The Redemptive Drama
The process by which God
creates these very personal friendships with us is a thoroughly redemptive
process, as we shall see. And, this “Redemptive Drama” has now
become very large.
It actually sprawls across the whole of human history. And, by now, it involves virtually endless subplots stemming from each new life that Christ touches. So, there are many, many players filling the various scenes of this “redemptive play.”
But, reduced to its basic plot, the story line actually becomes very easy to follow. And, the main players are reduced to only a few, at least in general terms.
So, let's go over the “program” of this grand drama and use it as you might use the program of any play. Let’s discover the identity and the roles of the players. And, let’s also pay careful attention to the basic plot of this epic story of God's love and His life transforming process of friendship building.
God, The Father: So, Who Is God – I Mean, Really?
But First, The General Principles and Process
We could hardly talk about a meaningful friendship with God without first discussing some general principles of relationship. So, let's begin there. For a moment, let's just consider relationships and friendships in general.
The process of friendship-building is discovery. And, the purpose of discovery is appreciation. And, the hopeful intent of appreciation is heart-binding.
Now, to expand those ideas a bit, in building a relationship we first simply seek to know, to build a larger awareness. And the point of this discovery effort is to probe the positive possibilities for relationship by discovering a real appreciation of what we find.
And, this appreciation then becomes the binding mechanism of our heart to that of another. And the deeper the appreciation, the more durably bound our hearts become.
So, for example, how many young ladies have found themselves sitting under those Friday night lights of a high school football game focused on one special player on the field? And, as she observes him in this, his very flattering element, she starts to admire what she sees in him.
And, what of the proud parents who sit under those same lights to watch their quarterback son direct his team with precision and skill under great pressure? And, as they watch, they too gain a new level of awareness, which goes something like this, “He really is growing up!”
These, and countless other such situations, are just the very gratifying process of relationship-building. Discovery is how we do it. It’s how we start relationships. And, it’s how we sustain, and deepen relationships. And, it's how we keep our relationships updated.
And, at the end the discovery process, if all goes well, we will perhaps find a valuable, new and durable relationship. And, if we do, it will be based in some level of appreciation which draws us and amiably binds our hearts together. And the level of that cohesion will, indeed, depend on the real level of appreciation that we experience.
The Other Side Of The Coin
Obviously too, this discovery process also carries with it an intrinsic risk. Certainly, it can result in a negative outcome. It can result in the rejection of disapproval - a lack of appreciation. Obviously, that's always a very unpleasant thing to the human psyche.
But, this is the risk we must be willing to take to experience relational success. This risk is just the “long limb” we go out on, in order to get to the truth in a relationship.
The Universal Mistake
And it's also on this side of the relational coin, where the universal mistake often occurs. And, that mistake is this: an involvement based in only a narrow range of awareness.
How many couples, a few months into their marriage, have found themselves sitting across from their pastor or some other counselor, totally surprised? Thus, they sit there expressing disappointment at what they consider some outrageous post-wedding behavior on the part of their mate?
This disappointment is usually easily traced back to a rush to relationship where little real discovery has taken place. Thus, in their great hurry to become deeply involved, a couple sometimes fails to become broadly involved – to develop a broad awareness of their partner.
Now, in the stark light of reality, she comes to a realization: “All he ever really had going for him was his football prowess - well, and nice hair.” Obviously, even with the good hair thrown in, however, that’s a pretty narrow ledge upon which to base an important relationship.
And, it doesn’t really matter if we’re talking boy-girl, parent-child, or God-man. All-important relationships are the same in this regard. Strong appreciation based in the broad awareness of a large context is essential to a solid relationship.
So, to minimize this essential, at best, consigns the relationship to shallow levels. And, at worst, it dooms it altogether.
Now, The Main Question
So, with this bit of relational bedrock under our feet, we are better able to return to and answer the main question, “Who is God, really?” The answer to such identity questions, even regarding God, is still a function of this same relationship-building process which we have been discussing.
So, it’s probably obvious by now that to really get to that answer you will have to broadly experience Him. You will need to go up and down some of life’s hills with Him, so to speak.
It is simply impossible to grasp more than the mere basics of His identity unless you are willing to actually experience life with Him. A thorough and accurate God awareness only comes through this simple but very essential discovery process.
