26Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image….’
Genesis 1:26 – REB
18Then the LORD God said’ ‘it is not good for the man to be alone; I shall make a partner suited to him.’
Genesis 2: 18
11Therefore encourage one another, build one another up – as indeed you do.’
1 Thessalonians 5:11
I was recently reminded of what was said in a Christian newspaper The Tablet at the time of the death of David Cameron’s disabled son, Ivan, in 2009. The comments in the article served as a useful reminder that we can’t value people, or our relationships with them, on the normal social conventions, or based on some arbitrary post-modern values of ‘the quality of life’. The article said this:
‘the meaning of the life of a six-year-old child with cerebral palsy cannot be measured by intelligence tests or physical prowess. His measure’, said the article, ‘is the deep love he received from those around him, stirred all the more by his hopeless vulnerability, and the love he gave back.’
These thoughts, about how we touch and are touched by others, seem particularly appropriate at this rather dystopian time in all our lives. If you think about the most important moments of your life to date, I’m sure that, like me, a list will come into your head of those seemingly unforgettable moments, when events were shared with others who were or are close to you. I’m not just talking about pleasurable moments here, but ‘life moments’. We all have moments of solitude, perhaps in the grandeur of nature at a particular moment, but the memories that tend to stay with us most vividly are those, good or bad, which we’ve shared with others.
We need contact with each other for almost every aspect of our lives: for humour and banter; to share experiences, thoughts and emotions; to bounce ideas off others and thereby generate new ideas; to receive affirmation and comfort when we need it most; to enjoy communication, discussion and even disagreement; to make music, theatre or worship; to share food and drink; to share gratitude for what makes us happy and glad to be alive; to help others in need. Life, as we all know to our cost, can be incredibly tough. Often the things that pull us through are those unexpected, random moments, when we inspire or are inspired by, others.
The current completely unnatural time in our lives, when we’re artificially separated from other people, is surely a time when we need to give thanks for those who, at important times in our lives have, knowingly or otherwise, made our journey through life easier.
Those of us, like me, who’ve experienced depression at any time in our lives know that such feelings tend to feed off themselves. By feeling depressed, it’s easy to start to feel that the world is against us. Those feelings encourage us to withdraw from contact with others, which in turn can lead to us feeling more depressed.
The story of our lives is a story of relationships. When we think about the way in which we’re created in God’s image, it’s not difficult to think that our ability to relate to others may be one of the most important aspects of how this is. After all, why did God bother to create Mankind, unless it was in order to enjoy, and sometimes grieve over, relationships with us? Our need for relationships with others and with God makes meaning of our lives; without them, we’re not fully human.
On the very last page of The Go-Between God by John V Taylor, there’s a story of how a woman, just after tragically losing her husband in a street accident, is visited by the schoolteacher of one of her children. The visitor sat beside her and threw an arm around her shoulders, clasping them with her full strength. As the unrelenting pain seeped through the woman visitor, she started to cry. For a long time, they stayed like that. At last the bereaved woman started to sob. The book ends like this:
‘Still not a word was spoken and after a little while the visitor got up and went, leaving her contribution to help the family meet its immediate needs.
That is the embrace of God, his kiss of life. That is the embrace of his mission, and of our intercession.’
And that, the author could have added, is the meaning of life.
We restrict and control the extent of human relationships at our peril. I pray that those in government will take full account of that in the days and weeks to come.