Relationships and the Relational God

Last week Vicky and I attended my fiftieth high school reunion in the Western North Carolina town of Hendersonville where I grew up. What a blessing! There were only 110 people in my graduating class. One of the things that was most fun about the reunion was that some of the people who came were persons whom I had known practically all of life—since first or second grade.  There was Terry whom I was with in cub scouts, and my good friend Louis who was in my church, scout troop and little league team, and with whom I used to camp in the woods. There were many other people whose names I would surely mention too if I had the space, because they became my good friends later in middle school,  junior high and then in high school. One of them, Trevor, was only with us  my senior year as a foreign exchange student from Australia, yet we too became good friends, and he and his wife came all the way from Australia to the reunion!

My reunion caused me to think a lot about relationships. Relationships are like gold. Well, really they are more enduring than gold. They are precious. I thank God for each and every relationship I have. Since most of my classmates knew I am a pastor, a few of them (after they got over their surprise!) shared with me about their own faith. Some had very deep trust in God.  On the other hand, one or two told me that intellectually they just could not bring themselves to believe in God—though they might want to. It just didn’t seem reasonable to them. I deeply respect their position, although of course I see it a bit differently. But these discussions got me thinking.

I saw at my reunion how important relationships are, and yet I think many people do not approach the question of God in a relational way at all but rather they regard the question of God’s existence as a matter to be analyzed. They see God himself, if He exists, as an object of study. I am convinced that many people fail to come to faith because they are using only the part of their brain that is rational and analytical. While I believe that part of faith is rational, and that some brilliant people have been believers, I also believe that faith is primarily relational. (In fact the Greek and Hebrew words we translate “faith” also mean “trust.”)

I often advise people who doubt God’s existence, but who might want to trust, to begin talking to Him as if He existed and then see what happens. Treat Him as someone you can talk with rather than as a piece of furniture or an equation.  Assume (as a working hypothesis if you must) that He is near and address Him that way, then pay attention to what happens in your life. (And also say a prayer, and then read the Bible.)
  
Think about falling in love. It is not rational and analytical. In some ways falling in love is a leap of faith.  It is a tremendous risk. Or suppose you were thinking about getting married. Would that decision be one you could make using pure reason alone? I think not.

Many people approach God as if he were a mathematical problem to be solved or a fossil to be analyzed under the microscope. But if they approached their spouses that way, the marriage would probably not last! If they approached their children that way, their children would feel the coldness.
God is not so much to be analyzed as to be tried and trusted and worshiped and loved. Coming to Him invariably involves a letting go of control.

Today I am babysitting my 3 year old and 10 month old grandchildren. I love being with them! They teach me so much. One of the most profound things Jesus ever said was that if someone wanted to enter “the kingdom of God” (the reality all around us where we experience God), that person would need to become “as a little child.” Wow! Children have a sense of wonder and awe. They are not analytical, but trusting. They understand love, and they understand it is the most important thing there is.

(Did you see or read the story about the two year-old in Santa Rosa, CA, who as the wildfires approached their house, said to his mom, “Don’t worry mom, it’s going to be OK.”)

Try becoming like a little child again. Open your heart and mind to that way of childlike, relational being. Trust. Relax and let go a bit, and see where it leads you with God and with yourself.


Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at wrjones2002@gmail.com. An earlier version of this column first appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News. 

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