The two of you will have to spend
good times as well as hard times, together – deeply immersed in the real issues
of life. To discover who God really is, involves celebrating together, and
crying together. It involves many good days. And, it involves some rough days
with less than desirable outcomes.
But, it’s out of all of this intimate interaction, the good and the not so good, that there comes a heart-binding appreciation for who God really is. And, it's out of this broad appreciation that an enduring friendship grows. God, held at arm’s length, simply will not produce such a friendship.
What Does God’s Friendship Look Like?
So, what does God’s friendship look like in everyday life? Well, like any friendship, it goes through different stages in its development. And, certainly, it is fair to say that, especially in the early days, sometimes - the relationship “ain’t” that pretty.
But later, as it goes through its various stages of development, and the discovery process has a chance to work, that all changes. Indeed, the divine friendship becomes very precious and deeply fulfilling. But, that’s later. First, come “the trenches.”
The Early Stage Friendship
A succinct description of an early stage friendship with God would probably best be described this way. It is, invariably, a trans-formative confrontation of love. It is not unlike the relationship between a good parent and a young child.
As time goes along, a loving parent
is required, by love, to confront the childishness of the child - while they
still are a child. The idea is to mold the child’s heart, while it is still
The parent does this in view of a time when this parent / child relationship will morph into an entirely different kind of relationship. A wise parent always anticipates a fulfilling adult friendship with the child, which is based in a shared value system.
In order for that to happen, this loving confrontation is essential while the child is young and teachable. What is really occurring through this process is the shaping of the child’s value system and thus, his or her character. And, in turn, their basic world view then becomes well defined.
From this process, results a comfortable core likeness with the parent. And again, this then becomes the basis for a strong adult relationship between the two, later.
You have probably already noticed that in this cultivation of the later friendship, it is the child which is required to do most of the changing and adjusting. You’re quick. You’re very quick. Welcome to “God Friendship - 101.”
So, indeed, as with the parent / child thing, in the God / man relationship, the onus is on man to embrace this ”agreeability” of heart. In this analogy, God is the “mature parent” and we are the “developing child.” And that is never clearer than early on, in our pursuit of His friendship.
However, this trans-formative confrontation is not nearly as off-putting as many assume. It is always, after all, a loving, process. And it is couched in patience, and time, and careful explanations, and the joy of gaining new and valuable “life stuff.”
And, as it should with our children, the process incorporates some latitude for our necessary trial-and-error confirmations. Although, after a while, and more than a few bumps and bruises to our “headstrong,” most of us do eventually realize - “Ooo, trial and error - not really the easiest way to confirm God’s truth.”
The Rubber Reality
Nevertheless, so goes our work-a-day discovery process as we explore the question, Who is God? It really is very similar to the earliest growth process of our childhood and that of our children.
So, we enter this very intense time of discovery. Certainly, it is a time which is not quite like any which will follow it – perhaps due, indeed, to the high level of intensity.
And, it is certainly here, in this early phase of our developing friendship with God, where the learning curve is the steepest. And, it’s here that we first encounter what might be called “The Rubber Reality.”
The Rubber Reality is a situation which is naturally generated by our faith. This is the reality which always occurs when the smallness of humanity bumps into the bigness of a loving God. It is the place where our developmental childhood encounters His divine parenthood.
Essentially the Rubber Reality is the parental molding process - on steroids. It is God’s means to challenge us, and stretch us, and stimulate us to learn and discover.
And, this process enables us to achieve a greater awareness, not only of what God is presently doing and why, but more ultimately, it enables us to know who God truly is. And, in fact, as we experience this Rubber Reality, it actually also gradually changes who we are.
The reality that we know before this faith-generated reality comes along is the more concrete reality of our own self-determination. This self-determined reality is the reality where we are essentially in charge of life’s interpretations and decisions. Thus, we are generally in good command of the facts in a given situation – or at least, we tend to feel like we are.
Ah, but not so in the Rubber Reality. Its interpretations are much more challenging and disconcerting. This is true because in this more elastic reality of faith we are usually playing catch up with the facts as a part of the divinely orchestrated discovery process.
So, the Rubber Reality of faith is a much more uncertain existence. It is a place where we often find ourselves searching for God’s interpretation of, and purpose in, a given life situation.
