Why Relationships Matter - Part 1

Pastor Reed Bernick

Our church talks a lot about relationships – and for good reason. It’s not just that we feel they’re important, but we know that – given the pace of an area like Northern Virginia, especially – they’re in alarmingly short supply. Very few of us grew up here for one thing, but the vast majority of us who moved to town did so not to make friends, but to work in certain fields or accomplish certain goals. Many of us wake up three years later wondering why we feel so lonely, forced to confront the fact that making friends requires an investment of time and time is the one thing we do not have.

And so the church’s insistence on community is – at least in part – an attempt at addressing a fundamental human need. Just like the church feeds the hungry and clothes the naked – and in doing so, not only loves others and prepares them for the gospel – so too, ministry in our situation often looks like forming deep community and fostering friendships.

But that fact alone doesn’t quite do us justice. Scripturally, there’s more to relationships than simply feeling lonely or connected. And while we may not focus on the narrative of scripture as, essentially, a story about community and its significance – it is! Let me explain to you what I mean by walking through six big ideas in the Bible – ideas which confront us both implicitly and explicitly with the value and importance of ‘relationship.’ I’ll get through three this time and finish up in my next post.

1.The Trinity
Much to the disgust and the confusion of the other two Abrahamic religions (Judaism and Islam), Christians have always believed in a God who exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. And to try and spare the details surrounding the historical recognition of that doctrine – suffice it to say here that it took several hundred years for disciples of Jesus to arrive at an objective teaching on the Trinity; not because it hadn’t been true or it wasn’t widely believed – but only because the language needed to be tested and refined.

The reason it was so complicated is because, ultimately, it’s a paradox. The one God is three persons and the three persons are one God – and if ever we slip and imply one of those facts without the other (which is extremely difficult to avoid) – we fall of the horse; or in the case of the first ecumenical councils: we’re exiled somewhere in Asia Minor for our heresies. It could be argued that the paradox actually precedes conversation about the Godhead specifically.

Before deciding that the three are one and the one is three – theologians had to assert that Jesus has two natures while remaining one person. When they needed to describe what they meant, they used something called the ‘Chalcedonian Pattern’ – which is helpful in discussing the Trinity too: that Jesus is human and God – ‘without confusion or change and without division or separation.’ The same could be said of the relationships among the Triune God: that the Son and Spirit and Father are God – ‘without confusion or change, and without division or separation.’

But back to the point: God is not a God in isolation. He is not a lonely God. He is a God who simply is relationship, even at the deepest level. He does not become differentiated into persons by virtue of his relation to us or the world – he simply is Father, Son, and Spirit and always has been.

2. Creation
Which dovetails nicely into thinking about creation – because not only is God a community unto Himself, but these basic inter-personal relationships overflow into his work as Creator. He is not content to remain alone – even if by ‘alone’ we mean something a bit more complicated in God’s case. No, he sees fit to create the universe to which he then stands in continuous, persistent, direct relation as it’s Lord. He is a God for the other first and foremost in that he establishes the other – and does so out of nothing (ex nihilo). We as human beings are the sentient stewards of that ‘other,’ the world – and it’s through us that God ultimately relates to it and proves his love for it.

Speaking of which: most theologians up and through the 20th century believed that the “image of God” carried by human beings (Genesis 1:27) is its differentiation as male and female. There are other interpretations, sure – body, soul, spirit; intellect, affect, will, etc. – but none are more common than sexuality. And even if we can’t ‘prove’ exactly which reading is correct, it feels like one of the more reasonable contenders from my perspective. Why? Because it corresponds with our communal God. If to be God means to stand in relation with Godself – then to be human is, similarly, to stand in relation to oneself – namely, to be confronted by ‘the other’ that is, at the same time, you. There’s probably books to be read and written about that – but in human sexuality we see the significance of ‘relationship’ come to fruition as his creatures – something that in God, predates the universe and the foundations of the world.

3. The Fall

The fall is the unraveling of that reflection. I was a part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship when I attended the University of Virginia, and my staff worker was insistent on this point. In the description of the fall we have in Genesis, we see – at root – a fracturing of the three main relationships holding the world together. Most obviously, the relationship between God and people is jeopardized. The God who was once a friend to walk with in the garden becomes a God before whom we are ashamed. We originally existed in the proper creator-creature order, but in the fall, it’s all overturned. We want to become our own gods, and doing so alters our access to Him and His plan for us.

The second fracture occurs in the relationship between us as people – which, again, is portrayed within the relationship of the sexes (represented by Adam and Eve). The original perfection of their relationship is turned in upon itself and contaminated. They’re cursed to associate with one another in a kind of improper, broken way. And we see the fruit of this inter-personal disunity take even more drastic form in the human-to-human relationships that come soon after (like Caine and Abel, for example).

The last relationship that’s fractured is the relationship between us and creation. And here we must recognize that the fall is a moral failing that not only affects us as image bearers but the entire created order. We are its representatives before God and when we fall in disobedience, nature falls along with us. What used to be a world that satisfied our expectations (and what used to be expectations that could be satisfied by the world) is now an environment that fights us with every chance. We toil to survive where we once flourished effortlessly. We have been exiled from the garden we were made for.

Well, that’s all for now – but I’ll finish this up with a ‘Part 2’ on October 4 (and hopefully draw some loose ends together, too). Thank you for reading!





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