(Welcome to the fifth post in the Triune Gospel series. If you haven't read the previous articles, it will probably be confusing unless you read the previous articles which establish the line of reasoning and the overall point of view we're working with here.) In this article, we're going to begin to explore the Relationship Journey; the adventure of living life with a loving and safe Father. We will begin by tracing the biblical trajectory and then turn to what it looks like to walk out this relational journey.
The Biblical Arc
As we observed last article, each of the journeys have a biblical trajectory. Said more specifically, we can see the gospel message; the message that God is saving the world through his Son, fleshed out in this journey. Here are the highlights:
(1) Original Design: Intimacy & Connection
Adam and Eve, as they were first created, shared a specific type of relationship with God. There was connection, intimacy, walking together. This begins with God creating both Adam and Ever directly and personally. He sculpts them with his hands, breathes his life into them directly. This is a personal, intimate act of creation, altogether different than the "Let there be..." that created everything else.
After that creation, we see God interacting with Adam, cognizant of his needs and working to create a safe world in which Adam belonged. God takes Adam and puts him in the garden; the place of safety, security, and provision in a world that still needs tending. God recognizes it is not good for Adam to be alone and creates Eve to be his partner. In this we see that God is working to create a safe place of belonging not only physically, but emotionally and relationally. God also joins Adam and Eve in the garden at the cool of the day, apparently frequently enough that they recognize him by sound when he is coming. This is a picture of intimacy, connection, and safety with God and through God's design, with other human beings.
(2) The Fall: Distance and Estrangement
But it was not to be forever. With the temptation and the fall, the Relationship Journey takes a sad turn. That relationship of intimacy and connection with God gets traded for a relationship of distance. Adam and Eve are sent out of the garden - sent away from God's presence - and they no longer walk with him directly. This fractured relationship grows layer upon layer as the Old Testament progresses. It takes another step forward with Abraham when God selects one people (Israel) to be in direct relationship with, and hence is estranged from all the other nations of the world. It takes yet another step forward with Moses when there is a covenant and priesthood set up; a structure that formalizes the distance between God and nearly every Israelite by placing a mediator between them. Running that history forwards we see that the Israelites didn't keep the covenant of Moses very well at all, and they themselves are sent out of the promised land into exile. Even when they return, the temple and the presence of God is a mere shadow of what it once was.
(3) Jesus Arrives: The Original Design Revealed
The relationship Jesus has with the Father is shocking different than the rest of the Hebrews'. In a culture where the name of God was deliberately avoided (and 'THE LORD' was used instead), Jesus refers to God as Father, even Abba. The intimacy, the closeness, the safeness of home is reveal in Jesus' walk with God, and he invites the disciples into the model of his relationship with God. He teaches them to pray like he did: "Our Father..."
(4) The Atonement: Forgiveness + A New Covenant
Jesus not only models a walk with God that was absent from the world at that time, but he also clears the way for us to enter into that relationship as well. The biblical terminology that refers to this comes with terms like forgiveness (removal of anything that would be an obstacle to relationship), and new covenant (the relational commitment God has with us in Jesus now). Notice the language Jesus uses at the last supper:
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:27–28
Jesus opens up the Relationship Journey to us through the pouring out of his blood. He was the sacrificial lamb for us, and his sacrifice provides forgiveness and establishes a new covenant. That new covenant is often referred to with the term grace - meaning "favor", or more colloquially, "I like you." I think that's so profound; just to be crystal clear that the distance and estrangement of the past was settled, the Father has made a covenant with us called, "I like you." If anything settles the issue for us, it can be that. This is the invitation the Relationship journey for ourselves. God is now not only Jesus' Father, but our Father as well (as he tells Mary Magdalene in John 20).
Walking the Relationship Journey
Our personal journey with the Father continues along this Biblical trajectory. We, along with Jesus, have the opportunity to know God as our Father and experience the intimacy, connection, and safety of having our home in him. Each of us have needs in this area; we have a need to belong, a need to have a home and a family. This is a natural human need, and a good one - the problem is when we are trying to get this need met only in the world and not in God. The Father is the ultimate and eternal answer to these needs. We are born as a part of his family, an eternal family and we are always at home in his love. Because of what Jesus has done for us, God's love for us is unconditional; it never shuts off and God never turns against us. His covenant towards us is sure, firm, eternal. We are, and forever will be his sons and daughters, and his heart is always inclined towards us. Whenever we look at him, we see a proud smile as he continually leads us into everything he has for us in his family. We will never be rejected, never sent away, and we never need to perform.
This is all profound spiritual truth, but the Relationship journey isn't about understanding, it is about that relational walk with the Father. It is about experiencing the Father in that way and being shaped in turn in the process. As the Father interacts with us in this way, we settle internally; we find our needs have been met and less and less we find ourselves looking for love through performance, relationships, addictions or any other worldly road. We feel at peace, secure, and we begin to walk with a sense of God's love filling us all the time. We lose defensiveness or protectiveness, knowing that we are defended and protected by God, we no longer need to do it for ourselves.
This is the antidote to the threats we receive at times from the world around us. Who this year has not felt the need to feel safe at one time or another? When we feel threatened, unsafe, rejected, unprotected, unloved, or overlooked, what we need is what this Relationship journey provides for us. We don't need to try and turn to the our relationships or performance in the world to belong and have a safe home, we can get that in God's love.
This inner work of love in time begins to reflect through us to the world around us. We indeed love because God has first loved us. This is not something that is summoned up, but something that naturally flows out of our heart. Our hearts begin to fill with adoration with God, and worship becomes more significant for us. We don't worship because we should, or even because of the benefits for ourselves, but because we are genuinely moved by God's love for us and we want to express our love back. We also find ourselves filled with love for the people around us. Rather than irritated with others, we have compassion on their weaknesses and our heart is inclined towards others. We value our relationships more and we want to love others just because we've been so loved. Seeing other believers as our brothers and sisters begins to feel natural and anything else foreign.
How do we get there? Remember, we are talking about a relational journey here. These things are the fruits of cultivating a relationship with the Father, and cultivating that relationship boils down to a lot of very normal things. Spending time with the Father, talking with him, listening to him, being obedient to what he says, changing our point of view to align with his. The point is that it is the Father who proves to us who he is. We don't convince ourselves, we are changed by the process of knowing the Father. We can't know him well without being changed in the process, and all I'm doing here is describing what that change looks like. This is who the Father is; all we need to do is open up the space to experience that reality and welcome the change he is working in us. As we do that, we are made safe and home in his love, and we mirror that love to the world around us.