21 May, 2024

How Our Desire to Belong Becomes Our God

by | 1 May, 2024 | 0 comments

The Relevance of the Doctrine of Adoption in 2024

By Tyler McKenzie 

Cultural critic Andy Crouch makes the argument that modern people now build their identity and morality based on inclusion and exclusion. Rather than giving Scripture an honest read or working toward a sober assessment of what is right or wrong in a given situation, truth has become impressionable to peer pressure. People ask, “What will get me celebrated? What will get me canceled?” Then they allow inclusion in their preferred group to set the agenda for who they are, what is good, and what issues are the most important of our time. 

Some people look at this phenomenon and think, We need better arguments to convince these lost souls that their group is bad, and their thinking is flawed. But better arguments won’t work if the deeper desire people are aching for is community. Bottom line? People will do anything to belong! 

We are living through a crisis of belonging. This is a society drowning in loneliness. Everything we do pulls us toward isolation rather than toward one another. Screens tear us away from in-person interactions. Politics polarize us. The way we flippantly handle sexual intimacy alienates us from each other, traumatizes our bodies, and devastates the family system. The way we quickly opt out of marriage wrecks our kids. The way we now move from city-to-city for work, family, or whatever undermines our ability to build deep friendships. It feels like a chief strategy of the enemy is to play on the radical individualism of our society to isolate us. No wonder we will do anything to belong. 

The only community we seem good at creating are these little tribes that unify around shallow affinities. We unify with fundamentalist fervor around politicians and activist causes. We unify with religious zeal around our favorite celebrities (look at the power of the Swifties, y’all!) and sports teams (go Reds!). We unify with our time and money around our favorite hobbies (anyone in one of those cycling cults?). 

 Two Harvard Divinity students conducted a study called “How We Gather” about a decade ago. They took six categories that represent the most fundamental human pursuits—community, personal transformation, justice, purpose, creativity, and accountability relationships. Then they researched this question, “Where are Millennials and Gen Z going to meet these needs that traditionally the church has met?” They found that many of these longings which were previously met by religious institutions are now aimed toward (1) fitness communities and (2) cause-based movements (political activism, justice work, advocacy, etc.). 

A fair amount of research has focused on how normal people are radicalized into extremist groups. Ever wonder why some American kids decide to travel to the Middle East and become terrorists? Ever wonder why groups like the KKK or the Proud Boys still exist? Ever wonder how the far ends of the political spectrum recruit so many young people? The stories come back time and time again to the same motivation. Young people were just looking for a place to belong. They were looking for somewhere to matter. These groups give them both a community to fit into and a vision for how to live a life that matters. People will do anything to belong. 

Christine Emba of the Washington Post wrote a column recently on what she calls a “crisis of masculinity” in our country. She argued that our society definitely needed to progress in how it treated women. We still have a way to go in the fight for gender equality. However, she also argued that in the process of lifting women up, we have beaten young men down to a place of insecurity and shame. To be clear, Emba is a progressive woman who wrote an opinion piece in a left-leaning newspaper showing empathy to the plight of men. What? It seemed out of place. However, her article made many forceful points. She shared in an interview about a young man who pointed out that men have been told over and over to “do better,” but there has been no vision for what “do better” looks like. He feels lost. She wrote,  


[The young men I was encountering] struggled to relate to women. They didn’t have enough friends. They lacked long-term goals. Some guys—including ones I once knew—just quietly disappeared, subsumed into video games and porn or sucked into the alt-right and the web of misogynistic communities known as the “manosphere.” . . . Young men everywhere were trying on new identities, many of them ugly, all gesturing toward a desire to belong


People will do anything to belong. 

Belonging is behind the triumph of social media. The late sociologist Charles Horton Cooley argued that we develop our sense of self by watching how others react to the different versions of ourselves we present. Our identity comes from what outside eyes see in us and what outside voices say about us. We’re constantly buffering who we are depending on how people respond. This is the addiction of social media! On Instagram or TikTok, you get control over how you present yourself. Then you get real-time feedback with unprecedented scale and speed. Then you can continually calibrate your identity to maximize affirmation. Let’s just call it like it is! Social media is not about sharing ideas, it’s about building identities. It’s not about raw authenticity, it’s about manufactured belonging. 

People will do anything to belong. We will sculpt our identity for “The Gram.” We will assimilate our morals to the crowd. We will give our heart to the extremes. Just as long as someone will adopt me. Someone will claim me. Someone will love me!  

I believe this is one of the fundamental cries of the human heart. “Will anyone adopt me?” We were created to be in loving relationship with God and others. Sin sabotages that. So, we all walk around with orphan hearts. There’s something deep within the human heart that wants to be claimed, nurtured, protected, and parented by a good authority and loving family.  

Into this deep longing . . . into this malaise of distrust, betrayal, and suspicion . . . into the relational wreckage of human civilization . . . the New Testament rolls out the Doctrine of Adoption (Galatians 3:26–4:7; Romans 8:1-17). In this doctrine, we have the spiritual resources to meet this moment!  

• It is the doctrine that brings healing to the orphan heart.  

• It is the doctrine that offers a family which transcends culture, class, country, and creed.  

• It is the doctrine that upgrades us from image of God to child of God. Not only are we valuable, but we belong.  

• It is the doctrine that can break the chains of loneliness, despair, and self-loathing.  

• It is the doctrine that can provide the warmth of relational security.  

• It is the doctrine that can bestow the enriching status of heir.  

• Most importantly, it is the doctrine that offers inclusion by grace through faith.  

People will do anything to belong. The surprising good news of the Doctrine of Adoption is that you don’t actually have to do anything. It’s not achieved, it’s received. It’s all grace. And it has the power to meet our moment. 


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