Defining what having a relationship is can be difficult, as it often depends on individual needs as well as a person’s ability – or willingness – to accommodate others. For our purposes here, it can broadly be said to represent the connections, understanding and expectations between people, groups of people or between God and people; which is ideally achieved through confidence and freedom. The freedom of people to respond – or not – to offers of help, advice, love and even salvation. Likewise allowing God the freedom to respond as he sees fit.
I don’t believe God forces himself on anyone, giving us ample opportunity to respond to him positively but not saving us from ourselves if we don’t desire it. Nor can we force God to respond to our needs and desires in the way or time-frame we prefer. Which is indeed what we often try to do; expressing disappointment when he is “slow” to respond or has the audacity to say no. But if we understand relationship as a mutually occurring experience, then we would be compelled to admit that God has as much to be disappointed about as we sometimes think we do. Anthony Bloom, writing in “Beginning to Pray” notes how, “We complain that he does not make himself present for us for the few minutes we reserve for him, but what about those twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer “I’m busy”, “I’m sorry” or when we don’t answer at all because we don’t even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our mind, of our conscience, of our life?”1
The dynamics of a personal relationship, the give and take of humility, patience and love, are a necessary component of a relationship with God as well as with people; pride being detrimental to any sense of intimacy – a demanding spirit destroying any chance of a genuine relationship. Scripture characterizing Peter, Paul and the Centurion’s response to God’s power and grace as the correct way to approach the possibility of a relationship with him. (See Luke 5:1-11; Acts 9:1-6 & Matthew 8:5-13; not questioning the confidence we can and should have in our salvation and ability to approach him as mentioned in Hebrews 4:16, but rather indicating the role we have in comparison to his surpassing power and glory as God.)
For these men, and others like them, being in God’s presence was a privilege – not a right – something they knew they didn’t automatically deserve. They knew better than to treat him as an equal, or worse, a servant to be summoned as needed. It was a mutual relationship, but one grounded in the reality of who was relating to whom! Too often, too many of us prefer a God of our own making who is concerned with little more than making us happy, affirming our position as beloved children – because we deserve or demand it. This God doesn’t expect repentance, striving instead to help us accentuate the positive in our lives. His goal is not to make us holy but to encourage us to be nice – which necessitates everyone being nice to us – usually first. And he certainly isn’t concerned with building character in us, preferring to calm our fears and assuring us of our value the way we are. Consequently this God is nothing more than an idol, and an extremely dangerous one.
Demanding, or even expecting God to answer all our prayers the way we prefer is to insinuate that it is we who are all-wise, all-knowing and all-loving. In effect, staking a claim to God-hood ourselves. But to be in any way shape or form “like” God would demand not just experiencing his power, glory and love but an identification with his suffering; to have the heart of God – which has been and continues to be broken – by us. Paul setting the example of genuine relationship with God when he said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,…”Philippians 3:10,11; and thereby attaining salvation and redemption through a shared resurrection from the dead.
Knowing him completely and loving him fully entails, as much as is possible, identifying with his humiliation and rejection, his pain and suffering; his grief at the way so many of us have tried to use him – claiming him as our Savior but failing, if not refusing, to live as if he were our Lord. For it is only by acknowledging him as supreme in all things that we can then more fully experience his love and share in his glory.
1From Mark Galli’s book – “Jesus Mean and Wild”
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