The Redemptive Drama
So, indeed, 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” (to
continue the earlier metaphor) has, over time, become very large.
It actually now sprawls across the whole of human history. And, at this late historical hour, it involves virtually endless subplots stemming from each new life that Christ has touched and is touching. 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 cosmic redemptive drama and use it as you might use the program of any play. Let’s discover the identity and the roles of the main players. And, let’s also pay careful attention to the changing scenes and the basic plot of this epic story of God's love and His life transforming process of friendship building.
First, The Relational Process
We could hardly talk about a meaningful friendship with God without first discussing some principles of relationship in general. So, let's begin there.
The process of friendship-building is discovery. And, the purpose of discovery is appreciation. And, the hopeful intent of appreciation is achieve some level of heart-binding, thus establishing a meaningful relationship.
Now, to expand on those ideas a bit, in building a relationship we first simply seek to know, to build a larger awareness. The point is to probe the positive possibilities for relationship by discovering some level of appreciation. And, this appreciation then becomes the binding matrix of our heart to that of another. And the greater the appreciation, the more deeply and durably bound our heart becomes.
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, perhaps his most flattering environment, she starts to admire what she sees there. He’s a true star on the field. And, besides he has really nice hair, even when it has been disheveled by a helmet.
And, what of the proud parents who sit under those same lights to watch the same young man, 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 as they swell with pride, “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. It’s how we sustain, and deepen relationships. And, it’s how we keep our relationships updated.
At the end of this discovery process, if all goes well, perhaps we will find a truly valuable and durable relationship. But, if we do, again, it will always be based in some level of appreciation which draws us and amiably binds our hearts together. And, the level of that cohesion will absolutely 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 rejection born of a lack of appreciation. But, this is the risk we take to experience relational success.
The Universal Mistake
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, in a state of total surprise? So, there they sit expressing deep 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 – failing to develop a wide-ranging awareness of their partner.
Now, in the stark light of a broader reality, she comes to a realization: “Actually, all he ever really had going for him was his football prowess - well, and that nice hair.” Obviously, even with the good hair thrown in, however, that’s a pretty narrow ledge upon which to base an important and long term 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 larger context is essential to a solid relationship.
So, to minimize this essential, at best, consigns the relationship to turmoil and constrains it to the more shallow levels. And, at worst, it dooms it altogether.
Now, the Role of God the Father
So, with this bit of relational bedrock under our feet, we are better able to begin exploring the role of God, the Father knowing that our relationship to Him is still a function of this same relationship-building process which we have been discussing. Obviously then, to really grasp who He is, as described previously, we will need to experience life’s everyday hills and valleys with Him.
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 ever comes through this simple, but very up-close, discovery process. As with any other important relationship, to really discover who God is, involves celebrating and crying together through life’s everyday issues. God, held at arm’s length, simply will not produce such a friendship.
The Look of God’s Friendship
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 just “ain’t” that pretty. Indeed, it can be quite awkward and clumsy at first.
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 and mutually fulfilling. But, that’s later. First, comes the turmoil of “the trenches.”
The Early Stage Friendship
To speak of a friendship with God, even in these general terms, we must assume that there has already occurred, a conversion moment – a time when one consciously and sincerely embraces the Lordship of Christ. That true embrace of the Lordship of Christ necessarily includes sincerely embracing His values, His truth, and his daily life-directions. There is no possibility of befriending God, the Father without first sincerely bowing to the lordship of the Living Christ is this very honest way. Jesus said it very succinctly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me. (Ref. John 14:6 NKJV)
So, the believer comes to this early stage friendship with God which can probably best be described this way. It is, a transformative confrontation of love. It is not unlike the relationship between a good parent and a young child.
As time goes along, loving parents are
required, by their 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 shared values.
In order for that to happen, this loving confrontation is essential while the child is young and teachable. What is really occurring through this parental imprint process is the shaping of the child’s value system, which is the central essence of his or her character. As a result of this parental imprint, the child’s basic world view then becomes well defined and in general agreement with that of their parent. This core agreement then becomes the foundation for a later enriching adult relationship.
You have probably already noticed that in this cultivation of that later friendship, it is the child who 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 that parent/ child thing, in the God/ man relationship, the onus is on man to embrace this “agreeability” of heart. In this analogy, of course, 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 transformative 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” on the child’s part.
And, as should be the case 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
Now, let’s go back a few paragraphs and begin again at that conversion moment in order to take a more detailed view of this early stage relationship with God. So, the new believer, having been pursued by the Divine Spirit, finally embraces the Lordship of Christ in those three essential way that were mentioned. At that point, there occurs a significant change. Whereas, before, God was pursuing us, now the tables turn and we start to pursue God.
