The Myth of Individualism

In perhaps one of the most debated passages of the new testament the Apostle Paul presents a vision of human relations that has been all but lost. The chapter is 1 Corinthians 11 and the vision is one of interdependence. Perhaps the reason this vision of interdependence has been lost is due to the fact that it’s embedded in a long passage that deals with “head coverings!”

The full passage gets at the idea of glory & headship. Personally, it seems that Paul is addressing the length of women’s hair in comparison to their husbands when he speaks of “head coverings,” but that is not what I want to focus in this post. In verses 11 & 12 Paul writes this to the Corinthians:

(11) Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman;  (12) for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

This passage brings to the fore a concept that is either ignored or rejected nowadays. We tend to believe that people come into the world and begin a new narrative completely detached from the narratives of others. Paul disagrees with this individualistic ideal. Instead of promoting individualism Paul explains that each individual enters (at least) two pre-existing narratives.

On the first level, individuals entering the world participate in a pre-existing filial narrative. Paul specifically shows how man is not independent from woman because man comes from woman in birth. There is a pre-existing story that children are born into, a family narrative; and that is not insignificant! The number of stories and sitcoms dedicated to severing all filial bonds is myriad. We may want to reject this filial narrative for may reason, but to try and sever this bond is to reject a creational aspect of our being.

On the second level, individuals entering the world participate in God’s ultimate narrative. Paul says “all things are from God.” This is a common theme in Paul’s writings as we see similar statements made at the conclusion of Romans 11 and in the Christological hymn of Colossians 1:15-23. John Calvin once said that the world is a theater for the glory of God. In birth we are placed on the stage destined to bring glory to God. This is the narrative of creation and history. One perspective of total depravity is an attempt to change the plot of the play and bring glory to one’s self rather than to God. The folly in this (as the Bible repeatedly displays) is that the rebel unwittingly brings glory to God in their inevitable downfall.

The sin of autonomy can be seen in the rejection of both one’s filial narrative & God’s overarching narrative. We too often place ourselves at the center of the world. N.D. Wilson says that we often believe that we are the main character in some sort of trendy sitcom where everyone loves our idiosyncrasies and out personality quirks. N.D. Wilson does a great job of explaining that we are actually playing a much smaller role in a much bigger story! Further, the role we play in this bigger story is determined (mainly) by how we interact with other “characters” and not in some sort of individualistic inner-dialogue.

The narratives God places us in (mainly the filial and ultimate [God-glorifying] one) are narratives of interaction and interdependence. We are never to substitute these realities and view ourselves as being detached from everyone else. As much as we may hate the idea in our Modern world we are whole dependent on one another. This is why the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the children, they know their interdependence to those around them and do not disdain it like we adults with so little faith. As the psalmist says:

You brought me out the womb;

you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. (Psalm 22:9)

Food for thought.

Michael

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