Life in Relationships
Why are we here? What is life all about?
If we were to ask these questions to many people in the world today, they might well answer in terms of their individual lives and self-fulfillment. Life is about making the best of what you have to become “your best you.” Whatever helps a person as an individual grow and thrive is praiseworthy; anything that would hinder a person from being or accomplishing what they want is abominable.
This view is particularly common in the Western world, and especially in America. Americans have always loved the idea of the “Lone Ranger,” elevating in esteem the “self-made man,” the person who “picked himself up by his own bootstraps” and was able to find success in life. Americans prize freedom and independence: the idea that they do not need anyone or anything, but can do it on their own.
But what have we gained from this attitude? Modern Americans are more free and independent than ever before, but also more alienated, isolated, and depressed. Life in America today is rife with anxiety: who among us feels comfortable in life, about how much they have, how they look, their jobs, their relationships, etc.? Most of us feel inadequate and scared. We are afraid that those who like us only do so because of what we do for them and that too many of our relationships are transactional. All that freedom and independence we have sought comes at a price; it was certainly not free!
Even in modern American society, most people are not psychopathic. They do not want to spend their lives entirely on their own, without human contact and interaction. Sure, most everyone would like to have Ebenezer Scrooge’s money; but who wants to be Ebenezer Scrooge?
In the end, the America has lied to us. Life is not about unfettered freedom and independence, to go and be whatever we want and beholden to none. In truth, life is about relationships. The quality of our lives is directly connected to the quality of the relationships we maintain.
Christians should not be surprised at this, for the fundamental truths of the nature of God and man attests to the power of relationships. As Christians, we believe that God has made humans in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). We are tempted to view this “likeness” in terms of appearance or character: we do have spirits as God is spirit (John 4:24), and we are able to create, reason, communicate, and manifest other forms of intelligence, yet the truth expressed here proves more profound than this.
The Apostle Paul declared that all humanity can perceive in the creation that there is a God: we can see His divine power and nature in the things that have been made (Romans 1:19-20). We assuredly see God’s great power in the way the creation works: the majesty of the sea and the mountains, the power of storms and earthquakes, the magnitude of the universe. But where can we perceive God’s divine nature?
We cannot perceive God’s nature until we understand something about God’s nature. Christians confess that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 1 Corinthians 8:6), but also that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God (John 1:1, 2 Peter 1:20). The Bible nowhere speaks of God as one person; instead, we are to understand that God is One in Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. So how is God one? God is One in essence, nature, will, and purpose, indeed, but God’s unity is more profound than these.
We see something regarding the unity of God in Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23: He prays that believers should be one as the Father and the Son are One, the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father and they in believers, so all may be perfectly one. The ancients had a term for such unity: perichoresis, meaning mutual interpenetration without loss of distinctive identity. Music involves perichoresis: when we hear a band play, we are hearing the vibrations made by each instrument, and while we can try to pick out the sounds of each instrument, we hear them as a unified musical piece. The marriage relationship provides another example of perichoresis, as displayed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6: a man and a woman become one flesh, and are therefore no longer two, but one; and yet they still remain a husband and a wife, distinct people.
Thus God is One in perichoretic relational unity: so unified that we do not speak of God as They, but as Him. Such is how God is love (1 John 4:8): God is neither insufficient in and of Himself, requiring something to love, nor is the ultimate Narcissist, loving himself, but the Father loves the Son who loves the Spirit who loves the Father. God created the universe in love to share in life and love, and especially so with mankind made in the image of God, the image of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Acts 17:28-29).
Therefore, where do we find God’s divine nature in the creation? In us, for we are made in the image of the God who is relationally one, to share in relational unity with God and with one another! Truly “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It has been scientifically demonstrated that babies and small children who are not held much and do not bond with anyone fail to thrive, even if their nutritional needs are met. There are reasons why we feel much better in life when we are secure in our relationships with our God, His people, family, romantic partners, and friends, and feel much worse when some or all of these relationships are insecure and unstable.
What do you really want out of life? Do you really just want money, and live like Ebenezer Scrooge? Highly unlikely! Do you want fame? Fame, by its nature, requires others to esteem you as famous. Do you want to satisfy sexual desire? Sexual desire almost invariably reaches out for a deep, profound, and intimate connection with another person. But are any of these things what you really want? Probably not. We all want to be loved; we all want to belong; we all want to be accepted for who we are, and we want people in our lives who will be there for us and with us no matter what will happen. Right now God loves you, wants you to belong with His people, will accept you, and will not abandon you (Romans 8:31-39). We are not made to be alone; we are made to share in relationships with God and with one another. May we find fulfillment in life by growing in relationship with God and one another, and share in eternal life together in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry