The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 219)
When I was attending high school in Hong Kong, one of the classes I enjoyed most was music. We learnt to sing many British folk songs during music classes. One of the songs we learnt had a chorus that goes like this:
I care for nobody, no, not I,
It has a very catchy tune and these words stuck in my mind until now. Whenever I had relationship problems with my siblings or friends, I would comfort myself by singing those words. I told myself, “Oh, why bother? If people don't like me or disagree with me, I can ignore them or isolate myself from them.” But the next day, when I went to school I still had to face the history teacher who liked to pick on me for no apparent reason and the classmate who said that it was unbecoming of a Christian girl like me to watch a ballet performance! How I wished that all these people would disappear from my sight and leave me alone! I thought I could live alone without any friends, but I could not. When I was alone, I longed to have someone to share my joy and sorrow. When I was with friends, I found our relationships full of problems. Why do we have to live with such contradictions?
The Bible is the Word of God which contains instructions pertaining to every area of our lives. If we want to know how we can live peacefully with people around us, we can always go back to God's instructions concerning our relationship problems. The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God who is a social God in community within the Trinity. God bothers about relationships. It is not His intention that creatures made in His image should live in isolation without contact with other creatures. In the beginning, He made everything good including relationships, vertically with Him and horizontally with each other. But why is our relationship with one another so messy and so full of problems?
In this article we will examine five areas in our relationship with one another, and learn how God intends human relationships to be.
When I was young, I heard someone explain the reason God created man. He told us that God is love and He had no one to love in eternity. He needed an object to love, so He created man as His companion and therefore Adam was made! Let us take an honest look at ourselves and ask whether we really are the best kind of company for God. Definitely not! This was not the reason why God created the world and mankind. He does everything for His own glory. He is the all-sufficient God who depends on nothing, especially not on man.
No doubt one of God's attributes is love. The eternal God is love and so He has always loved, even before He created all things and before time began. Let us ask ourselves who has He loved? That will inevitably point us to the plurality of Persons in the Godhead. In eternity, God lives in community within the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The three blessed Persons in the Trinity have loved one another perfectly from all eternity. In Jesus' high priestly prayer, He prayed for the believers saying, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). God the Son proclaimed that God the Father loved Him from all eternity with a perfect love.
Not only is there a covenantal love existing within the Godhead, there is also unity among the three Persons. Jesus said to the Jews who went to question His identity, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). There is oneness in their relationship and the supreme friendship is reflected in the Godhead. That is how God designed us to be – relational beings, loving one another and having unity of purpose to glorify Him. We are created for relationships therefore no man can live in complete isolation. Man is a social being in need of someone to complement him. In other words, he needs companionship.
After creating a perfect world, the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen 2:18). And God made a woman to complement the man. In order to have perfect relational satisfaction, man's first relationship must be with his Creator God. When this relationship is in its rightful place, he will have a right relationship with fellow human beings. That is God's original design for relationships to work. Therefore, those who have communion with God are one in communion with those who have faith in God. A man in enmity with God will not be in harmony with His creatures. When man turned against God at the Fall, he became not only God's enemy but also at odds with God's creatures.
Sins' Effect On Our Relationships
Instead of love, there is hatred towards those who do not agree with us. Instead of admitting our own guilt and wrongdoings, there is accusation and slander against others. Instead of loving obedience towards our Creator, we treat the created things as more important than the Creator. We want independence instead of trusting God to work out His plan in our lives. We try to solve our relationship problems by our own methods. We avoid those who irritate us, manipulate those who are afraid of us, and blame others when things go wrong to cover our own guilt. As a result, we create even more problems for ourselves when we relate to others.
