A Relationship with Jesus

What do people mean when they talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus? This is a truly profound question. Another good question is raised by the Dane Søren Kierkegaard, “What do I find in my deepest core to be true?” He saw the answer as self-sacrificial love (agape) found in Jesus of Nazareth. For Kierkegaard, God was his way out of anxiety and despair. Here was the “truth that edifies”. Immanuel Kant saw, especially in his third tome on practical reason, that the existential human need was for justice and the good to prevail, and only a being such as an omni-benevolent and powerful God was adequate to make this guarantee work. There had to be a cosmic will for this goodness to prevail. This would lead us to always treat others as an end in themselves rather than a mere means to our ends. UBC young philosopher Anders Kraal notes that, “God from ancient times (Plato and Aristotle) is the central explanatory concept. If you don’t understand this concept, you don’t understand the first thing about the world.” Even the famous atheist Nietzsche recognized this.

See the excellent, eye-opening, concept-expanding book by Darrell Johnson, Who Is Jesus?

When I was dating my wife, I wanted to spend as much time as I possibly could with her. Why? Because I wanted to get to know her better. I wanted to know what she liked, her values. I wanted to get to know her sense of humour, pet peeves and her passion, her vision for life, her sense of calling. We had fun exploring each other’s nuances and personality, hearing each other’s stories and laughing about the adventures in mountain climbing, travel, work with students, etc. My curiosity was admittedly intense: I wanted to know everything. Was she the one? But, above all, I had to learn how to make choices that showed I loved her, if the relationship was going to be a serious one with any depth. That was creative and fun, but also involved some thought and sacrifice of my own interests, time and goals as a single guy. I mused: How could I possibly integrate this complex, intriguing person into my already busy life? To prove my interest in her joy of adventure and trekking, I did a six day hike with a group in the Grand Canyon. Our love and mutual curiosity pushed me out of my comfort zone; I was going to have to grow and change. That was a tough hike with temperatures reaching 116 degrees Fahrenheit at the bottom of the canyon.

This is what happens when you love someone – you want a close, intimate, and personal relationship with harmony and honesty between you. When it happens, it is magical. And you want to learn about and explore life together. You also push each other to risk new experiences, think new thoughts. A good friendship is also very special, because you can share your burdens and joys, weaknesses and strengths without fear of rejection or judgment. You can laugh and cry together, spend time in comradery, go through tough times together, help each other stay in the game of life when it gets tough and complex, reach out to others. A conversation partner with whom you trust the deeper things of your soul is priceless. One might even suggest that this is essential to our existential wellbeing, allowing us to be more fully human. We become more fully human in a network of persons.

In many aspects, the same goes with Jesus. If you are looking into a relationship with Jesus out of curiosity, this means you aspire to learn about and follow him and his teaching, you want to take him seriously in all that he represents and reveals about reality. You are open to what he might reveal about you as well. The Bible claims that you are generously invited to have a close, intimate, and personal relationship with him, to take on his yoke and his mission for a better world, to live to a higher level or standard. This is an amazing opportunity, to get to know God and to find personal freedom in a covenant relationship with Messiah Jesus! What does this mean and how does it actually work?

As with any healthy relationship, it starts with receptivity: you choose how close and open you want to be. It is a choice only you can make, but one that really makes a difference on how you view life, your stance in the world. Your parents or grandparents can’t choose faith for you. Nor can the Church community or a friend, even though they can begin the introduction and inspire you about the promise of it, the hope and meaning they experience. Some people have merely an intellectual connection to God–they like the Christian worldview. But this is not yet a personal relationship, cultivated in faith and humility, with a longer term commitment that could change your life. They like the idea of an all-powerful, benevolent Being, but still want to be quite autonomous in how they live, for their own selfish interests. What can belief in God do for them? To intellectually know Jesus (to know about Jesus) or have a movement of the emotions (to admire or feel good about Jesus) is fine, but this does not constitute the whole picture. There needs to be more colour and texture to it. A robust relationship that helps one flourish is much more. Once we start investigating his story, many of us have lots of questions. That’s normal, because there is a lot to process in his teaching and claims, and the demands he places on our lives (Lordship), as Darrell Johnson articulates so well in his book above.

