In one of the premarital counseling workbooks that Michelle and I use with engaged couples, the authors ask a question at the end of nearly every chapter. Whether they are talking about love or finances or in-laws or communication, they ask the same question: “How will the presence of Jesus help you in this area of your marriage?” Their point is that a relationship with Jesus is primary and empowering to all other relationships.
So how is it going in your relationship with Jesus? It is hot, cold, lukewarm? Jesus once said to the church of Laodicea, as we read in the New Testament book of Revelation, chapter 3, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” What is the temperature of your relationship with Jesus? Let’s talk about how we can move toward a vibrant relationship with him.
I’ve already asked some questions that maybe we don’t talk a whole lot about. But there are more. What is God? If we are to have a relationship with him, what is God?
God is spirit, and that means he is invisible. But that raises more questions. How do you have a relationship with a being that you cannot see?
Is our relationship with God just in our imagination? In our minds? Is it something we make up to make us feel better? Is belief in God “the opiate of the masses”?
Or is it a real living and breathing relationship with a real being?
Another question, is it me and God in relationship? In other words, can I have an individual relationship with him? Does God have unique relationships with individual persons?
And is God a him? Some people call God a her. The biblical writers all use the masculine pronouns for God, but that does not mean that God has a gender and that he has a specifically masculine gender. You will hear people make impassioned arguments for the importance of God as a male. He is father, they say, not mother. He is king, they say, not queen.
But those same people admit that God is not a human or animal that has biological gender. God is spirit. Yes, God has tendencies that are typically considered male. But God also has tendencies that are typically considered female. Furthermore God as spirit has tendencies that surpass biological gender.
There a few times when the biblical writers says that part of what it means to be in relationship with God is best understood by the metaphor of a mother-child relationship. God is “Like a bear robbed of her cubs.” (Hosea 13:8) Or “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” God says in Isaiah 66:13. Finally God says that “like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.” (Isaiah 42:14)
In Matthew 23:37, Jesus himself declares that he has motherly thoughts. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”
Additionally, from the very beginning, both human genders are described as made in the image of God: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Are you female? You are made in God’s image. Are you male? You are made in God’s image.
Thinking about God as parent might be difficult for some because perhaps you have a difficult relationship with one of your human parents. Maybe one or both of your parents has mistreated you. No parent is perfect, and often people transfer the negative parts of their parents onto God. That is understandable. If you do that, you are doing something that is normal, but that doesn’t mean God is like your flawed earthly parents, at least in their flaws. What we should strive for is to have an honest evaluation of our conception of God. Ask yourself, Am I conferring negative flaws onto God? If so, we should get to know who God truly is. God does not have the flaws our parents have, even if it seems like he does.
God is perfectly loving. Even when it seems God is distant and far away, he remains perfectly loving.
But we need to remember that God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we have a relationship with all three persons of the Trinity. The concept of Trinity certainly has some mystery to it. How can God be both one and three? Do I have a relationship with one God or with three? Thinking in relational terms, it sure seems like we Christians have three distinct relationships, one with each person of our Trinitarian God. But as we read in Deuteronomy 6, “the Lord is one.” While it might seem that we have individual relationships with three Gods, we have one relationships with one God.
In the next post, we’ll talk more about how we have a relationship with one God who has three persons. For now, I want to conclude this post by mentioning that each of the three persons of the one God have aspects that can feel difficult to relate to. For example, the person of God the Father is the Lord in Heaven. Because of that he can feel distant sometimes. But we pray to him, sing to him, and generally think of him as God. That’s why we’re thankful for Jesus who is God in the flesh. We can identify with him, because he took on a human body. It can feel easier to have a relationship with Jesus because we can read stories about him in the Bible. But we have to admit that he ascended to heaven, and he is not here anymore. He said that was a good thing, but we sometimes disagree with him and wish he was still here. Lastly there is God the Holy Spirit, who is God in us. He lives in us. So we can also identify with him, because, of the three persons of the Trinity, the Spirit is the one with us. But the Spirit is also, well, spirit, and not human, so it can sometimes feel that a relationship with the Spirit is mysterious.
And none of that answers my original question: do we have a relationship with one God or three? Let’s talk about our relationship with each person of the Trinity individually first, and we begin that in the next post.