I’ve been thinking. It’s to do with the word “relationship”, and… well, it started with reading a Christian post that talked about the difference between being a rule-follower and being someone who loves God and therefore seeks to please him. The author compared this to marriage and other relationships we have with fellow humans – we don’t keep a marriage going by saying “well, there’s no rule that says I have to buy you flowers so I won’t”, for instance. We do things for our spouses/partners/friends because we love them and want to please them. (and I would add, in the case of marriage or similar: also because we have committed to loving them.)
Reading that article got me thinking about that stuff you sometimes hear Christians say about how our faith is not about religion, it’s about relationship – which suffers from the fate of most pithy slogans, in that it sort of touches on truth but it can give people the wrong idea, in this case because of people using the word “religion” in different ways, but also, I think, because of the associations different people might have with the word “relationship”. In other words, this phrase is true for a specific sense of the word “religion” and for a specific reading of the word “relationship”, and I don’t think it’s always going to be that obvious to the reader/hearer what it was we were trying to say.
What do you think of when you hear the word “relationship”? I know that for me, the first association is: love relationships, the boy-meets-girl stuff (or boy meets boy, or whatever) – they’re relationships between two equals, they’re mutual, and they tend to involve some degree of romance.
So to me, when I hear the “God wants a personal relationship with you” type slogans, I think: well, yes, but also…
I mean: yes, I do believe that God loves us and desires to have an intimate, loving relationship with each and every one of us. I believe he created us with that in mind. But it’s not a mutual relationship between equals – and the first thing that is required for that relationship to start is that we repent from our rebellion against God’s authority, put away our rebellious insistence on living the way we want to, humble ourselves before God and accept Jesus as not just our Saviour but our Lord, our Master, our King.
So yes, it is a relationship but it’s a very special kind of relationship – it’s not the same as any human friendship or a romantic relationship or marriage. The closest you get to it in human relationships is the one between a small child and its parents – a relationship of dependence, and trust, and obedience. And somehow I don’t think that’s the kind of scene people normally conjure in their minds when they hear the phrase: “it’s about relationship”.
So even though I’m pretty sure I’ve said it myself in the past, I think it’s not really the most useful way of summing up what the Christian faith is about. Because people need to know that it’s not all about you hanging out with Jesus like mates in the pub, chilling out together over a beer or a coffee – not that you can’t talk to Jesus as a real friend, but you have to also respect him and be prepared to obey him. He is God.
It’s a bit like if you happened to be friends with a king. Or if you were a soldier and you were friends with the Chief of Staff. You could have a very real friendship, but you’d still be under this person’s orders.
As I was thinking about all this, the verse that came to my mind was the one where Jesus says: if you love me, you will keep my commandments. I went looking for that verse on a Bible study website and… you’d never guess what advert showed up… I took a screenshot because I think it’s the perfect illustration for this post.
You see, God does want you to know him, and he does want you to have a personal relationship with him – a relationship that involves obedience. Obedience out of love and commitment. Obedience out of a desire to please him because you’re so grateful for what he’s done for you, and because you acknowledge that God knows what’s best, and because you accept God as, you know, God. The highest authority there is. The one who made us, the one who is in charge, the one who deserves our worship. Not just a mate, even though once you are born again through faith in Jesus you do, amazingly, get to be his friend too – and you get to be God’s child! – but first and foremost, he is God and he deserves our reverence, our awe, our adoration, and our obedience.