of life directly affects every other aspect of life, effective living is accomplished through a holistic rather than a compartmentalized approach. While we tend to compartmentalize our lives, the Bible sees the various aspects of life as one whole. It is not as if the spiritual aspects of life are separate from the non-spiritual ones. The Bible calls us to live life from a godly perspective, that is all of life lived in response to the one true God.

This is why the Torah can speak about the need to uphold justice and the rejection of idolatry in the same context. Remaining true to God is intimately connected to how we treat people. This may be difficult for us to understand, even when we regularly read the Bible and respect its teaching. It is difficult because we don't understand life this way. Instead of seeing life as an integrated whole, we tend to break up life into compartments that seem to have little to do with each other.

I know that most people are not philosophically minded and therefore don't think in these terms. Most people don't go around talking about their compartmentalized vs. integrated lives. But it is important for followers of the Scriptures to understand this if we are going to live life the way the Bible prescribes. While we might say we adhere to the Bible's teaching, we don't always notice how we are swept away by the assumptions of the world around us. There is more to living a biblical life style than being committed to a set of moral principles and professing to adhere to a list of religious statements. In the Scriptures God provides us with an entire outlook on life which is quite different from the way life is lived today.

For many of us, life in the 21st century includes a set of assumptions that actually undermine a biblical lifestyle. While it is always possible to remain faithful to biblical principles in any situation in any time period, we face a bigger challenge today than we might be willing to admit.

For example a great number of people live their lives over an enormous territory. Many people today travel in a single day further than most people throughout history travelled in their life time. One of the effects of this is that our homes, our places of our work, where we pursue leisure, and the services we partake of are completely separate from one another. Instead of only relating to one social group as people have done for most of history, we have many, most of which may never intersect with the others. Our business life is separate from our home life which is separate from our congregational life which is separate from our medical life and so on. This fragmentation is probably felt most in our home lives, since families have less and less shared experiences. We spend most of our energy at work or school and then wonder why we struggle to feel connected to the members of our households.

The Bible doesn't envision life this way. It is not just that the Scriptures were written when life was simpler. The values expressed in Scripture kept communities knit together. It was ingrained into the society that all of life was meant to relate to all of life. God's directives on land use, holy days, family relationships, sexual fidelity, care for the poor and needy, hygiene, authority structures, all helped build healthy community life.

Society's rejection of God's ways in favor of "doing our own thing" has resulted in a fragmented existence, where the bits and pieces of our lives have little or nothing to do with each other. As a result we spend so much energy just to get through a day. No longer do we have a rhythm of life that allows for strong community and healthy families, which are the basis of strong and healthy individuals, which are the basis for strong community and healthy families, and so on.

What is the solution? First, we need to recognize what is going on. Our fragmented existence is overwhelming us to the point of distraction. We cannot be what God meant us to be while being pulled in so many directions as we are today. We need to begin to reverse the trend. If life was meant to be lived as an integrated whole within families and communities, then we need to take steps to restore just that. Working closer to home or from home would bring us closer to one another. We should ask ourselves if it is really necessary for us and our children to pursue the amount of leisure and extra-curricular activities that we do. Restoring family time, especially at meals would draw families together. Equally important would be to discover ways in which families and neighborhoods could begin to have shared experiences again. Congregations need to become places of community, not just a place where we satisfy our spiritual needs and wants. In fact, it is in these biblical-based communities that we can help one another restore life to the way it was meant to be lived.

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