Yes, the real question facing most of us and the Church is: “Why can’t we get on with each other?” If there is a commonality about our human predicaments across the globe it is that everyone is caught up in relationship tangles, relational dislocation, personal or group alienations. Our planet is in a pandemic of ruptured relationships.
At one level deep down within most of us, life is a search for union with the other. Basically this is a search for love. And for connectedness. But separateness, gaps and distance are in many ways the new “norm”. Husbands are not in union with wives, children are not in deep relatedness to parents, friends and colleagues fall out with each other, countries are rent by political factions, and denominations are torn asunder over assorted theological differences.
In fact every one of us is probably burdened or pained by alienations or relationship tangles of one sort or another. What’s wrong with us? Are there any ways to get this right?
Perhaps right at the outset it is worth positively affirming that the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of right relationships and the biblical notion of shalom speaks not just of peace but of a context where all relationships are working properly. For example humans with God, husbands and wives, parents and children, citizens with the state, and all human creatures with the created order around them. The notion is exceedingly rich and profoundly relational. Indeed, it tells us of how God wants things to be.
Over and above that we have Jesus’ celebrated first and second commandments to, “love the Lord your God with all our hearts, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… and your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38).
But something has gone wrong. And perhaps we find our first and best clues in our failures to operate fully these first two commandments of our Lord. Clearly He starts out here with our love relationship with our Father God and the totality of commitment required from us, namely with our whole heart, soul and mind. If that is not operating as it should the consequences will be evident all the way around us with family members, friends and colleagues. When Carol and I first got married I used to say to her, “Sweetheart, you are my Number Two.” The first time I said this she looked very startled. But I explained that Jesus had to be my Number One and if I could really keep Him my Number One, I would have the spiritual and moral resources to keep her really Number Two.
So when any of our horizontal relationships are in trouble or tension, the first question to ask ourselves is how things are between us and our Lord. Has our devotional life slipped? Are we reading the Bible faithfully? Are we praying as fervently and regularly as we should? Are we obeying Him spiritually, morally and practically? Are we in church or a fellowship group to hear His Word faithfully proclaimed and taught? Because, if not, the negative repercussions in our other relationships will be everywhere evident.
“So when any of our horizontal relationships are in trouble or tension, the first question to ask ourselves is how things are between us and our Lord.”
Our Lord then says unequivocally that we are to “love our neighbours as ourselves”. And here we find an interesting clue as to how our relationships to others are meant to work as our Lord highlights the relationship we have with ourselves. Obviously from the way Jesus couches this commandment, He is affirming that our self-love births the capacity by which we are to love others. Many have the idea that it is virtuous to love others but wrong to love oneself. And it is assumed that in the degree to which I do love myself I do not love others. In other words self-love equates to selfishness. This is erroneous. In reality proper self-love speaks of proper self-respect, proper pride, full appreciation of one’s value and deep recognition of one’s own God-given human dignity. We are to grasp that God loves us and we can’t hate, deprecate or minimise what He loves.
This is hard because we often feel so unlovable and the natural way out therefore is often to run ourselves down, diminish who we are, undervalue our giftings, and even reject our likability. Reversing that doesn’t mean that we are dishonest in our self-evaluation or blind to our faults. In reality we should be able to say that, “here I am excellent, here superior, here very average and here very weak”. But at no point in this self-analysis do we reject our value or deny ourselves the value and love God accords us. Indeed, we forgive ourselves because He has forgiven us, we value ourselves because of the value He attaches to us, and we love ourselves because He loves us enough to die for us on the cross.
Our Lord seems to be saying that if we have this humble and biblical relationship with ourselves we will unlock the dynamic that enables us to love and value others as we should.
And of course in our relationships with others a lot of the problem a lot of the time is that others have offended us and we can’t forgive them. But if we can forgive ourselves because God has forgiven us then predicated on that is our obligation and capacity to forgive the one who has offended us.
So to love, forgive, value, understand and accept the other is what is required of us. It is also required that we try to get a handle on what is complicating or frustrating our relationships with others. Different things can do it. In a marriage it is often pride. “We just can’t say, ‘I’m sorry.’” But if we do, light and love are restored. Or it may be just plain ignorance of what makes the other person unacceptable or problematic to us. Sitting down and finding out more about who they are or why they are as they are can often unblock the flow of relatedness.
In a nutshell the key to resolving the relationship tangle is the resolve to do it. Prayerfully. With determination and intentionality. And with a resolve to obey the Old Testament exhortation to Shalom and the New Testament exhortation to Love.