Yesterday, I talked about the yearning for spiritual power incorporated into some movies and television shows. Another, more common, element is the yearning for relationship. Romantic relationships are, of course, quite common; very few scripts lack this theme. But teamwork is the relational theme present in Harry Potter (from what I gather in commercials, see my caveat in yesterday’s post), Buffy, and many other scripts.
The yearning for relationship reveals a key aspect of human nature and its relationship to the trinitarian nature of God. In fact, this “fingerprint of God” runs through his creation, as seen in many animal species. Still, humanity, being made as his image-bearer, has the closest resemblance. Our yearning for relationship is the expression of a deep need: a need for communal action and connections that go beyond the surface of our lives.
How can the church respond?
Human Nature. The church knows the true center of this yearning: our hearts yearn to be one with God’s heart. Augustine’s famous quote–“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”–touches on this. We also know the bounds of relationships from Scripture: there are relationships forbidden to us. Sexual relations outside or marriage (Matt 5:28) and believers being in intimate relationships (romantic and otherwise) with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14) are two examples. We also have the responsibility to model true humanity to the world. This entails prioritizing relational connections within our churches, telling the stories of those connections in public venues, and living as community in our neighborhoods.
Trinitarian Nature. The perichoretic relations in the Trinity–“co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration”–are the epitome of relationship. Humanity will never (in my opinion) reach that level of intimacy, but it is the ultimate model. The trinitarian model displays two important aspects of healthy relationship: distinction and unity. Each person of the Trinity is distinct from the other, yet with this distinction, complete unity remains. Our modeling of community carries these aspects before the eyes of the world. Knowing the ultimate model, the church reflects on its own internal relations and improves both its practice and understanding of relationship.
Deep Need. We can explain the origin of this yearning–an origin far beyond the need to propagate the species. The origin is in our very nature, created by Creator God who is himself necessarily relational. Given this, the church ought to expect connections and create intentional relational space for such connection to occur. We cannot make relationships, but we can prioritize them and equip one another in the necessary skills.
Communal Action. God’s truth gives ultimate purpose to our communal action. God’s call to be salt and light determines the setting for our communal action: our neighborhood (local then global). This prioritizes training that equips members to act as the Body in the neighborhood.
Beyond the Surface. In his book, The Search to Belong, Joe Myers lays out the various spaces of belonging and what the church can do to create an environment in which relationships naturally develop. One of Myers’ key points is that not all relationships are intimate; there are valid and healthy relationships in all the spaces from intimate to public. I would add that we can go beyond the surface in each, though at varying depths. For its part, the church can train its members in the skills needed at each level and model to itself and its neighborhood what healthy community looks like.
Humanity yearns for relationship and this yearning can lead one into unhealthy and even destructive relationships. God has given us the insight and guidance needed for healthy, fulfilling relationships that reflect his glory, but the sad truth is that the church too often neglects this important area and its members seek fulfillment in unhealthy and destructive ways. Siblings, thsi ought not to be so.