This brings us in conclusion to the matter of cooperation. Giving attention to the other is not one-way traffic; it is a mutual exercise. As
Christians see it, not even God could create a world on his own. That may seem questionable because surely Christians talk of God creating the world ex nihilo. True, but this is not a cosmological claim about the origin of the physical universe; it is a more personal perspective on the conditions under which the world exists and has its being. The point is not that God created the world in which we humans are set out of nothing but that nothing prevented God from pursuing his own pure intentions when, of his grace, without any inner compulsion or external constraint, he chose to create a world—a world to which he committed himself. His commitment of himself was not to take away the freedom of the world and to direct its future but to invite humankind to share in his purpose, which is why humankind is said by Jews and Christians to be made “in the image of God.” We can share a common purpose with God and seek by all that we think and do to understand what the world’s flourishing requires and how we can behave in such a way as to further it. We can wait on God and give our attention to the world’s need without fear, in the light of the reason, which powers the observation that we enjoy and for which we are grateful.
Gratitude for our God-given curiosity and freedom to explore what it means to be made in God’s image underpins our anticipation of what we can do and maintains our openness to God, to the world, and to one another. Gratitude liberates us to work with God by giving ourselves attentively to the needs of the other.
The professional relationship has a similar character. The world into which we are trying to bring the client, the patient, the student is not one that we as professionals can create by sheer will power. The effort is much more demanding: we are required to focus attentively, to give ourselves to the welfare of the client in the full, relevant knowledge of his or her situation. A generous sense of the importance of personal relationships is required if the professional is to free the client to take note of advice and take responsibility for himself or herself. What is required of the professional is a focus on the client and a broad understanding of his or her needs, which means an awareness of the totality of the environment in which they both stand and the desire to grow in understanding with the client so that both move forward together. If I just inform the patient that his or her symptoms are consistent with a diagnosis of dementia, I am far from fulfilling my responsibilities as a doctor. I need to empathize with my patients—to put myself in their shoes and, as a friend, do everything in my power to enable them to see the freedom that truth brings. Again, I shall fail in my professional responsibility if, as an auditor, I inform my clients that while their accounting practices are legal, they are unlikely to give them everything they need in order to avoid future threats to their businesses. We may well be surprised by the world that emerges, for we do not know the future, but whatever the world is, it will be one for which we can mutually become responsible and in which we shall continue to grow in response-ability.
In the following chapter, I shall explore the experience of sharing and learning to have a common will with God so as to build an open society.