We begin to be newly fascinated with who He is and what He is up to. We start to be curious about His view on life and his divine way of doing things. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are moved to know, to see, to understand this new thing which has happened to us and the God behind it all.
So, we suddenly find ourselves
chasing Him instead of the other way around – just as it should be. God,
Himself, said through the prophet, “And
you will seek Me and find Me,
when you search for Me with all your heart.”
the reciprocal idea is, of course, that we will not “find Him” if we do not
seek Him in a truly diligent way. (Ref. Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV)
So, suddenly, the new believer finds himself now chasing after God, instead of being chased. Now, the “Divine Hunter” becomes the hunted. Sorry, I just always wanted to say it that way.
But, superfluous sentences aside,
this eager pursuit of God then leads us smack dab into a very intense time of
discovery. It is a time which is not
quite like any which will follow it.
Generally, in this early phase of our developing friendship with God, the learning curve is, typically at its steepest incline. And, it’s in this early phase of the process that we first encounter what might be called “The Rubber Reality.”
The Rubber Reality is a situation which is naturally generated by our naïve 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 metaphysical childhood encounters His divine parenthood.
Essentially, the Rubber Reality which we encounter in our early metaphysical development in Christ is the parental molding process - on steroids. It is God’s means to challenge us, and stretch us, and stimulate us to experience and explore both his values and his behavior. And, it is, to say the least, a very effective means of divine imprint.
This new reality not only encourages us to understand what God is presently doing and why, but more ultimately, it enables us to better understand the God whose “doing the doings.” And, with those insights – we are changed. The New Testament writer put it this way, “But we all, with open face beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (Ref. 2 Corinthians 3:18 KJV)
The simplistic reality that we know before this faith-generated reality comes along is the more concrete reality of our own self-determination. This self-directed kind of reality is the reality that we were born into and have always known before we encounter Christ. It is this self-determined reality where we typically feel that we are uniquely in good command of the facts in arising situations. And thus, we feel not only competent, but entirely entitled to form authoritative interpretations and make all definitive decisions regarding those situations.
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, by divine design, as a part of this God-orchestrated discovery process.
So, for us, the Rubber Reality of faith is a much more uncertain and a much less entitled 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, interpretations, and conclusions remain debatable while we search for what is truly God’s view of things and our proper response to that view.
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 what would once have seemed to be a very concrete situation. But then, suddenly He morphs it into a very elastic situation which, in turn, lends itself to the God-discovery process.
For example, we can notice how God rubberized a fairly concrete 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, between the sea and the harshness of our Egyptian pursuers!” (Ref. Exodus 13-15)
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 spend some time pondering the why, the how, and most importantly, the Who of it all.”
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 personal growth in Christ is stimulated by these divinely-orchestrated, very “stretchy” situations. And certainly, the inappropriateness of our previously self-determined method of interpreting life is also exposed in the process.
And, well beyond the realm of miracles, God often immerses the faithful in the elastic realities of the everyday. From a counter-intuitive Biblical principle like turning the other cheek or tithing, 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 and our cliché’ ideas of God and our relationship with Him. Always, this Rubber Reality asks us to move beyond the more childish levels when it comes to understanding our life in the Living Christ and its real possibilities.
A Bit More Difficult
Obviously, when compared to the non-faith-based, more concrete reality of self-determination, where we are able to pretty much call all of the interpretive shots, the Rubber Reality (where God pretty much makes those calls) is a more difficult place to navigate. But, this faith-generated reality is also much richer in the dividends of that difficulty as we find ourselves actually growing in a more accurate understanding of God’s heart and actions.
Thus, the Rubber Reality facilitates relational strength and maturity through this increasingly higher level of God awareness and a more accurate and increasingly enlarging self-awareness. So, this faith reality stands in stark contrast to the easier to navigate but infinitely less beneficial reality of the self-directed life.
Essentially, It's A Humbling Process
What we are describing as the “Rubber Reality” is what the Church has, from the beginning, understood to be a divine Humbling Process. Again, this is still that same process we can notice in that Old Testament “Exodus” journey, which we briefly referenced above.
Moses, himself, reviewed that historic journey this way. “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Ref. Deuteronomy 8:2 NKJV)
So, this let’s-get-you-down-off-your-high-horse-and-find-out-what-you’re-really-made-of process has, in fact, always been a part of what it means to draw near to God. The idea has always been that our completely comfortable humility before God, and this very strategic humbling process which brings us to that cherished state, are simply among the foundational necessities required to achieve a vital friendship with Him.
