Union is the bond that enables the harmonious music called unity. The mindset of our culture, in contrast, is fiercely autonomous and independent. The individual reigns over the corporate, the particular over the whole. The self-styled and differentiated unconventional are championed. That is true even in church culture. Intimacy, on the other hand, is the explicit expression of union, symbolizing the even more profound disposition of unity. Current culture perceives union and unity possible only by a concession of personal freedom. The intimacy borne by union and unity is perceived as adversarial to freedom and autonomy. The culture wants both, but it values personal liberty over intimacy. This is evident, for example, in the cultural shift away from both the vows and institution of marriage. The culture wants the relationship, but not the commitment. So there is the attempt to wrench intimacy free from its covenantal moorings and to experience union and unity – intimacy – without the perceived loss of freedom.
This is happening with faith. Spiritual experientialism is high, sacrificial commitment is low. The problem is that both the deeper fulfillment and the transformational power are not in the experience of intimacy, but in the relationship itself.
The true opposite of freedom is not union or unity, as the culture wrongly reasons, but force. Force is vulnerability to the power of the other, the non-loving other, the exploitive other, the controlling other. Further, the true opposite of unity is fragmentation with its core problem of militant autonomy. The individualism of fragmentation is a violation of the principle of sumphero, of staying on the same page, of making music together. Aggressive selfishness, manifest as pseudo independence and self-sufficiency, assaults intimacy. It is the essence of pride often resulting in interpersonal force. It throws off covenantal restraints.
James asked the question, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?” – The interpersonal conflicts between you? (James 4:1) He answers, “… they come from the evil desires at war within you?” Interpersonal conflicts are expressions of intrapersonal conflicts. The lack of peace within – the dis-ease – is visited on others. The inner fracture of one person divides the entire corporate church. With an unwillingness to discipline the inner self, uncrucified desire reigns. The word used is hédoné, the root of our word hedonism. D. Edmond Hiebert offered an interesting translation of this verse, “You lust, and have not – so you kill,” and “you desire to have, and cannot obtain – so ye fight and war.” James points to the missing discipline, “Why don’t you pray?” The answer comes, “I have prayed, ‘You ask (pray), and receive not, because ye ask amiss’ …” The request was outside the bounds of principles that are healthy, whole, and consistent with the will of God. Prayer’s primary purpose is our willing alignment with the purpose of God. Here, the attempt is to align God with the aberrant and consumable pleasure of the man. He is dis-eased. The personal inner conflict spills over corporately as disunity, and is then displaced on God, resulting in a miserable and non-productive prayer life. All are signs of worldly compromise and disaffected loyalty – “adulterers and adulteresses … friendship with the world.” Literally, the affection (philia) or love of the world is hostility toward God. The choice is stark. Settle the dissonance within, and submit to the righteous ways of God. Then, settle the interpersonal disputes and stop being enemies one of another. Or end up being at enmity with God.
This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org.