A recurring theme for me these last couple weeks has been this idea of deviating from the systematic approach to life. You know, the Westernized way of thinking that puts every aspect of life into a bullet-point list or 5-step process.
As an engineering student, every day I’m learning how to interpret the variables of the world as a series of functions and logical relations in order to derive a solution. My focus is in structural engineering and we are taught exactly how to put up a building so that it doesn’t fall down. We learn the capabilities of steel and concrete, the most structurally sound shapes, the physical limits before yielding and fracturing occur, the effects natural weathering, etc., etc., and all of which are derived from centuries of research, testing, and learning from failures. It’s pretty amazing actually. The whole scientific method is pretty cool, and I really think the human race is onto something with it.
What I’m doing in my classes is learning a very refined approach to solve a very specific problem. Do the equations work? 99.9% of the time, yep. Are they exact? Nope. Are they convenient and easy to use? Of course! (Unless you’re considering torsion effects which are not easy to use)
And the truth is, in engineering, these are wonderful tools that help simplify and refine the process of doing stuff. They work, and it’s great!
The danger, I find, is applying this systematic view to our relationships. It’s everywhere. “If I do this, this and this, it will humble me and allow me to love people more.” “How do I pursue this girl in the exact perfect way so she won’t think I’m a total creep?” Or a big one for me is, “If I were only to read my bible more and have a regular quiet time, then I’d really have an easier time connecting with God.” Even if I’m not willing to admit it, I do this all the time. I see a problem, I see what I desire, and then I formulate a plan to make it happen.
I don’t even necessarily feel this is bad. After all, simple wisdom often comes in tasty bite-sized pieces. What more worries me is when the refined approach throws out the in-betweens, when they favor the side of convenience as opposed to experience. I mean, we all know it. It’s on thousands of MySpace bumper stickers surrounded by glittery hearts, it’s the messy things that make relationships count. Or as I like to say, the “mess-essary” things.
But What I’m learning is this idea that relationship is not convenient. It never was and it never will be. It is inherently inconvenient to our lives. Relationship is us inviting someone into our room and letting them move the furniture around. “Woah! Don’t move the lamp to that table!” “Hey, why are you setting the alarm clock to 6am? I’m not used to waking up that early! (As a clarification, I mean friendships/partnerships/committed social interaction/relationships in general. Although, the Eros-style relationships count too.)
I’m learning that if I lend someone 5 dollars with the expectation they’ll pay me back in some way (e.g., compliments, affection, 6 dollars, etc.) I will be disappointed. I’m not saying that people won’t, but I don’t think the point of relationship is to treat is an investment. The point is to give them 5 bucks because you want them to have your money more than you want it for yourself. I know nobody, including myself, would admit to this mindset but I’m learning it’s really easy to fall into if we’re honest with ourselves.
A very good friend shared with me recently, “Love is not reciprocal, it’s sacrificial.”
From what I’ve gathered from the married men I know, it seems as if marriage is difficult and that marriage is not convenient. “Wait a second – you mean we’re going to live together and make every decision together? And we share every part of our life together? And for how long? Death? Seriously?”
Obviously, I am not speaking from a position of knowledge or authority in the realm of marriage. However, I do know what it’s like to be friends with people and according to Facebook I have 520 of them. (Side note, in case you’re wondering, I keep in regular contact with all of them)
I’ll head into the direction I originally meant to travel. (This blog post is a discontinuous function).
Tonight I just finished reading Donald Miller’s book, “Searching For God Knows What.” It was pretty good, very relateable. To relay some of his ideas, he describes the dangers of being too reliant on treating theology as a bullet-point checklist to reaching God. The Bible does not offer a 5-step plan to reducing stress. In fact, the Bible doesn’t explicitly have a list of ways to “get to know God” like a Gospel tract. Rather, the content is spread throughout. It talks a lot about Love, it talks about us Loving Jesus, it talks about the Kingdom of God, it talks about the Holy Spirit, it provides tons of elaborate examples of how God loves the church like a bridegroom, it talks about God’s relationship with man since the beginning, it talks about man’s longing to be Loved by God, and it talks about plenty of other things. In short, the message in the Bible seems to be very relational. It’s almost as if it’s not even interested in giving us a checklist of how to be good with God. Reading it in itself: the stories, the parables, the weird prophecies, the poems, and yes even the law; that is getting to know God.
If I’m honest, I treat my relationship with Jesus as a series of bullet points. “If I read my Bible enough and have enough quiet times, then I will really know and love God.” I don’t think of my relationship with God as an actual relationship. I like to call Him up occasionally, say, “I Love You,” and immediately hang up the phone and spend time with someone else.
I know, I know, I know, the term “Enter a Relationship with Jesus Christ” has become a cliché in our culture. But I think it’s been said so much because it’s right on the dot.
When we treat God as a series of steps to avoid Hell (both eternally and the occasional emotional anguish during life), I think we’re missing it. Don’t get me wrong, God wants to save us from that, and an accurate understand of systematic theology and the fundamental truths presented in scripture are absolutely necessary to understand God, let alone have a relationship with Him. But I think I’m learning that God is a person that Loves me, sacrificially. God coming down to die for me is scandalously sacrificial. Me choosing to engage in relationship with Him is inherently inconvenient and sacrificial too. That’s how Love works. That’s the point.
It goes against every tendency of my body. Most days I don’t want this mushy relational stuff. I just want hard logic, a function, and a solution. I want for it to be watertight, no questions or anything. I want to have God understood and placed in a clear plastic box where I can see every side of Him. This relational stuff is good, but it’s not enough to hold the truths of the universe. Maybe it’s good for simple-minded people who liked Transformers and think bacon is the greatest food in the universe, but not me. I need more than that.
And I’m completely sincere in that. It is hard for me and I still struggle to get this whole “Relational God” thing. This is probably because God is invisible and has never spoken to me audibly, which are traditionally very important traits that help me know people. But there are also times where I don’t want to believe it because then that means I’d have to accept this idea that God is someone I can talk to, and that is a conversation I sometimes don’t want to jump in to.
But on the other hand, I also like the idea of God being someone that does in fact love me. A lot. God is rooting for me.
I’ll let you in on a little secret about me. I have a dream of being a Jazz singer. I want to stand in front a crowd of hundreds wearing a tux with a bowtie and sing “Mack the Knife” with Bobby Darin’s sultry voice – and everyone in the crowd will quietly sing along with me, but not too loudly so as to ruin the moment. I’ll sip some kind of tan liquor during the performance and make a witty comment to the people at table seven. Oh yes, that is an exciting thought. I like to believe that God gets excited when he thinks about me doing that too.
I often paint God to be this abstract, emotionless, relationless being that stands off at a distance that allows terrible things to happen in the world because he doesn’t care, and my only means of communicating with Him is through ascetic ritual and sacrifice. This type of relationship with God is, uncoincidentally, very pharisaical.
But I think God is more than that. It makes me feel warmer at the end of the day, Also, I think it’s true.
What relationships are most important to you? Do you struggle with viewing them as a systematic routine in your life? Do you enjoy the people in your life? Why or why not? How can you show someone you care about them today? (Hint: it probably won’t be very convenient for you)
I’m mostly asking myself these questions, but you can think about them too.