Let me begin this post with a profound quote-*
Nothing in Christianity makes sense except in the light of relationship.
-C Gallo, 2019
The relational aspect of Christianity is the overarching story that ties all the aspects of the Christian faith together. If you try to understand any piece of Christianity without it, you will have misguided ideas of how Christian theology should be applied to your own life. Your faith will be stunted.
Maybe this was obvious to every other Christian, but for me it was a game-changer. I don’t want to overstate my own knowledge, but I have a good grasp of Christian theology. I understand the big stuff – the trinity, the fall of mankind, redemption, etc. I even enjoy getting into the weeds of more nuanced theology like eschatology** and predestination. But often, the more I pander to my brain the more my heart checks out. My faith shrivels.
How or why does the relationship aspect of Christianity matter to me?
Relationship gives life to my faith
Christianity as a religion is boring, oppressive, and constraining. It is often harmful and can be used to exploit people. Christianity as a religion will not help you better yourself (for long). It will not give you warm fuzzies (for long). Christianity in terms of relationship, though…! The wildest but perhaps most important claim of Christianity that we claim to actually know – have a relationship with – a spiritual being. THE spiritual being. It isn’t a neat and tidy abstract idea, and it’s not a flawless system of logic. It is [or should be] crazy and scary and exciting.
Relationship affects how I think about oppositions to my faith
I sometimes encounter people who insist on badgering me about my faith. All of them look triumphant if I don’t have an instant answer to any of their misgivings about Christianity. They express dismay at my lack of open-mindedness and refusal to be in a perpetual mode of discovery. I will tell them something like “I’m not sure how to answer that, but this doesn’t necessitate me abandoning my faith ,” or “I’m really not in a place to effectively research every opposition or issue you’ve brought to my attention.” Some have implicated that they pity me a weak-minded, brain-washed child who won’t (or can’t) contemplate all the mysteries of my faith on a flip of a dime.
If they were challenging the conclusions of my last published research article, they would be perfectly justified in this attitude. Scientists should always be open to new discoveries and be the harshest, most vigilant critics of their own theories and data. But Christianity is more than a theory or data points. It’s a relationship. It grows. It involves experiences that build on each other. At some point, a trust is formed. Those experiences and that trust transforms the way you think about all new data.
For example, I have been dating someone for about a year.*** When we first started dating, if someone had come up and told me “I have good evidence that your new guy is a major flake and you really can’t trust him to do what he says,” I would have taken their words seriously. I would have launched an investigation into whether or not that was true. I would have considered halting all romantic activities until I settled whether or not I could trust him.
Now that we’ve been together for a while, however, it would be crazy for me to take them seriously. I wouldn’t waste time reevaluating every interaction my boyfriend and I had in the past year. I wouldn’t ask for us to take a break while I investigated. I wouldn’t even ask him about it. I simply know that they are wrong. Even if the person who told me that believed strongly in their statement, I would conclude that they misinterpreted his actions in the past. It’s not that I’m brainwashed or in denial of any potential flaws, but we have experiences together. At some point, a trust was formed. I have seen him in bad moods and good moods, around his parents and around his friends, extremely sleep-deprived and well-rested, very relaxed and under an enormous amount of pressure. During all of this, everything he’s told me he would do- he’s done. Every event he’s told me he would come to- he’s been there. So it’s not that I’m stupid or blind, it’s that we are in a relationship. And the relationship itself has changed how I view any new information or perceptions any one else might have about him.
Just the same, I’m not going to approach all objections to God in a purely objective or abstract way. I can’t. That does not – I repeat, does NOT – make me a brainwashed buffoon.
Relationship affects how you think about being good
This is probably one of the most misunderstood features of Christianity – the “good deeds” issue. It’s widely recognized that Christians should, in theory at least, be good people. Yet a major tenant of Christianity is that humans are already so deep in the pit of imperfection that no amount of good deeds could ever pull us out of it. So if we can’t earn good standing and we’re putting every single egg we have in the grace basket, what’s the point – why do anything good at all?
Strangely enough, I have found great insight into this issue from the movie The Breakup. In one scene, they’re having a huge fight about how the boyfriend Gary is never doing the good deeds that Brooke asks him to do.
Gary: “Fine, I’ll help you do the damn dishes.”
Brooke: “That’s not what I want. I want you to want to do the dishes.”
Gary: “Why would I want to do dishes?”
Gary would want to do the dishes if he cared more about making Brooke happy than he cared about making himself happy. He should do the good deed because he knows it’s something she cares about and would bring her joy – no more, no less. It’s the exact same thing with good deeds in Christianity. We don’t do good deeds to prove we’re better than other people, or because it comes easily to us, or because we think we’re earning some sort of spiritual brownie points. We do good deeds because we have reason to believe they are important to God and bring him joy – no more, no less.
I don’t think God wants us approach good deeds like, “Fine, I’ll help you do the damn dishes.” I believe he wants us to want to do the dishes.
— EDITORIAL —
*Phraseology stolen from Theodosius Dozhansky, who thought evolution was the overarching story that tied all of biology together. ( “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light if evolution”). If anyone tried to understand any piece of biology without it, Dozhanksy claimed, they would have misguided hypotheses. Their scientific discovery would be stunted. This post isn’t about evolution, but I have a compulsion to provide the source of my thoughts. My deepest fear is getting caught in a scandal that involves accidental plagiarism. BUT I will say that if you are curious about how the Genesis creation story relates to current scientific thought on human origins, I highly recommend reading The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John H. Walton (amazon link here). It greatly influenced my thoughts on the subject.
**the ONLY reason I dropped the esch bomb was to be a Pretentious Pretentierson.
***No one knows for sure. It is currently a hot topic of debate by many scholars.