Jesus Knowing Christ
Engaging the Intimate
Engaging the Intimate Relational Process
Spirituality Study For a printer-friendly pdf file click here
Chapter 9 The Relational Conclusion
For God . . . made his light shine in our hearts to give
us the light of the
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
Are you blessed in seeing the glory of God? This revelation is a privilege which many have wanted but few have experienced (Lk 10:24). Christians, all of whom have the opportunity for this experience, find themselves often in the opposite relational direction on the road to Emmaus. Or are you discovering deeper satisfaction (makarios) with the face of Christ, his person and words?
The light to which we are exposed requires a healthy organ in order to receive it (Mt 6:22). When the eye doesn't function properly, light is worthless to it. As we noted previously, the eyes and the heart are used for similar function in the Bible. So, we are continuously warned in Scripture about the importance of our heart to be functioning properly, and the need to clear away that which prevented full function.
In 2 Corinthians 4:6, the whole process describes relational interaction the outcome of which is the intimate experience and understanding ("light shine in our hearts") of the very presence of God ("the glory of God") as vulnerably revealed by the person and words of Jesus ("face of Christ"). God has done the main part of his relational work, and he holds us accountable for it. The road to Emmaus is no longer a legitimate option for us. Plus, he holds us accountable for our part of the relational work. This relational work which establishes us in the relational process of intimate relationship with God is imperative for all Jesus' followers, not just a select group.
To know Christ beyond mere knowledge and information to the level of experiential understanding of God is the outcome only of this relational process. Therefore, nothing is more important than relational work because we don't have a greater purpose in life than relationships. That's what God made us for. That's what brings the greatest fulfillment because only relational work yields the relational conclusion and the full satisfaction in our hearts (made in the image of God with eternity planted in it). Relational work is the only primary significance our actions can have--all else is secondary to it. It's the relational imperative with God, as well as with others.
This relational conclusion does not happen by our definitions of ourselves and of God, nor by our terms for relationship with him or by how we commonly do relationships. In our modern lifestyle, for example, we are so busy and fast-paced that relationship is often "done on the run," so to speak. This may make it more difficult for us to recognize living a "life faster than grace"; work to perform, objectives to fulfill, goals to accomplish, achievements to secure and minimal time for much else reflect our attachments and our priorities--whether they're important to us because we depend on them to establish our worth or due to unintentionally practicing a lie. Engaging in such practice relegates intimate trust (faith) to a situational practice, at best, while effectively negating grace in the relationship.
In reflection on their exile in Babylon, the psalmist laments their captors' request for songs: "How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (Ps 137:4) The songs couldn't be sung just for entertainment or as ends in themselves; they could only be sung in the proper context (which in their case was Jerusalem). A certain place was important for them in order to have connection with God. We can extend this reflection to our life today but with the changes Jesus established.
Think relationally! How can we sing the songs of Jesus while using a "foreign language?" We either sing about him as an end in itself or we sing with words which don't reflect his substance. What do you think this "language" is which is foreign to him?
How can we follow the person and words
of Jesus while practicing a "foreign
Since Jesus came, the place is no longer important nor necessary for connection with God. Yet, our practice as his followers still seems foreign to his person and words. We haven't really grasped what he replaced the place with. And we won't until we "make every effort" at the relational work he put before us. Jesus restored relationship as the primary place to sing his songs, to follow him and make intimate connection with the Father. Thus, any substitutes we put in place of relational work take our practice out of this proper context. This results in something other than the relational conclusion.
There was certainly a gap between what Peter believed and what he actually experienced with Jesus. More often than not, the relational conclusion seemed to be elusive for Peter. The reason was summed up when Jesus told Peter where his mindset was and thus what determined his perceptions (Mt 16:23b).
We all face this experience gap to one extent or another. This gap is also reflected in the experiential difference between an interested observer (e.g., a sports fan) and a participant (a player). Of course, it would hardly be accurate to label Peter an interested observer; no disciple was more active during their time with Jesus than Peter. Yet, he still had a gap in his experience. In our previous discussion of Peter's life story as a disciple, we can learn that it's important also how we "play the game." Merely participating is not sufficient to experience this relational conclusion.
Jesus really compounds the experience gap for us when he said: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. That person will do even greater things than these" (Jn 14:12). Do you really believe this? Do you actually experience this? Or was Jesus using hyperbole to make a point? I used to struggle with this. "Greater things" seems impossible compared to Jesus. It is, if we think of it qualitatively. I think he means from a quantitative standpoint, but don't think about things to perform, like miracles. Think relationally.
What has Jesus been doing in his person and words? He revealed the Father and was doing his work (Jn.14:10c); it was all relational work. Jesus started it all on a relatively smaller scale, if you will. We have the opportunity to extend this beyond what he did on earth. This is not about quantity of missions but about doing the Father's work--which is all relational work--for our greater experience and the experience of others. This really excites me; and I'm trusting him for more of this relational conclusion, which Jesus continues to promise (14:12c-14). Yet, this is one of those "blessing or burden" matters. Will this heighten our experience of intimate connection with God, or will it widen the gap due to greater expectations to which we have to measure up?
