(Above: Mt. Hood in all it’s glory one fine June morning!)
Sociology: The Divine Imprint
If we examine what God has given to us in creation, we are able to see His divine imprint in all of it. The animals, the earth, the heavens, as well as in the 3 realms: physical laws, social laws, spiritual laws. All of that speaks to an unprecedented order that is clearly within His nature and being.
Crater Lake National Forest
Job 25:2 says that “Dominion and awe belong to God; He establishes order in the heights of heaven.”
1 Corinthians 14:33 says that “God is not a God of disorder, but of order.”
It’s so interesting that God is a God of order, and that beyond the obvious order in creation itself, He has also designed social systems to follow suit that also would reflect His nature and being in their purest forms. The Bible is clear about God’s cultural mandate for humankind. Our job is to manage the earth, to manage our gifts, and our human faculties in order to take care of all aspects of His creation, including people. We are to harness and build infrastructure using the raw materials of the earth; to establish social systems; create culture; and to make order out of what is given to us.
All of the cultural mandate follows a basic principle that is creating order out of raw disorder. This call for intrinsic order is modeled for us in various systems God designed in creation. Just think of the list of them: the cellular system, the skeletal, the circulatory, photosynthesis, coral reefs, metamorphosis, pollination, the water cycle, lunar tides, the solar system, etc…
All of these systems are incredible because of their order and beauty, displayed in glory through the physical creation. But even more so, order in the social realm is just as phenomenal and just as beautiful. I am not saying that social order is beautiful, right now. In fact, I think most of us would agree that is is anything but that, sadly. I am saying that much like creation, the original design of God’s social order of things is good, and it is our job is to make orderly by mandate. Literally, this is our job description as created beings.
God’s Social Order is the top piece to our framework as Christians.
All of the social institutions that God gives us represent the most beautiful and glorious systems in all of God’s creation because they are all about relationships. Are these systems just a result of chance? Did they evolved, or are these systems the design of God to glorify him? This is precisely where the real battle is for Christians in a post-christian society, and why other societies in the world ache for the order that is found in peace and mature leadership that hardly even exists today. For context and for honest theological aim, we always return to the original intent of God’s design, as articulated in the Genesis account.
This original order is also difficult to see because we (at large) have a tendency to do the same with His social systems that we do with His word or with creation, and that is a visceral reaction against Him where we remove Him as the designer or we’re unwilling to see His imprint within it. In fact, what i’m claiming here has very little standing amongst most people today because of the secularization of society at large. But if we only look within ourselves for the answers, the results are pretty puny and disappointing at best. What we’ve done in our social institutions are a mockery of God’s original design for human flourishing, but in the same breath, we as Christians then have a huge opportunity to bring in the goodness of God’s Kingdom to earth through our relationships, at our work, and in our homes.
When God prescribes what the social institutions should look like, the family, the church, economics etc, its based on His own nature. The entire point of why that matters is because when we aim at the nature of God in every pursuit in our lives, it leads to peace and rest that God has promised to those who do His will. I know lots of my own personal friends who would test me on the necessity of doing the Lord’s will, or the concept of obeying God in general. But scripture is covered in and layered in verse after verse about “If:Then” blessings as a result of obeying. So for me, he clearly cares what we do, so this is why i’ve chosen to write about this too. First though, to preface any discussion about God’s social order, or His way of doing things, let us be clear that when God was creating the universe, the comment that He made over and over again was that, “It is Good.”
IT IS GOOD!
But if He says that His work is good, does that mean that everything that God created is good? If we read a little further into the creation account in Genesis, we read however that ”then the Lord God said “It is NOT good for man to be alone.”
Is He making an ethical statement or a qualitative statement? Pragmatic or moral?
It is an ethical statement because being alone is contrary to the nature of God.
This was the divine pause…
The only time in the creation account where He stops to make a divine statement about His nature. There had never been aloneness before in all eternity. Never. This is the divine mark.
1 is the lonely number: 2 defines relationship and intimacy; 3 defines community and fellowship.
Within the triune nature of God, (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit) we have everything: intimacy, union, community, fellowship, and love.
Before we launch into this area of social order (sociology), two things particularly for the follower of Jesus to consider:
The first is that in order to test for the truthfulness of any thing, any system, we have to remember that our standard is to look to the Nature of God and what that teaches us about the matter.
Secondly, pertaining particularly to the question of God’s nature, we should refresh ourselves and focus on the specific aspect of God’s Nature in order to observe correctly His divine imprint in the social order. That is to look at The Trinity. The Trinity reveals to us that God’s very being has university and diversity within it. What unifies this diversity ? What does this triune nature of God look like?
This is crucial for properly understanding what God is like, how he relates to us, and how we should relate to him.
The Trinity is comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are all in perfect harmony and perfect relationship to each other. The doctrine of the Trinity basically says that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. The Bible speaks of the Father as God (Philippians 1:2), Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3–4). Are these just three different ways of looking at God, or simply ways of referring to three different roles that God plays? The answer must be no, because the Bible also indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.
Wayne Gruden explains their relationship to each other well. He says, “the distinction between the persons is not a difference of ‘being’ but a difference of ‘relationships.’ This is something far removed from our human experience, where every different human ‘person’ is a different being as well. Somehow God’s being is so much greater than ours that within his one undivided being there can be an unfolding into interpersonal relationships, so that there can be three distinct persons. (253–254)
The reason this matters for the way that we can visualize God’s divine imprint on the realm of Social Order is because it’s not as though God sat up in heaven and dreamed up “Social Order.” It had already existed for all of eternity within the triune nature of God. So the identification of where we as a society (or in these various systems that we stray from), the divine imprint stamped on them is important because every single one of them have to do with relationships. God is all about relationships. In fact, to look at the broader context which is important, what happened at the fall? All relationships were severed; god and man, man to man, man internally, and man to creation. The real result of the fall had everything to do with relationships. So His divine order has the unifying effect for relationships, which directly applies to us all.
