“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:2).
The call to image-flourishing can inadvertently breed its opposite. The ideal of a prosperous existence may feed, on one hand, a kind of negative individualism that focuses on the accumulation of wealth and power for certain individuals “who have worked for it.” On the other hand, others could advocate a more repressive framework for image-flourishing in its commitment to “an emphasis on collective rather than individual action and identity” (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/collectivism, accessed 1/07/2015). Within this framework, so the argument goes, image-flourishing could and should happen only in a carefully structured community that guards against the specific dangers of individualism.
Part of the protection against individualism, particularly for the sake of young children, is to teach that it is wrong to exalt oneself above the rest because it garners pride and hurts the feelings of those “less talented.” One can hear addresses at the adult level against certain policies, such as free-market trade, because it supposedly breeds individualism and facilitates greed and “income inequality.” Critics of the collectivistic framework will express concern about the suppression of the gifts and talents of individuals ideally expressed in all spheres of societal life. The psyche of individuals and of communities would be negatively affected when people are not allowed to experience fully the fruit of their talents and labor. It is depressing when talent and hard work are not appropriately rewarded. Both concerns have legitimacy.
We mess up image-flourishing when that balance between being blessed and giving blessing is ignored or neglected.
While the perfect balance between individual and collective image-flourishing in all settings is impossible, there are exemplary attitudinal and behavioral guidelines available. Christopher J. H. Wright observes that in Genesis 12:2 (cited above) Abram is blessed in order to be a blessing: “God’s answer to the international blight of sin was a new community of international blessing, a nation that would be the pattern and model of redemption, as well as the vehicle by which the blessing of redemption would eventually embrace the rest of humanity” (Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, p. 49). Laying aside the particularity of the biblical narrative on the full meaning of redemption for the moment, a principle emerges that blessing is given to people in order that they may bless others. We mess up image-flourishing when that balance between being blessed and giving blessing is ignored or neglected.
There is, however, a persistent problem in recognizing and implementing the wisdom of this perspective, regardless of the people, the place, or the time. There is a continual need for a transcendent, spiritual perspective that motivates such a balance and provides us with the ability to express it in our actions. Sharing the fruits of talent and labor with others voluntarily simply does not happen sufficiently in critical proportions. This problem that undermines image-flourishing will be further discussed in future reflections.