Many Christians who want to narrow the gap and experience more tend to look at the matter only as their personal issue, difficulty, struggle or even problem. They think that they just need to have more faith, discipline or whatever in order to experience more. Some others see it also beyond themselves to include this difficulty, struggle or problem within the church as well. That their experience level and gap are also the reality of the church--and they just further reflect this reality in their own lives. It's almost like living out a stereotype or script of a church community or family that one is a part of.
However you may look at this issue, or any other in your life, it is helpful to reflect on our lives in the form of a story (narrative). Such a narrative gives context to different parts of our life, helping us to order our experiences and to better understand events and circumstances. When we reflect on our individual story, we can see also how our biological family story, the story of our particular church and other stories (like culture, community, education, job) have become a part of our personal story and have influenced us. All these narratives contribute to our personal life story and help shape our identity, our thinking, our perceptions.
The story (or narrative) of a particular church, or a Christian culture in general, becomes part of our personal Christian story. If the experience gap is an existing condition in those narratives, then we have no significant experience to add to our life story from the practice of our faith. What do we do in these circumstances? We turn to other experiences in life to add more to our life story; this is when secondary areas start becoming more important. Otherwise, we wouldn't have much experience to show for our life as well as our faith.
This experience gap is crucial to our hopes and expectations--if not for life hereafter, most definitely for life now. We either accept current levels of experience in our faith and continue to make substitutes thereby settling for less, or we look to another story to redefine any mindset, perceptions and stereotype of what we can experience in the Christian life and thus be changed--individually and corporately.
Peter certainly went on to experience those "greater things" Jesus promised. We don't have all the narratives of his transformation but enough to give us his life story. After telling Peter off, Jesus told him and any other disciples: "If anyone would come after me, one must deny oneself ... and follow me" (Mt 16:24). To "deny" (Gk. aparneomai) means to remove from oneself, to disown, refuse, to decline or withdraw from fellowship, therefore here to refuse one's own self. Look at this in terms of Peter's life story and the narratives which made up his story and influenced him. It was absolutely crucial for Peter to refuse parts of his whole story, to stop fellowshipping with his old story, to disown the lies which had become a part of his personal story and, then, to follow Jesus in his whole story.
This whole story is the narrative history of the person and words of Jesus Christ, which goes well beyond the manger and the cross. His whole story as narrative history (not fiction) reads as love story--a story of family love. To see his life's story is to see his person as whole, not as fragments of teachings, miracles, events, situations. To understand his life story is to engage his person and words, as he has pursued me in my life story. To know his life story is to intimately experience his person and words, as my life story becomes transformed into his life story together with his Father in family. This is the relational conclusion which includes the relational experience that closes the gap and brings new depth and breadth to our story--beyond what we can imagine.
When we don't embrace Jesus in his whole story, we don't embrace his total person and the vulnerable presence of God. When we don't let him embrace us in our life story, we only make ourselves available to him in certain parts of us (fragments of our self), not our whole and, thus, only involve ourselves in the relationship in selective, limited or substitute form.
©2003 T. Dave Matsuo
Study Guide & Growth Plan
The face of Christ is difficult to take in and embrace when our focus is on his "hands" (his deeds) or on his "mouth" (his teachings). This focus reflects the influence of seeing ourselves and defining ourselves by what we do or have, as well as demonstrates the effects of living in relationships as a result of this definition. These ways directly alter our perceptions of the incarnation and God's revelation of himself.
The issues of how we define ourselves and do relationships further influence and even determine how we do church today. When these three major interrelated issues are left unattended, they not only alter God's revelation but also reduce the meaning of the gospel. This renders our faith to a practice, both individually and corporately, without relational significance to God, thus lacking deep satisfaction for us and for others.
There is a deep personal loss that comes with making substitutes for or settling for less than "the face of Christ." Our popular notions of Christ need to be assessed with his full incarnation and the whole truth of the gospel. Jesus didn't come to be with us on our level of life--to initially engage us where we are, yes, but not to do relationships on this level. He came to take us to the level of his Father--the uncommon and eternal.
Compare and contrast relational work from all other human activity.
How did Jesus replace the place for intimate connection with God? And what makes our practice foreign to him, resulting in something other than the relational conclusion?
Outline your life in the form of a story and examine how you've defined yourself, done relationships, practiced church.
How well does your story intersect with Christ's story and interact with his person and words?
What parts of your story do you need to let go of, disown, refuse in order to follow Jesus in his whole story?
What redemptive changes need to be made and further relational work engaged in order to be more deeply involved in relationship with him?
The experience gap is reduced only by involvement with God in intimate relationship on his terms and thus on his level. As you anticipate this, can you imagine engaging in even greater things than Jesus (Jn 14:12)? Rigorous relational work involves holding him accountable for this promise.
While this chapter may conclude our current study, it must (dei) not end the growth process. We are held accountable for all of God's revelation, especially his intimate relational work of the incarnation, thus accountable to follow Jesus in the relational progression to the Father as his very own and as his family together with his Son and all our sisters and brothers. This is not optional but the relational imperative to engage in ongoing relational work--rigorous relational work in cooperation with his Spirit. In the process be sure to account also for Satan's counter-relational work.