Intimacy with God

Adam and Eve were created for intimacy with God and one another. The discipline to resist the desirable, but forbidden fruit, was the one condition necessary to sustain intimacy. They had been blessed; but they had also been given the principle of boundaries. Their refusal to observe the boundary, forced the forfeiture of the blessing and the loss of the privilege of the garden. Christians are so blessed, invited into a place of intimacy with God; but simultaneously called to discipline and it is here, as it was in Genesis 3, that the blessings are so often lost – the complete absence of personal discipline. With it comes doubt, the acceptance of other voices as equal to that of God, misplaced trust, rebellion, and sadly alienation from God and one another, the loss of innocence and intimacy.

The Christian God is uniquely infinite, and yet personal. On the personal side, an intimate relationship is offered to us as an extraordinary gift. On the infinite side, God cannot be known, not fully known. He is past finding out. His ways are not our ways. And yet, He relates not as a distant and omnipotent Sovereign, but as Creator-Father. He removes the chasm between Himself and us. He whispers to us. We walk with Him. We are “friends” with Him, more so, we are children created in His image and empowered with dominion. Despite the intimacy, on the infinite side, the huge chasm remains. Bonhoeffer called God “the beyond in our midst.” [1] Tozer speaks of the “loss of the concept of majesty.” [2] Such a paradox, this intimacy with ‘the Utterly Other,’ demands our reverence. It should exact deference to his knowledge, power and character. In the face of such grace, submission should be given, a posture of presumed cooperation and obedience, which is submission’s expression. The nexus of the power of these essential disciplines is found in obedience.

In Christ, God is even more relatable. We are “the bride of Christ” – an extraordinary metaphor for intimacy. Yet, when John, who had leaned upon Jesus, saw him in his glory, his garments glistening, his eyes like lasers, and his feet with evidence of a fiery furnace experience from which he was unscathed, John was immobilized. Looking at the face of Jesus was like staring into the blinding mid-day sun. His voice was deafening, like the roar of a waterfall. In his hands were stars. Out of his mouth proceeded a double-edged sword, the power of his piercing words. John declared, “I fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:12-17).

The obedience offered to such glory is not from fear, or yet without appropriate reverence before unspeakable incomparability. It is tethered to love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience is love’s expression. And such obedience keeps me connected to an ongoing experience of his love. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). While his love is unconditional, the experience of it is conditioned by our will. Obedience keeps me, it lets me remain or abide, in a place where I am kept in His love. I can choose to rebel, to reject both love and grace. The discipline that centers me in love is prayer. “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love …” (Jude 20-21).

God loves first. He is the first cause, a pursuing God. Even the condition of sin did not dissuade his desire for man to know him. Before the fall, man was free in both the garden and the earth itself. Both were a gift. The garden marked a special place for intimacy with God, and the promise of eternal life (Gen. 2:9). The populating of the earth, the exercise of dominion by both cultivating and guarding were his mission (Gen. 1:26-28). Even the forbidden tree was not fenced. Man was free. With his fall, he was banished from the garden (Gen. 3:23-24). What followed in the Pentateuch was not one prohibition, but an avalanche of “Thou shall not’s.” The risks for mankind had exponentially increased. God posted warning signs and fences everywhere. These prohibitions, these laws, were expressions of God’s love. They were not arbitrary or punitive. They were the Maker’s proscription – “For best use, do not …” They were a “tutor” to warn against destructive behaviors that would release on us the power of death.

In the end, the fences were not enough. A better tether to righteousness was necessary. And so, while the Old Testament gave us “love” as the first of many laws, the New Testament replaces law itself with love. “All things are lawful” – the fences are gone. But “all things are not helpful,” expedient or profitable. The Greek word is sumphero, from which we get symphony. The word means to “come together” or “hold together.” It is by implication, relational. It reminds us that sin divides and that conversely, obedience to the Creator-Conductor puts us on the script that informs our harmony with Him and together produces the music that makes the world go around. Dissonance destroys the music. All things are permitted, but all things do not further my role in the larger symphony (I Cor. 10:23). Indeed, some actions make me vulnerable to hostile forces. “I will not be brought under the power of any” (I Cor. 6:12, KJV). The NIV says, “I will not be mastered.” The NAS wording is, “I will not be mastered.” More telling is Young’s Translation, “I will not be under authority by any.” Literally, I will not yield my authority or by implication, my autonomy or will to tinos. The word is translated anything, but it could be translated “a certain one, someone, anyone.” I am only able to stay free through obedience to the one who made me, redeemed me and loves me. And failing to do that, exercising aberrant freedom, forfeits true freedom and brings me under the authority of the Evil One. Bonhoeffer would remind us that grace is free, but it is not cheap.

This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org.

 

[1] Bruce Main, Spotting the Sacred, p. 26.

[2] Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 6.