Many of us look for strategies or techniques to free us from the pain of troubled relationships. We attend courses that claim to help us to maintain good relationships. People pay fees to attend courses in effective communication, conflict resolution, personal analysis and the likes. But all these methods, at best, can only try to change human behaviour without altering the heart. We need to find the root of all our problems which originated from our sinful hearts. The sin in us makes the whole world revolve around 'Self'. We are self-centred, always looking for that which is best for us. We want self-rule so that we can do whatever pleases us. We practise self-sufficiency so that we do not have to depend on others. We have a self-righteous attitude and become overly critical of others. Every man with a sinful nature in him acts this way. No wonder we find it so hard to relate to each other.
Hope for Our Relationships
In order to find the answer, we have to go back to our Creator's instruction book, the Bible. The Word of God offers us clear hope for our relationships; that hope is not in us or in the techniques we have mastered. No amount of learning can help us develop good relationships among our friends because we are all imperfect human beings, changeable, unpredictable, temperamental and, above all, sinful. We can plan, we can expect, we can wish, but how things turn out is completely out of our control. We are imperfect just as other people around us are imperfect. We thank God that those who believe in Christ are being transformed by Him daily so that we may be more like Him as we walk with Him.
The Bible says, “When a man's way pleases the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov 16:7). That being the case, we should constantly examine our ways and check whether we are doing things that please the Lord and not ourselves. When we see relationships getting messy, we should remind those involved in the mess to turn to Christ who is in us as our only hope. When people's eyes are opened to see the unseen Christ, acknowledge that He is the Son of God, all-powerful and all-knowing, they will turn their hope on Him and His promises. With Christ in us, we have all the potential to go through tough relationships in this messed-up world. Our encouragement to believers is to trust in the promises of God. To non-believers, it is our duty to help them realise that Christ is the only hope for them to have peace with God and man.
Theology in Our Relationships
“We see theology as a systematic study of religious thought that has little to do with everyday life. But, rightly understood, theology is the real life story of God's relationship to us and our relationship to one another lived out in a broken world. By this definition, whether you 'think' theologically or not, you are 'doing' theology every day in the decisions you make, the words you speak, the feelings you have, and the attitudes you nurture in your heart. All of these responses are rooted in your perspective on the nature of God, yourself, your relationships, and the world around you. These 'perspectives' are theology because they inform and frame the way you live your life. The question is not whether you are a theologian, but what kind of theologian you are!”
Your theology is on display not in your words, but in how you treat others. If you treat your helpers with compassion, your God is a compassionate God. If you show mercy to the poor, the widows and the orphans, your God is a merciful God. If you are fair and just to your subordinates, your God is a God who upholds fairness and justice. How you fare in these areas speaks a lot about your theology and your relationship with God.
God's Purposes in Our Relationships
Our spiritual blindness keeps us from seeing our own sin until we run into difficult relationships. It is then that we begin to realise how proud, self-righteous and stubborn we are in dealing with others. In such a situation, we should come back before the Lord to repent of our sins and to ask for His forgiveness as well as the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Sometimes by ourselves, we are as blind as a bat to see our faults. We need the Word of God and good counsel from fellow Christians to guide us back to the right path. The Word of God reminds us that, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Prov 18:1). This man seeks selfish gratification and accepts advice from no one. Such a man is a fool who does not know that God wants to bless him through the counsel of the godly.
It is God who restrains our sin to protect us from being harmed by our own folly. It is amazing that even sinful people like us can get along at all! Left to ourselves, we would probably devour each other with hatred and jealousy. We should be thankful for our relationships no matter how difficult they may seem. God's two-fold purposes for our human community are for our sanctification and our witness to the world. When we work through a messy relationship in a godly and peaceful way, God will be glorified and the world will know that Christ is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners from their own destruction and from destroying others.
Relationships, whether they are good or bad, are God’s gracious gift to us.
Lastly we must acknowledge that some broken relationships cannot be reconciled no matter what you try to do. But we can still think good about those people, pray for them, wish them well before God's mercy seat and be comforted that we can be friends again in eternity if they are true followers of Jesus Christ. In the meantime, continue to be positive and build good biblical relationships with those who care for the unity of God's people and the preaching of the Gospel.