Fishbowl Faithfulness – Part III

How then can we better discern the way our culture is wired? Jayson Georges, in his book, “The 3-D Gospel,” illumines what undergirds our culture. He joins other scholars in identifying it as a guilt-based culture. Our understanding of right and wrong, our focus on moral behavior, and our understanding of salvation through legal metaphors, all stem from a worldview emphasis based in the tension between guilt and innocence. It is highly individualistic, and so the application of salvation tends to focus on forgiveness of personal sins and a personal relationship with Jesus. Community living presents a significant challenge, which may explain why church budgets reflect many programmatic attempts to promote such community. Many world cultures default to a relational reality rather than an individual one.

Rather than guilt-based, many world cultures are based in the tension between shame and honor or fear and power. In shame-based cultures, relationships dominate and determine right and wrong. Rather than guilt-management through self-condemnation, shame-management in the face of condemnation from others compels decisions and behaviors. For example, it is hard for us to understand the recent news of how 100 young girls taken as slaves, once given the opportunity for freedom from their captors, would refuse to return home. Yet they refuse because of the shame they would face. We would say, “but they did not do anything wrong,” (based on our assessment shaped by our understanding of individual responsibility for our actions). In their culture, anything that has been done to them or by them has brought shame to their family.

Fear-based cultures focus on the spirit realm and the manipulation of the spirits to control life according to the community’s wishes. Control equals power. This is prominent in many tribal settings around the world, including the jungle communities that surround us here in Pucallpa. Fear-management in the face of control and spiritual oppression influences decisions and behaviors. People exercise power over others through control, often invoking rituals, traditions, or practices as the basis for influence. Fear grips whole communities and even holds them back from progressing toward “some” choices (see Schwarz’s range of choices from “none” to “some” to “more” in Part II). Power is centralized and not shared.

World cultures, including the United States, represent various mixtures of guilt, shame, and fear-based expressions. Two recent groups that visited us in Pucallpa took an assessment related to these cultures, and they both scored as very strongly guilt-based in their worldview perspective. This is largely true of Church culture in the US, though there is certainly a rise in shame-based dynamics in the millennial generation, and fear-based culture is present in certain circles as well. The good news, the Gospel, announces true innocence, honor, and power to peoples of all nations. The kingdom of God and the hope of His resurrection in the new creation restores what was lost in the garden.

So what was lost in the garden? The garden of Eden, the first fishbowl, represents a focused place where humans, in relationships with the Father and one another, carry out the commission of cultivating creation. God commissions them to fill the earth, which is something “big,” and then He places them in a garden, somewhere “small” compared the whole earth. The way to accomplish the “big” in God’s mission is through faithfulness in the “small” ways and places. We can reach “beyond” limits by being faithful “within” limits. The limited reality in the garden abounded with life, as the human beings could eat from all the trees, including the tree of life. Their limit was that they were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, very quickly the serpent introduced partial truth to them. It was partial truth, because in the day they ate of the forbidden fruit, they did not actually die in the literal sense. In addition, they did become like God in knowing good and evil, something else the serpent said would happen. By reaching beyond their limits by going outside of their limits, they were gripped by deception.

Similarly, in our affluent North American culture dominated by “more” options, partial truths abound. Yet the same twists present in the serpent’s counsel at the beginning distort our understanding today. By seeking to reach beyond limits in so many ways, in and out of Church, we enter the realm of death in the ultimate sense, if not literally as well. We also become like God in having to carry the knowledge of good and evil, which we were not designed to shoulder. Our design wired us to seek that which is good and beautiful and life-giving. Our distorted mindset and behaviors must now wrestle with the knowledge of good and evil in all areas of life. Fishbowl faithfulness seeks to return to the limits of seeking that which is good and beautiful and life-giving, in relationship with God and one another. With repentance, it requires focus and patience.

After their disobedient reach outside of their fishbowl faithfulness, the man and woman immediately experienced shame, and they hid. They were also afraid when they heard the voice of their Creator, who had all power. Finally, they began to blame one another, which manifests their attempt to avoid the guilt they felt. Lost from their shattered fishbowl was their wonderful world of honor, power, and innocence. Instead, they grasped shame, fear, and guilt.

God responds by doing what He must in order to begin the rescue and restoration of His creation. He judges them. He judges them in order to rescue and restore them. He separates them from His presence in order to restore them to His presence. The foundation of His redemptive intentions are clear. At the end of Genesis 3, Adam names his wife, Eve, the mother of all that is living. Life remains the focus of their relational pursuit. God also covers their shame with the sacrifice of life, by providing animal skins. This would be a lasting and effective covering for their sin. Then, He “sends” them from the garden to carry out the mission for which they were originally placed in the garden, “to cultivate the earth.”

In just a few verses, Adam “names” Eve, and they are “sent.” Their mission remains intact. However, they would no longer walk in the presence of the One who made them. Yet if they would trust, He would help them and come to them, which He did when they conceived their child; Eve declared that God had helped them. This too was part of their mission, to be fruitful and multiply. The mission continued. God would walk with those who walk with Him in His mission. His presence contained and compelled His mission. His presence in His mission remained the fishbowl in which they were to live, though they would now always be tempted by the reality of their unlimited reach.

Eventually the condition worsened to the point that only one family would survive the flood. Life thrived in the fishbowl of the ark, while disaster abounded outside of that fishbowl. Later, all the nations of the earth would extend their reach in a vain attempt to make a name for themselves, to reach beyond their limits of faithfulness in their appointed fishbowls. In response, God scattered them and confused them, providing new fishbowls in which they were once again given the opportunity to live without destroying themselves. Out of these divisions of language and culture, God reached into one family and chose to reveal Himself through His relationship with one man. First, Abram had to leave his family for the land that God would show Him. This “holy” land was rather small from a human perspective, in view of the vast human kingdoms that have spanned global maps throughout world history. Yet this was not a human kingdom. This land of promise represented a fishbowl of sorts, like another Eden. The faithfulness cultivated there would one day fill the whole earth. As with Abram, the fishbowls we enter are through sacrifice and obedience, a narrow gate that leads to a narrow path of following God and being in His presence.

Questions for reflection:

  • How do guilt, shame, and fear particularly distort our daily life and practice of faithfulness?
  • In what ways might we grow in our experience of the newness of life in innocence, honor, and power?
  • Right now in our lives, what opportunities for “small” faithfulness, within the limits of what is good, beautiful, and life-giving, would require our sacrificial obedience?
[Watch for Part IV, where we will learn the pathway of returning to fishbowl faithfulness – through a “sacrifice” of thanksgiving].

In His honor,

Mark, Kristin, Caleb, Jacob, and Rachel Coté

Missionaries of Discipleship and Development based in Pucallpa, Peru (see the most recent post that we wrote)

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