Humans, relational creatures that they are, tend in their early adult years to start wanting to build a family of their own. Young women dream of romantic proposals and pray that their boyfriend will 1) stop putting off the proposal and 2) not propose in a totally lame way. Young men agonize over the right ring and the right setting, and pray that their girlfriend will say “yes.”
Now suppose a young man was preparing the proposal of a lifetime. Then on the night that he was going to propose, his girlfriend told him that she was leaving him for someone else and turned and walked away. What would the average man do? Try to find someone else? Cut his losses and live life as a bitter individual? How many men would spend years waiting for her to come back, reminding her that he loved her whenever she would listen?
Suppose that after several years, this girl came back to her former boyfriend. He assured her that all was forgiven and asked her to marry him. She accepted, and he told her that he was looking forward to the day when they would be together forever. She was happy to be engaged. But she never wanted to talk about setting a wedding date. She wasn’t interested in picking out a wedding dress. She didn’t want to plan the ceremony. She had no interest in floral arrangements or guest lists. In fact, she didn’t even spend much time with her fiancé. She was simply content to gaze at her engagement ring, feeling happy that she was engaged. She had no plans for the future and no intent to get closer to her husband-to-be.
A few times in the new testament, the followers of Jesus are metaphorically compared to a bride. So, going with this metaphor, let us suppose that this life is the courtship phase in our relationship. The Son of God has, from the dawn of humanity, been looking forward to the day when He could claim His bride.
Yet early in the courtship phase, his bride-to-be spurned Him. Ever since, He has been waiting, offering reconciliation and full forgiveness. He knew that in order to make his intentions unequivocally understood, He’d have to come down and walk with us in person. So He did. And we killed Him as He knew we would. But to Him, it we were totally worth it.
So Jesus reconciled us to God. He loved us more than we could possibly imagine, and he paid for our redemption with His own blood. But many Christians have accepted His proposal and then sat back, content in the knowledge that they are “engaged.” We often talk of “salvation” as if it were the finish line, the endstate, the ultimate goal. “We gotta get saved and get as many people saved as we can so we can go to heaven and escape hell.” We act as if salvation were a ticket that we must acquire at all costs, and once we acquire it, we win. Sure, we’re willing to tell others how to get a ticket, and we’re reasonably happy when they acquire one. But then we breathe a collective sigh of relief as we think about how lucky we are to have made it into the club. Nothing to do now but wait for our ride to heaven.
I don’t believe it’s stretching the analogy too far to say that accepting God’s offer of reconciliation and deciding to follow Jesus is like accepting a marriage proposal. I believe that in the life to come, we will see some sort of spiritual consummation of our relationship. But in the meantime, our life on earth doesn’t have to be the beginning of a perpetual engagement. It is a time of growth and excitement and preparation! Our “engagement” shouldn’t be the end of our life. It should be the beginning. It is the starting line rather than the finish line.
Now I’ve often wondered how one “deepens one’s relationship with Christ.” I know that some will think this is blasphemy, but I don’t think that bible reading and prayer is the answer. I don’t mean to discount the usefulness of either activity, but they aren’t the point of this life. Now I could be wrong, but based on the teaching of Jesus, my best guess is that He means us to develop our relationship skills with each other. We are called to help each other, share life with each other, and bring hope and healing to the world. Perhaps that should be our focus in this life as we prepare for bigger and better things to come in the next.
If you have additional insight, I’d love to hear it. Please share it in the comments section below.