Let’s break it down…
We could use the institution of marriage as the example, standard for the way in which we examine all others as we compare and contrast it to the nature of God. There is not time to dive into every social institution, but this will at the very least pave some headway about the framework for how to assess it from God’s perspective as evident in the Bible.
As a social institution, does marriage have the imprint of the nature of God? Before answering that, let me first preface the social institution of marriage by saying this regarding the Biblical mandates about marriage, specifically about wives submitting to their husbands: I am fully aware that the word “Submit” is a negative sounding/meaning word in today’s culture. But how do we really know what the idea of submission means unless we go to the source of submission from the very beginning of time. The original text (regarding marriage) in Ephesians uses the Greek word ‘Hypotasso,’ which can be translated “yield,” or “defer,” or “to put another’s good ahead of your own.” It does not mean “do what you’re told.” Hypotasso means give your feelings, desires, and trust over to another. And both men and women are called to do this. The same Greek word is used all over the New Testament epistles.
Children are to submit to their parents. Followers of Jesus are to submit to the elders of the church. Citizens are to submit to the government. Angels are to submit to God. This word has to do with order, with the way that God set creation to thrive.
It is from that angle that we dissect the idea of God’s social institutions. When we don’t do that, we use authority and submission in an ugly way, just as the way that ‘Hypotasso’ has been used to abuse and misuse a woman in marriage.
In the Trinity, the nature of the submission of the Son to the Father operates out of perfect equality and harmony in their roles, and is glorious for the triune relationship. We cannot forgo gender roles because of the tension or abuse of them over the years. If we do, we will be missing out on a central part of our humanity. Gender roles aren’t oppressive. Men and women are oppressive at times. Gender roles are good. “We don’t need freedom from the roles, we need healing between men and women.” -John Mark Comer, Loveology.
The Bible says that the ‘Husband and wife shall become one flesh.’ “Marriage is intended to be a life-giving place to explore and experience that same healing that Jesus offers to us, and to model the return to Eden.” Comer
Read Ephesians 5:22 (below) slowly to take in all of the implications of the text. I understand how this reads to our culture and our moment in history, but let’s do the work for context’s sake.
22 “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[b] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
We view this as radical, right? But in the first century it would have been the exact opposite. The call for husbands in the church to love their wives and respect them would have been life-shattering. In the Roman Empire in the AD 60’s, all that any man owed his wife was a roof over her head and his seed for her children. This call to put her good above his own was unprecedented. His time, his money, his freedom, his desires were all now to be for her? To nourish her? To feed her physically and spiritually? God was the ultimate feminist in the correct use of the word, and this was heated drama back in Ephesus. Also, to note in case your a modern day feminists and this is all a joke to you: Check it out that Paul says twice as much to the husbands as far as their responsibilities than the wives.
When Jesus was praying to the father in the garden, He said that He and the father were one. The Bible says that wives are to submit THEMSELVES to their husband. In the Triune nature of God: The Son submits to the father, even though they are one. He (the husband) needs respect like you (the wife) need love.
This is not about worthiness; it’s about the design of God, and aligning with His order within the oneness relationship between a Husband and a wife.
When both husband and wife are submitted to the Spirit and make Jesus the covering of their marriage, this is a glorious balance of the two separate but equal parts that make the whole. Nowhere does it say that the husband is to enforce her submission to him (!) Nowhere does God say that by force or coercion that he should make her submit to him. What he is asked to do however is to love, give, sacrifice, nourish, and put his wife’s needs above his own. Frankly, if men actually did that, there would probably be a truce in the gender wars. Submission is her choice, it is her free will that is a gift that she gives to her husband. God is good, and He is good all of the time.
The response to the social institution of marriage; Husband & Wife relative to the Triune nature of God: Father>Son; Husband>Wife ; Christ> Body (All are ONE)
What does God think of the family unit? 1 Peter 3:7 says:
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker vessel, and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
This verse is speaking directly to husbands, so God clearly takes the unity of the family serious. He straight up says if you don’t treat your wife with respect, I may not listen to your prayers. Thats how serious this is to God.
He reiterates: Malachi 2:13 “Another thing you do; you flood the Lord’s alter without your tears. You weep and wail because He no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one, because He was seeking Godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with His garment, say the Lord almighty. So guard yourself in your Spirit, and do not break faith.”
This text speaks into all sorts of fascinating details about who God is and who He is not. The key though is that if you believe that God is who made you, and who made the universe, and you observe the order and the beauty and the goodness of what He made, it’s very difficult to argue with Him on how He wants things done. Like, its pretty likely that He knows best how to run things. If that’s the implication, then when it comes to relationships and these social institutions that are made up of relationships, observing His nature as a model will not likely fail us.
I’m positive that there is so much that is debatable about this stuff. But from my perspective, I think its wise for us all to take an honest assessment in our own lives and simply attempt to shadow God’s design in our own lives. Order, blessing, love, connection, beauty, unity, diversity- it’s all there.
Father, will you begin with me. Help us to look fresh at the relationships you’ve provided for us in our families, that we would begin to live in the way that you have designed for us to live. Bless the effort and allow us in turn to be of aide and comfort and a light to the families that live around us, that we would not ignore the cries for help. Let us be your stewards first in our own homes…