John 1: 1-18 shows how Jesus, although God, made himself accessible to us. The Word became flesh and journeyed with us, lived with us, shared our humanity in the most profound event of human history. The Creator joined his creatures on planet earth, in an amazing self-humbling, self-sacrificial exercise. But we must also choose Jesus in faith, receive the gift of his revelation, expose ourselves to his moral light, engage the kind of lifestyle he offers along with the grace to live it. Faith is a grateful response to such a gift. Being able to say “yes” to Jesus is only possible because God has chosen us first. He has had his eye on us for a long time, has good intentions towards us, invites us into his family (Ephesians 1). Abraham Heschel says, “God has proven that he is interested in humans and has not given up on them.” That often comes as a stunning realization for people: that God invites us into conversation and ultimately into friendship and divine communion. That’s a lot to get your head around.

When you investigate Jesus and his claims, and then you choose Jesus as your mentor, you start on a lifelong adventure of faith, one that opens up life in unique and creative ways, to unusual possibilities. This relationship is lived out in prayer, worship of God with other Christians, Bible study, practicing the virtues which are rooted in love and humility, practicing justice, service to God and others, care for the poor. In some ways, it reshapes your whole world and set of values and goals (transvaluation of your values)–sets higher ideals for life lived for others, addressing human suffering and other existential concerns like meaning and identity in a practical manner. As you claim Jesus as your personal Lord and guide, accept his wisdom, you will learn so much new about the adventure of life, you will be surprised by joy. It will engage your history and experience, help you make sense of your past, address your pain and struggles, help heal your brokenness and self-doubt. You will soon feel the security of his love in your heart.

Giftedness (Romans 12) will be released in you to accomplish things you may not have thought possible. He will also help set you free from bad habits, addictions and loss of control, get perspective on your stress and anxiety, improve your relationships. Through forgiveness and reconciliation, he will lead you into new impactful ones. Some have the experience of a radical paradigm shift in their outlook on life— it changes everything. Most of all, Jesus leads us to become people of character, to become more human, able to face the challenges of life with courage and hope, take up our responsibility for the common good, develop compassion for others. We are no longer stuck with fate, or meaninglessness/nihilism, lost in power-knowledge struggles and mere language games. We are no longer morally frozen, or addicted to our own lower desires, lusts and cravings. It is a relationship rooted in love, not only for this life but also the one to come (Romans 8). Jesus wants to be your friend. He showed it most dramatically when he died on the cross.

The GCU community of graduate students and faculty supporters at UBC suggests a couple good introductory books to explain life with Jesus: N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian and C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I co-authored one small book on tough questions with my friend Michael Green called Ten Myths about Christianity. It engages briefly some of the typical questions people have about belief in God, Jesus’ resurrection, exposes  popular stereotypes about faith to the light of critical reason. It ultimately shows how Jesus fits into the big picture of a meaningful and exciting life. You may also have heard about the Alpha Course, which is an introductory round table discussion on faith and its nuances in a safe environment, where all inquiring questions are welcome and respected. You can also search up the Nicene Creed to see what most Christians believe through the centuries in a nutshell. Repeating the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: -13) is also a helpful way to begin to get to know Jesus. It can take some time, and many walks along the ocean, to figure this all out, but it will be time well spent. It could mean for you a life well-lived, a life of joy, a lifetime of moral growth and maturity. Jesus is the Yes and Amen to it all, the best empirical evidence we have of a loving God who cares about the whole world, including you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMj1ggINLe4 A Scene from The Chosen.

Hope this helps,

Gordon Carkner

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber (2011), is a story of someone who found God through dialogue, wrestling and reflection while doing her PhD in Romantic Literature at Oxford.

Jesus-Yes and Amen

See also https://ubcgcu.org/2015/01/29/jesus-as-an-affirmative/ Jesus as an affirmation of humanity.

And try https://ubcgcu.org/2012/08/23/faith-comes-from-social-conditioning/ Is faith in God a result of social conditioning? This is a regular question asked by seekers and skeptics alike. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fxf_J3nvwgs 

Tim Keller, The Struggle for Love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4JD0EW8De0

Tim Keller, How to Cultivate Friendship with God: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgwzuFG5LCk 

Why an Atheist Scientist Became a Christian in Later Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMBQwGzn_TE 

Jesus, the Wisdom and Truth of God: a Reading

Joseph Loconte (2015) captures the story of C.S. Lewis awakening in his A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914- 18.

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