I like stitches–I like to sew; I like to embroider (though I don’t get to do that very often); I like to knit; I like to crochet; I probably would like needlepoint (I haven’t tried that skill yet), though there is a chance it might be a bit too much like cross-stitching to be called my favorite (it is my sister who really likes to cross-stitch–I prefer the freer form and greater diversity and potential of embroidery).
When I stop to think about it, I find it interesting that the end products of these various skills all depend on small twists of thread or yarn called stitches. Everything from the most practical clothing to the fanciest ornamentation of a wall hanging depends on stitches. With a variety of individual stitches, an entire picture can be composed, or a garment constructed.
And here my mere descriptions must lead into something else…the fact of stitches and of their results is an illustration of one of the central issues that have plagued philosophers of all ages–the one and the many.
Our Creator built this world in such a way that there are individuals and there is unity. This is undeniable. Any given thing is made up of smaller individual components, which in turn are made up of yet smaller individual components. Yet, the given thing is a unified, unique being or object. Just like a sweater, made of many individual stitches, is just one sweater, so a human being, made of a multitude of distinct components, is one person.
Many philosophers have struggled with the purpose for an individual man, since an individual is just one among many. Some have said that an individual matters not–while others have said that the individual is all that matters. But if one stitch is broken in the sweater, the whole thing eventually unravels. So if we begin to see men and women in any other light than God has revealed to us in Scripture, our whole framework of understanding the world in which we live is liable to come crumbling down.
For a practical example, if we emphasize church (a unified body made up of families) above family, a multitude of problems result, from ecclesiastical tyranny to dependence on the church for salvation to denying the legitimacy of the civil magistrate…etc. But if we emphasize families (the particulars that make up a congregation) above the church, a whole new set of sins and complications arise, from patriarchial tyranny to isolationism to making the Christian family the source of all blessing…etc.
We must be careful not to disconnect what God has linked. It may not matter much in the long run if I miss a stitch in a sewing project and whole thing is compromised–but it does matter when I miss the mark in my thinking, thus denying or confusing the distinct and equally real unities and individualities that make up the world around me, my own self, and the authority structures in and under which I stand. My responses to life–my sin or obedience–are determined by my foundational, basic understanding of the relationship of the individual to the universal, of God’s relation to the world.
Why? Because the answers to the most basic questions (Is God my Creator? Has He spoken? How does He relate to me?) are the root of all our actions–whether we think about it or not, the chain of why we do something goes all the way back to certain assumptions. And these foundational assumptions rest on our interpretation of the one and the many…if one is ultimate, it cannot co-exist peacefully with the other…but if God is the Triune, personal God who created me and the world in which I live, unity actually can exist in diversity and diversity actually can exist in unity–it is not just an illusion that the individual stitch is ultimately integral to the whole garment–or that the whole garment cannot exist without the individual stitches–just like in the knitted sweater I finished up last week….
But now I must run along…there are many individual pieces of once whole chickens that need to be encased in jars for canning….