The truth is, no relationship, including the God/ man relationship, flourishes in a constantly discordant, uncomfortable, non-fulfilling state. And so, God is about the business, in the redemptive process, of creating, not just a passable, but an absolutely spectacular relational atmosphere which is firmly based in truth and will thus allow our friendship with Him to truly endure and flourish across our lifetime and beyond. And, this early time of humiliation which follows one’s embrace of the lordship of Christ is the beginning place of the divine cultivation of that relational atmosphere.
And, with his statements above, Moses brings us to the idea of measuring up in the face of this challenging time. Indeed, if this period, which is intended to abrade away our subconscious arrogance, is a bit challenging, and it always is, the idea, then, is just to “stick” until we get through it. And, stick we must, if we want to become big boys and girls holding a correct and comfortable view of God as the Governing Director of our life and a correct and comfortable view of ourselves as – well, not that.
But, when that basic humbling work is done – once we start to see and actually cherish this view of the bigness of God clearly juxtaposed against the reality of our own frailty – look out world. We are in the right relational place. We are then positioned to rise from the ashes of our previous haughtiness to a humble but empowered and deeply fulfilling newness of heart and life in Christ.
From The Trenches To The Blessing
And, it absolutely does happen. As we do, indeed, follow Christ up and down the hills and valleys of this humbling new Reality of faith for a time, we do, eventually, come to the “Promise Land,” so to speak. Only in these New Testament times it is actually better termed the “Promised Life.”
We start to experience the whole point
of the Rubber Reality as we begin to taste the priceless blessing of a true and
growing “heart-oneness” with God as it expresses itself in our
daily life. Jesus 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)
So, indeed, our pathway through the Rubber Reality may meander from one life lesson to another. And, it may take us through various facets of personal growth. Yet, there is always one constant to the journey – its basic direction. There is ever this movement toward an enlarging Harmony of Heart with God.
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 an enlargement on the passage previously 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 [mature] 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 – Brackets added)
“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 with the divine heart.
So, Who is God the Father, after all?
Obviously, to define the entire dimension of our Governing Creator defies both intellect and empirical means. But, there are some important attributes that we can and do observe even in this early encounter that we have been describing.
For example, we can see that He is, indeed a loving God who sincerely desires a deeply and mutually fulfilling companionship with us. And, we also discover that though He is almighty, yet, He is also a merciful and a just governor of Creation.
And, beyond these things, we are able to understand that both He and His will are immutable. So, it does not matter whether individuals recognize or refuse to recognize Him. He, nevertheless, is. And, he will, without restraint of any kind, accomplish His purposes. And always, without exception, His purposes are defined by unmingled goodness.
Always, in all of His actions, there is but the perfection of goodness. And, if we fail to see that constancy, it is merely the fault of our own low perspective, not the real lack of its existence. Good parents often do what wayward children perceive to be evil – only because the child cannot see the larger picture.
We can also easily pick up on the reality that the Heavenly Father is not so “easy” as some would portray Him. Certainly, He is willing to be quite patient in the pursuit of a high quality relationship with us. But, He does not, and never will, settle. Ultimately, when it comes to relationship, His requirement is always that it be of a high quality, mutually fulfilling, and completely founded in the larger moral reality of divine truth.
Nor is it hard to understand this about God. As any good father would, He desires to see His own good values replicated in the hearts of His children. But, contrary to the ill-informed stereotype, in fact, He has no preference for the rod of oppression in order to achieve this.
Rather, He has well demonstrated His preference for inspiration over oppression. The idea is that He prefers that His children be moved toward His heart-likeness by their own true and profound appreciation of the virtues which they observe there. And, in fact, this desire to replicate His own character essence (essentially His value system) within His children in this way has entirely designed the redemptive opportunity which He offers through Christ – for those who very intentionally choose to reach for it.
But certainly, it remains true that even the most careful study of God’s magnificent expression of redemptive love may not answer every conceivable question concerning the nature of the all-knowing and all-powerful God of Creation. But, as the following poem indicates, what we do know of Him will probably serve well enough to allow us to accurately interpolate most of whatever else might remain of our questions.
Lord I cannot see the end of you.
Your bounds are much too far.
You’re bigger than my universe,
Farther than... Oh! my stars!
So - while I'm sure there’s some I'll never see,
Still, I've seen the better part
For I've gone boldly past the veil
And looked upon your heart.
And, I surmise that could I see
The end of all you are,
It would be but mere reflection
Of this familiar part.