A Declaration of Dependence

For this week’s TakeFive, Max Jeganathan is exploring the Scriptural messages that remain countercultural to this day. On day three, Max exposes the illusions of an independence that we venerate so highly and so readily identify with success. What we discover through faith in God is countercultural recognition of our dependence and a chance to rest the wholeness of ourselves in an identity beyond our self.

We want to be financially independent; we want to be socially and emotionally independent; we want to be physically independent; we don’t like the idea that we might need something or someone.

…so whichever way we look at it we are all dependent; we’re all dependent on something or someone, the only question is on whom or on what do we place our dependence

It’s in to that question that the person of Jesus Christ comes with the most amazing message of relational, up-close-and-personal rescue that offers us a countercultural vision and a countercultural conception of independence.

Make it Personal

  • Do you find it natural to exalt independence and disparage dependence?

  • How might you share that dependence on Christ is great news, especially during these times?

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Yes and No.

Small children all over the world have a propensity to say “I can do it myself” (or expressions to that effect) at an early age. Parents recognise the wisdom of letting their children take responsibility for themselves progressively as they grow older and more mature. It is also very common in many parts of the world to see young people “rebeling” against their parents to one degree or another. This is often a part of gaining self-confidence for the time when they will in fact become solely responsibile for their lives. Different cultures, however, have very different views on when young people should leave their parents’ households and start their own. In some, girls especially, are expected to stay with their parents until they are married. In others, children are expected to leave “home” when they’re 18 years of age.

Where I currently live, independence is highly exalted … to the point where elderly people refuse to accept help carrying heavy loads, less they show their weakness and dependence. I have lived elsewhere, where elderly people expect to be helped, and graciously accept it when offered.

Independence is actually self-deception. Biologically our lives, even to the extent of acquiring nutrients from our food, is dependent on myriads of individually invisible creatures. Myriads of others are essential for our protection from harmful bacteria and viruses. We are created in such a way that we are in fact totally dependent on other creatures for our lives.

Even in the sphere of economics, we are dependent on others - either our parents, our employers (if we are employed), or our customers (if we are self-employed). The irony is that our (western) socio-economic systems, while exalting independence, actually increasingly make us dependent on others.

Perhaps the problem lies in our equating freedom with independence. We think that if we are independent, we are “free.” This ignores the question of responsibility and accountability.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31-32) What was the basic “teaching” of discipleship? “I give you a new commandment - that you love one another… Others will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Paul makes it very clear in Galatians that there is a direct relationship between freedom and loving one another. And that loving others means serving them. One aspect of grace, is accepting the service offered. We are to “grow in grace,” which in this context means actively and graciously accepting our dependence (even better inter-dependence) on others, “and being thankful.”

What I notice in myself (and I don’t have to go farther) is that I cannot demonstrate the kind of love He expects, without being totally dependent on Him - I don’t have the capacity in myself. I must deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is only through the Holy Spirit that I can be free to love.

It is especially in “times like these” that we see our dependence on others… because it is a health crisis, we are very dependent on health workers. If the crisis has financial implications, we are dependent on others to deal with those implications.

Personally, dependence on Christ in this coronavirus pandemic is the answer to:

  • anxiety, whether getting sick, being sick or even dying. “I don’t know about the future … but I know Who holds the future. And I know He holds my hand.”

  • any sense of isolation. “I will never leave you… Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” I always have someone to talk with. Always someone to share any burdens, hopes or joy I have,

  • what I can do to help, even though I am in a risk group, and should keep away from others. I can still pray for others, I can still call others and give encouragement, maybe hope, and decrease their isolation or down-heartedness.

  • a sense of helplessness. Accepting reality ("knowing the truth) in this situation, is basically admitting that I am in fact not in control; but knowing Christ is (based at least in part on the fact of his resurrection), and knowing he 1) can make any situation work for our benefit (Rom 8:28) and 2) has promised I will not lose out on anything that is good for me (Ps. 84:11), how can I “lose?” Without Him I can do nothing; with God all things are possible. I am helpless, yes. But so what? He isn’t. Helpless, but content, enjoying peace of mind.

Having said the above, thinking about question 2 I realise I must find a much more convincing way to present these and other truths, to individuals who are extremely proud, refuse to admit their anxety or fear, and continue to (try to) convince themselves that they remain in control. Even in the current situation, the imperative to show independence makes it difficult for many people to admit they need and want help.

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