Few among us would put scripture genealogies at the top of our list of spiritually significant subjects. And yet as I have suggested in my previous article, the scripture genealogy holds within it the very antidote to numerous present day ills. It remains for us to delineate the exact way in which a genealogy meets contemporary needs. Our discussion will focus in this article on the place and role of the self, and in a subsequent article on the place and role of community. A final article will explore some specific implications of the "genealogical framework" for Adventism in particular. The Self
Within the post-modern universe the self is the center; the individual and his preferences and opinions the only sacred entity. Family, community, and the social order must all bow to the individual. It is not that these entities do not exist within society today. They do, and yet they do not hold priority. They either serve the perceived needs of the individual or they are dispensed with or challenged. They are for me, not me for them.
Central to this post-modern argument on the place and role of the self is the issue of authority. If the constraining patterns of a given society exists solely on the basis of tradition and if traditional conceptions represent nothing more than the opinions of other men and women like myself, then why should I allow their opinions to be imposed upon my own life? This is in essence the post-modern question and it undergirds and informs the post-modern condition.
Lippman believed that such a condition of things was caused by "the impact of science upon religious certainty and of technological progress upon the settled order of family, class, and community" (New York Herald Tribune, August 1964). And though there is some truth in this he is only telling part of the story. What lurks in the background as the deeper cause is the failure of Enlightenment rationalism, a failure that Lippman himself was probably unwilling to admit. That rationalism had set out to establish a set of truths arrived at by empirical reason alone which would provide an unbiased and non-arbitrary pattern for human life and experience. When that attempt begin to unravel and prove untenable a thoroughgoing relativism was the inevitable result and the isolation of the self the only possible defense for the protection of the self from conceptions "arbitrarily" imposed by others. What this inevitably means, quoting Lippman again, is that "the meaning of life and the social order," must be "invented and discovered and experimented with, each lonely individual for himself."
As biblically astute Christians, this state of things should bring great sadness to our hearts. For we, above all others, should realize that it is impossible for the self to begin from scratch and successfully write its own story. That capacity and prerogative belong to God alone and make up the essential divide between the creature and the Creator. God begets and only then are we able to beget. Individual selves may of course attempt an independent narrative, discarding the image in which their selves were originally formed. This has been the way of mankind ever since Adam and Eve bit the apple. But the tragedy of this attempt is that the bid for independence will always result in the eventual unraveling of the self. The proclamation of the Preacher echoes and re-echoes over such lives. "All is vanity, vanity of vanities." This tragedy is made all the more profound in postmodernism because of the brazenness of the return to the forbidden tree by which man believes that he can become the creator of his own reality.
That a return to this tree should be the end result of the Enlightenment project is not surprising, for the whole of Enlightenment humanism was based upon the assumption of the moral autonomy of man. In Enlightenment thinking the individual comes first and has priority apart from all considerations of place or role in metaphysical orders or social and political structures. Ironically, giving the individual priority alongside these objective entities did not lead to the elevation of the individual but rather to his increasing dissolution and trivialization.
Take for example, the doctrine of rights. At its inception it was intended to provide a defense for the individual against oppression, but in its present day form it has become a force for dissolution. When first developed it was still linked with a sense of obligation towards God and one's fellow man. In other words, rights were balanced by duties and those rights which were invoked were rooted, just like the duties, in the recognition of the Creator. With the increasing secularization of the West, however, subtle shifts in the use of this doctrine have occurred. It is now used to buttress the primacy of the individual and the sacredness of his or her quest for self-fulfillment. Given such primacy, the ongoing expansion of perceived rights can be expected to continue apace.
Over against these developments, the central conception within the genealogical framework of scripture is that of duty and not of rights. Though there is unarguably a service of the family and the community carried out on behalf of the individual, the purpose of this service is not self-fulfillment as defined by the whims of the self, but rather a subsequent service to the community as defined by the divine intent and purpose within human history. Within such a framework the self has significance in the service of divine ends far beyond what it could ever fabricate for itself and protection of its highest interests, not in the fallible human conception of its rights, but in the person of God himself.
As never before in the history of the human family, it is absolutely imperative that as Christians we follow our Lord in allowing our "selves" to be shaped and our commitments and interests formed, not by self-interest but by the duties and responsibilities involved in living out God's Creation intent. "He who loves his life [insisting on the primacy of the self] shall lose it" (John 12:25). "But whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels shall save it" (Mark 8:35).