It is a reality in which we are often left wondering, for a while at least, what in the world God is up to, or where he might be taking us. It is a reality where all facts and conclusions remain debatable while we search for His interpretation and intent, and our proper response to all of that.
In both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible, we see this Rubber Reality of faith in operation. Again and again, we can notice God bringing His people into concrete situations only to turn them into very elastic situations which lend themselves to the God-discovery process.
For example, we can notice how God rubberized reality when the nation of Israel became trapped between the military legions of Egypt and the Red Sea during their historic Exodus Journey. The concrete reality was this, “Oh no, we’re trapped, and at the mercy of our pursuers!”
But, God changed the concreteness of those facts into this more elastic version. “Oh no you’re not. Because, I will part the sea. And then, you can figure out the why, the how, and most importantly, the Who of it all.” (Ref. Exodus 13-15)
And, on and on this Rubber Reality
goes from the manna which fell from Heaven, to the falling walls of Jericho, to
the miracles connected to the prophets of old. God challenges the usual to
stimulate us to understand Him and His ways at higher levels.
And certainly, in these New Testament times, this divine tactic continues. From the miracles of Jesus and the apostles to the Resurrection, itself, our faith is challenged by these divinely orchestrated situations which confront the normal interpretations of the facts.
And certainly, well beyond the realm of miracles, God often immerses the faithful in the stretchy realities of the everyday. From a counter-intuitive Biblical principle, to a delayed answer to prayer, to a moral inversion where the guilty escape while the good suffer - God uses these Job-like situations to confront our status quo.
Always, this elastic reality asks us to move beyond the more childish levels of our understanding. The Rubber Reality is ever about the greater view which God would show us of Himself and the true nature of our existence and our relationship with Him.
A Bit More Difficult
Obviously, when compared to the more concrete reality of self-determination, where we are able to pretty much call the interpretive shots, the Rubber Reality is a more difficult place to navigate. But this faith-generated reality is also much richer in the dividends of discovery as we find ourselves challenged to know and understand God’s heart and actions.
Thus, the Rubber Reality facilitates relational strength and maturity by bringing a much higher level of God awareness and a more accurate self-awareness. And, this stands in real contrast to the more concrete and less taxing reality of self-determination.
Essentially, It's A Humbling Process
What we are calling the “Rubber Reality” is but a part of what the Church has, from the beginning, understood to be a divine Humbling Process. And that humility becomes the strong matrix of our friendship with Him.
From The Trenches To The Blessing
So, as we follow the Lord up and down the hills and valleys of the Rubber Reality of faith, we do, eventually, begin to gain our relational footing. And, as we do so, something wonderful happens. We start to experience the point of the whole exercise. We begin to taste the priceless blessing of a true “heart-oneness” with God in our daily life.
The Oneness of Two
Jesus once said, as he prayed for his disciples on one occasion, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word; that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us...” (Ref. John 17:20-21 NKJV)
The discovery path of the Rubber Reality of faith may meander from one life lesson to another. And, it may take us through various levels of personal growth. Yet, there is always one constant direction to the journey.
There is always a single end point toward which God nudges us. It is Oneness of Heart with Him. This ideal of concerted hearts, a mature harmony with God, is the ultimate prize toward which our friendship is always moving.
This is not, of course, oneness in the sense of actual identity. We do not become God. Neither does our own identity or personality cease to exist in His.
Rather, this is a core oneness. A similar harmony is easily seen in couples who have continued to grow together over the period of a long and healthy marriage. Eventually, these wonderfully special relationships reach a point where the partners can easily anticipate each other, because they have become so merged in heart.
Consider the larger text from the previous passage quoted from the book of John, where, again, Jesus says, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (Ref. John 17:20-23 NKJV)
“Heart-oneness,” it is the ultimate quest of our friendship with God. Everything that Christ has done and is doing is about effecting this eclipsing harmony in our relationship to God.
But, the former question was this, “What does such a friendship with God look like?” Well, in every day terms, what Jesus described above is exactly what it looks like. It looks like a very completing togetherness.
It’s The Ultimate In Relationship
Every day - good day, bad day, it makes no difference - this oneness of heart, this energizing companionship constantly expresses itself in our life circumstance. And, through Christ, we can certainly have this constant and easy harmony with our Creator. Indeed, this is precisely the agenda which God is pursuing through the redemptive work of Christ.