Q: Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?
A: From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.
Within this question-and-answer pair, the word apart, in the question, catches my attention—perhaps because this week I’ve been reflecting particularly on my time living in intentional community between 2006 and 2009.
I remember a conversation my late friend Brian Logan and I had: so many in our country live in apart-ments, he said, but maybe we should call these dwellings together-ments. If we used Brian’s term (togetherments), we might at least then gain a greater sense that the human family lives together, whether we like it or not.
As a central quality of the divine image, God granted freedom of choice to humanity. But the catechism says we’ve misused the freedom that God has given us, that we have made wrong choices.
With this question and answer the catechism starts to get to the root of human life lived apart: apartness from God, or what Tillich (I think) called estrangement.
The question mentions not only apartness from God but also disharmony with creation. And the catechism says that both human-to-human estrangement and human disharmony with creation come about because we have misused our God-given freedom to make choices.
Especially in North America, where we prize private property, individual rights, and individual freedoms, it does not take long to realize that we live lives apart. We demarcate property lines with fences. We lock our domiciles and cars. And our spaces apart are fueled by resources extracted from the creation at great cost to it.
The catechism’s answer here notes that wrong choices have been with us humans from the beginning. That word, beginning, of course recalls the early chapters of Genesis: the trust established between God, the earth, and its caretakers; the loss of trust that first brings about alienation, then exile from the garden, then fratricide.
Why did we misuse our freedom? Neither Genesis nor the catechism seems to answer that question; any answer seems speculative. Genesis and the catechism only point to the way things might once have been and to the way things are now, not to the why of things.
Question 2 points out that we human beings image God in our abilities to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation. But we routinely use our freedom to foster indifference or hate (and not to love), to destroy (and not to create), to deceive, mislead, or confuse others (not to reason or to enlighten), and to live in dominance over creation (not in harmony with it). Says the catechism (and Christian faith more broadly), the right choices humanize and so benefit the many; the wrong choices dehumanize the many and so benefit the few. If we use our freedom to dehumanize our neighbors, we have misused our freedom.
When I left intentional community and moved with a roommate, to whom I’d only recently been introduced, into my own apartment, I felt a bit scared at what I’d done, and also proud of having resolved to test my ability to live independently, to find my limits. And to do all this was a very good thing, it turns out. I never lost sight of my need for others, of my connection to a larger whole, or of my connection to God. I was simply glad to learn some cooking skills and to be able to keep my own schedule outside work.
However, over the almost thee years we lived on the same premises, I observed my roommate (we never became friends) a loneliness and despair that seemed impenetrable. I tried to be as neighborly as I could, but it was difficult. It’s not always easy to image God in the world, but we can try our best: we can seek to know and learn from our loving Creator, who’s as near to us as our next breath.