Thursday, October 29, 2009

Relationship, or Knowledge?

It’s so much easier to study about about Jesus than to be a student of Jesus. We face the constant temptation to fill our heads with the details of his life and ministry. Pastors and college professors emphasize the need to memorize Bible verses or learn Greek and Hebrew. Publishers produce massive volumes of systematic theology. Popular Christian books suggest Biblical “keys to success” for our finances, healing, and any other human need. But Jesus is not a system, he is a person.

Perhaps we should give ourselves first to filling our hearts and lives with his presence. An omniscient God is not impressed with the size of our intellect, but he is impressed with the size of our heart. How can a finite human mind grasp an infinite God? St. Augustine, one of the greatest intellectuals in history, lamented that the “mansion of his heart” was too small and asked God to graciously enlarge his heart, not his mind. The Holy Spirit, who breathed out every word of the scripture, is not impressed with how many verses we have committed to memory, but he is impressed with how many verses have found their way into our everyday lives. Jesus didn't care much for religious knowledge, but he was astonished by the faith of simple people like widows and gentile soldiers.

Even though the Scripture encourages us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” we are constantly tempted to pursue human understanding regarding the words of Jesus when we should pursue his living presence. Trust is all about relationship, understanding is all about intellect. In Jesus, God chose to become a man. The infinite stooped down and clothed himself in humanity. In Jesus, God did not pretend to become a man, God became a man. In his earthly ministry Jesus did not reveal all the secrets of knowledge and learning in human history. He chose instead to reveal how it was possible to enter into relationship with the creator. Jesus chose to reveal the Kingdom of God. By his actions, Jesus teaches us that relationship is more important than understanding. We know this intuitively. We tend to forget it when it comes to our faith.

Faith does not require us to throw our brains into the trash. It does, however, require us to order our lives around what is most important, and relationship comes first. Jesus opened the way back to relationship with the creator. The good news of the gospel is that the Father has gone after the very children who have rejected him. He refuses to leave us alone. He will pay any price--even the life of son--in order to win us back again. That's a committed relationship in action. By contrast, in so much of our Christian fellowship with one another we require intellectual agreement with our favorite doctrines.

Some of us have busied ourselves with developing human descriptions of God’s action. We discuss words like justification or sanctification. We try to present the legal reasons Christians can expect to go to heaven when they die. When Jesus paid the price for reconciliation, I do not believe he was thinking in terms of “going to heaven when we die.” I believe his focus was on demonstrating God’s irrepressible love. Jesus described eternal life in terms of relationship with God: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17: 3) Of course it’s true that we have the hope of going to heaven. It’s only natural. Since God is eternal, he will naturally bring his friends with him into eternity. It's where he lives. “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14: 2 - 3) I suspect that when Augustine prayed the mansions of his heart would be enlarged, he was asking for the work of heaven to begin in in his heart then and there.

God is the creator and sustainer of everything. He is certainly not against the use of our intellect. In fact, in Jesus are "hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:3) We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, mind, and strength, so we can confidently apply our intellect in the love of God. As we give ourselves to study, we should also remember that the countless of number of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will worship him in heaven will certainly include the unlearned and the illiterate--and they may have a thing or two to teach us about a loving relationship with Jesus.

The challenge for us as Students of Jesus, then, is to know him, and not settle for knowing about him.