“It’s not good for the man to be alone.” These are the words that God declared when He recognized that His creation needed something more. Relationship is at the center of who God is and what He desires. Therefore, He established it as a fundamental desire in us too. One of the complications that I spoke about last week is that our selfishness crept into the equation. Hurt and suffering in our relationships followed. Although we may have a better understanding as to how we put ourselves in this position, there still is the question of why is it necessary to have this dynamic. In God’s infinite wisdom, He saw the folly of man and added one more variable that is the game changer – choice. His choice to create and love us knowing we may reject Him is the definition of unconditional love.
Let’s recall the exchange that I introduced last week: in order to have meaningful relationships we must live with the understanding that we may get hurt by them. The power in this exchange lies in the choice to enter the relationship even knowing the risk! Some call it free will. If I am forced to enter into a relationship with someone, whether it ends up good or bad, the outcome ultimately was not my responsibility. Instead, it falls on the person who forced me in the first place. Any benefit I may receive in the relationship is minimized because I did not make the initial investment. Imagine putting a large sum of money on the line to start a new business. Would the rise or fall affect you more if it was your own life savings or someone else’s? Your own, of course!
In the same way, if all the unknowns and risks are told to you and are removed prior to making the choice to enter a relationship, it ceases to be unconditional! Your involvement then becomes based on a guaranteed outcome. When the choice to stay involved, regardless of what happens in the future, is at the foundation of a relationship, it remains much stronger. At the risk of the lows being lower, a person experiences true love in its purest form - unconditional. In theory this all sounds great, but in practice it can be one of the most difficult things we go through.
Something I’ve found comfort in is that God understands everything we go through. He is not far removed and distant. He literally came to earth in human form to give us someone to relate to - Jesus experienced life on earth just like you and me. He is very invested in being a good Father. What He asks of us is not something He has simply dreamed up and is waiting to see if we will sink or swim. When it comes to relationships, He has made the exchange Himself in regards to His relationship with us.
There is a story in John’s Gospel that shows this to be true. It’s one of my favorite detailed accounts of a miracle, and makes me feel like I’m there when I read it. It’s the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead found in chapter 11. Early in the chapter we find Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, sending Jesus word that their brother is sick. The first indication in this account that Jesus was deeply invested in this family is in the word they sent: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:3
Jesus had made the exchange. He loved Lazarus, and it must have been obvious because those who witnessed their relationship knew it. It even goes on to say that his love extended outward as John records that, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5
As the story unfolds, Lazarus succumbs to sickness and dies. Aware of this, Jesus engages in conversation with his disciples in order to prepare them before he makes the journey to see the family. Let’s focus on what happens when he finally arrives. Both Martha and Mary are visibly upset, and upon seeing Jesus, tell him that this wouldn’t have happened had he come sooner. They knew he was capable of saving Lazarus but couldn’t understand why he hadn’t come earlier to heal him. As he saw them weeping and how full of sorrow they were, John 11:33 says that he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” But what happens next is how we know Jesus felt the full impact of loving people, and we see the effect of the exchange in what he did next: “Jesus wept.” And the people that were there said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:35-36. It was vulnerability for love.
The same can be said of Jesus when it comes to you and me; he has willingly made the exchange and committed to love us no matter how we treat him. He even felt this way towards those that were putting him on the cross. You may be asking yourself, as I was – why does it have to be this way? It’s the essence of unconditional.
Jesus was not forced by anyone to love Lazarus, Martha, or Mary. He also knew the risk that entering into relationship may result in pain or grief. He chose to enter. He chose the risk. In the same way, he chose us with no guarantee that we would, in turn, choose him. His heart is literally at risk of breaking each time one of us rejects him. He willingly does this because he knows the power of relationship and he wanted to model it for you and me.
My mindset has certainly changed on who God is. At one time I didn’t know Him. Then I didn’t understand Him. Now I’m in awe of Him. On the heels of tragic world events, or the loss of a loved one close to home, I’m assured that God is good and not to blame. When I see the grief that follows, I know the people involved made the exchange. The sorrow on their face shows me that they are “deeply moved in spirit”, but it also shows me they took the risk to love and tasted of its fruit. Although all may seem lost in the moment, if asked whether or not it was worth it, I’m certain the answer would be a resounding “yes”.