Monday, February 23, 2009

The Relationship

The Shack claims that Jesus doesn't want religion, he just wants a personal relationship with us. This view is fairly common among Protestants.

Now, he's right to an extent. If we just try to "follow the rules" of our religion, but we somehow do so in a way that does not recognize Jesus as the purpose of everything we do, then we are just engaging in vain works.

But there is a danger going the other direction as well. Jesus does not just want to be our buddy. As the Bible teaches, the relationship we are intended to have with him is far more like marriage than it is like a casual let's-hang-out-at-the-mall-on-Saturday friendship.

Let us compare marriage to our relationship with Christ:

1) Introduction: Before anything can happen, a bride must be introduced to the groom. We are introduced to Christ when we hear the Gospel.

2) Falling in Love: There is a difference between hearing the Gospel, and accepting it. When we really start to know Christ, we will fall in love. He will make sure we are introduced to his father, because if we are to love Jesus, we must get to know and love his father, The Father. We will spend more time with him in prayer, and we will want to make ourselves more attractive to him.

3) Proposal: After we fall in love, we will realize that we are betrothed to Christ, he proposed to us before we were ever born. We have only to say, "Yes," and we will enter into the engagement.

4) Wedding Plans: During our engagement, we plan the wedding, and continue to learn more about our beloved. In the Church we do this by attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes, among other things. If we haven't already, we should start meeting more of Christ's family: being introduced to his brothers on earth (our fellow parishioners), his brothers in heaven (the Saints), and his mother (Mary).

4b) Confession: You want your marriage to be a clean start, and you want to be completely honest with your spouse, so before you are married, you share with Jesus your past failings, and ask his forgiveness.

5) Wedding: The wedding is a major point in the relationship. At this point our love is formalized. This corresponds more-or-less to Baptism and Confirmation. At this point we enter into the family of God. Jesus becomes our spouse, his Father becomes our Father, his brothers and sisters become our brothers and sisters, and his mother becomes our mother. This is a momentous change, and may be marked by taking a new name, in recognition of the new life that has begun.

6) Consummation: Only after the wedding do we consummate our relationship (Christ is without sin, after all). In the Church, Christ gives us his body in the Eucharist (communion). Unlike the wedding, this step is normally repeated many times over the course of a marriage.

These are the major steps in the relationship. After this, we will continue to grow closer to our spouse, and only love him more with time. But as sinners, there is still a problem that is likely to come up:

Infidelity: Christ will never be guilty of infidelity, but sadly, it can almost be guaranteed that we will not always be faithful to him. When this happens there are two paths we can take.

1) Divorce: While Christ will never desire divorce from us, no matter how we betray him, we can choose to run off, chasing after our sins.

2) Reconciliation: Even though we have betrayed him, he will always forgive us if we ask. Here's where confession shows up again. To have a lasting marriage, we must learn to say we're sorry.

Now, if we look back through these, we can see how the Catholic religion is not a contradiction to the relationship with Jesus, but is rather what you would expect from a deep relationship that is so much like marriage.

We can also see that removing the "Falling in Love" step makes the rest of the events lose all their meaning, but that still doesn't answer why many Protestant groups seem to think that the relationship shouldn't have any more steps after the acceptance of the proposal (though for them, acceptance of the proposal also counts as making wedding vows).

But what about all the things that leaves out? Under normal circumstances, who would say, "It's only our personal relationship that matters," and get married quietly without any witnesses? Who would say, "I don't need anyone interfering with my personal relationship," and refuse to speak with their spouse's family? Who would say, "It's only how we feel about each other that matters," and abstain from a physical relationship and consummation?

The truth is that relationships are both simple and complicated, and our relationship with Christ is no exception. The relationship is rooted in faith, hope and love, but living that relationship, and experiencing it in its fullness, through all the intricacies of our daily lives can get more complicated. That's why we have the Church, through which we come to a fuller knowledge of our beloved, and experience our relationship with him in all the ways he intended.


contrarian 78 said...

This is a great way of analyzing the matter. Thanks for your post!

Nathan said...

I just discovered something that might be added. From Peter Kreeft's "Catholic Christianity":

"The word 'religion' comes from religare in Latin and means relationship -- relationship with God."