Relational Gospel

“Relationships are hard.”
-Curtis Brown

At least, according to my Dad they are. What I have discovered seems to validate his statement. Personally, I find relationships to be quite demanding as they require attention I can’t always give, time I can’t seem to spare, and effort I am often unwilling to grant. However, other relationships happen rather naturally and don’t appear to require effort. It’s actually enjoyable for me to talk to certain people, which, as an introvert, surprises me a great deal. But even then, those “easy” relationships still demand work and effort.

Well what about my relationship with engineering? That comes more naturally to me. The amount of time I spend reading books, and working on homework links directly to how well I understand the material. The same could be said with fitness. However long I spend in the gym or on the trails running tends to correlate with how fit I am. But what about relationships?

Why are relationships hard? I think, and you may disagree with me, there is an element in any human-to-human relationship that requires more than just surface level knowledge. With surface level knowledge you can easily see how time invested leads to results, as I pointed out with engineering and fitness. I can sit and memorize facts about someone, and then spit those facts back out without really knowing them. However, any relationship contains an aspect that lacks a definite explanation, and the amount of time invested doesn’t always equal the return on investment.

For example, how do you become friends with someone? Well, you might say we spent a lot of time hanging out, or we had similar experiences, had the same classes, and it just happened over time. Think of your best friend. How did you become best friends? Can you boil it down to a scientific process, a formula? Maybe you can. At least, you could point to the reasons and actions that generally led to your friendship, but I argue there remains an aspect of any relationship that is mysterious.

Rarely can any amount of truth perfectly capture the entirety of a relationship. Let me explain. I recently read Searching For God Knows What by Donald Miller. The underlying theme of the book attempts to show that the Gospel is more than just propositional truths to be accepted. Don argues that the Gospel includes a relational side that seems to be neglected. As I read through the book, I came to realize I related well with what Don was trying to say. He poses an example in his book. Imagine a man and his wife enjoying a nice dinner together. Say the man pulls out a list of his wife’s features, such as height, hair color, eye color, and reads them off to her during said dinner. “You have blue eyes. You have brown hair. You are five feet and six inches.” Would the wife feel complimented and loved? Maybe, but probably not. What if the man reads to her the following lines in reference to her appearance, “She walks in beauty like the night; Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright; Meet in her aspect and her eyes.” Certainly the wife would now recognize how captivated the man is by her beauty. (Miller 57)

In the same way a man relates to his wife, we relate to Christ, if indeed we know him. Can we list out truths about Christ, as well as actions he has done on our behalf? Certainly. But do you see the connection now? We can say with utter confidence that Christ died for our sins! But behind that statement lies a vast amount of love and meaning that can easily be lost when presented flippantly. Christ not only died for us, taking our place, he was willing to do it, even when we were in a state of opposition to him! I can repeat to myself the Gospel truths over and over again, but sometimes my heart remains unwilling to accept the meaning contained within each truth.

I think the Gospel gets presented (by myself, to myself chiefly) so that the relationship side gets neglected. Truths are explained and simplified in such a way that we can take perhaps one of the most mysterious actions in all of history, the incarnation of Christ and his eventual death on the cross that atoned for all sins in all eternity, and present them in under a minute. Am I saying that simplifying the Gospel is a bad thing? By no means, but I think that in my own simplification of the Gospel, I have lost a key element, and that is the relationship, the emotion. Jesus says in John 4 that a time will come when the true worshipers of God will worship in both spirit and in truth. Not one or the other, but both. Recently, I have found myself worshiping solely in truth.

I guess what I’m trying to convey is that there’s so much more to Christianity than a bunch of truths to be accepted. We have presented before us, an opportunity to intimately know the very being who created us and sustains us! And as I was reflecting on the book and what it had to say, my mind began to mentally object. “How are we supposed to know the Creator? How do we have a relationship with someone who died 2000 years ago? Can we have a relationship with someone who doesn’t talk back or isn’t present?” I quickly responded. First off, Christ is not dead. He is most certainly alive. Secondly, we have the revealed Word of God present, through Christ and the Scriptures. Sixty-Six books of God’s words are penned down for us to know and to read and to study diligently. Finally, the Holy Spirit is inside all of us. He is present, even when we run from him. So there is no excuse for not knowing God. We can know God, just as I know my parents or siblings!

For a good while now, I’ve heard the Gospel on repeat. The Gospel. The Gospel. Please do not misunderstand me! I am in no way saying the Gospel is a bad thing, or something to become weary of hearing! But in my depravity and human nature, I lose sight of the relational aspect of the Gospel too often, the part of the Gospel that makes me come alive. I’ve heard God, Man, Christ, Response. But I rarely take the time when I hear those truths proclaimed to sit down and consider the enormity and gravity of Christ’s actions on our behalf! And so reading this book hit me like a brick. It exposed the subtleties in my beliefs that had become flawed, the parts of my belief that had been neglected.

I’ll leave you with some verses that probably clarify my thoughts a little better than I can express them. Jesus, talking to the Pharisees in John chapter 5, says, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” I think this verse captures the essence of what I’m trying to process. We have scriptural truths that point us to Christ and all that he has done for us. But what’s the point of dwelling on those truths if they don’t lead us to an actual relationship with Jesus? The man who redeemed our lives from separation with a God who satisfies our deepest longings and fulfills our deepest desires? When we get to heaven, I imagine God might ask us something like, “Why should I let you into heaven?” And I don’t think the qualification is going to be what we know, rather it will be who we know. John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Remember, it’s not about us and what we know. Rather, it’s all about Christ, and knowing him intimately so we may bring him glory (not that he needs our glory in the first place)!

To say that I am done processing the book and the implications of a relational gospel would be a falsehood. Ninety percent (cannot cite source) of the reason I am writing this blog is so that I can process my own thoughts. So if you want to talk over this book with me, please let me know! I love good conversation, and I certainly need to bounce my ideas off of someone else.

Some actual citation…
Miller, Donald. Searching For God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.

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