On “personal relationships” with God

Today I defended my masters thesis. I am so happy to finally have school behind me as I move on to the next chapter of my life. My preoccupation with schoolwork explains my dearth of posts around here lately. Perhaps I’ll find more time to post in the coming weeks and months, although I will be pretty busy in the short term relocating my family and starting a new job.

In the meantime, I want to post some slightly modified comments I made in a recent thread at MADD (here and here) about how Latter-day Saints tend to approach Jesus Christ. Specifically, I am commenting on our tendency to avoid talking about a “personal relationship” with Christ while simultaneously emphasizing that he is our “elder brother”.

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This is one of those areas where I have “holy envy” for our Evangelical friends’ passion for Christ. I think that expressing one’s status before God and Christ as a “personal relationship” is not only fitting but desirable. Our scriptures in several places describe various individuals as being the “friend(s)” of God. To me, exaltation (theosis) is nothing more nor less than becoming a close friend to God and thus sharing in the fulness of his glory.

I have absolutely no qualms, as a faithful Latter-day Saint, saying that I worship Jesus Christ. I don’t find it the least bit blasphemous and I am greatly puzzled by the LDS majority that is hesitant to see things that way. Jesus Christ is our God, as expressed numerous times throughout the Book of Mormon and D&C, and if we don’t worship our God I don’t know what we are doing with him.

I also want to make a comment about our tendency to refer to Christ as our “elder brother”. This phrase usually, though not explicitly, assumes a literal “spiritual offspring” model for our relationship to God and to each other. This is surely the most widespread view among North American Mormons (I can’t confidently comment on the rest of the LDS world). There are other models that are viable.

At any rate, referring to Jesus Christ as our “elder brother” is perhaps the closest thing we’ve got to expressing our love for Christ as a “personal relationship.” The phrase “elder brother” in reference to Christ signifies a closeness and love that is found in an immediate family. We can all appreciate the tender relationship that exists in a proper brother/sister brother/brother relationship. It is personal. It certainly is not a vision of Christ as a cosmic creator too busy and important to dedicate time and effort to a personal relationship with us, his “younger siblings”.

And it is this implied personalization of Christ that introduces tension into the way we think about Christ. On the one hand we do in fact have a cosmic creator, a warrior God marching against evil and dishing out justice, and on the other hand we have a very personal and intimate “elder brother” who is willing and wanting to go out of his way to make “the one” feel loved. He leaves the 99 to go after the lost 1 (an interesting twist on the Occupy Wall Street movement!).

I personally cringe just a little when I hear Christ referred to as our “elder brother”. After all, Satan (and many other cruel and evil people) could theoretically be our spiritual “elder brother”. It is a technicality that threatens to blur the important distinctions that exist between Christ, Satan, and us. It is this exact technicality that our critics exploit when they assail us for believing that Jesus and Satan are brothers. We should give a mental nod to the technical fact that yes, Jesus, Satan, and all men are siblings, but perhaps we should not let that be the defining parameter for how we approach Christ or Satan. After all, we don’t reverence Jesus just because he is our elder brother. It just happens to be so, and is not grounds for holding him in high esteem. Many older brothers can be unworthy of our devotion.

Let us instead approach Christ through a different set of parameters: his qualities and achievements. He is our Creator, Redeemer, Shepherd, Rock, Advocate, and Savior. We devote ourselves to him because of the things he has done for us and the love he has shown for us; not because he is our elder brother.

You may be wondering how these comments square with my previous comments about desiring a “personal relationship” with Christ. I think it is desirable to have a personal relationship with Christ, but not one based solely on the fact that he is our elder brother. That is merely a tangential coincidence. It is not why we want a relationship with him, or to be his “friends” (as the scriptures say). We want a personal relationship with Christ because he is our Savior.

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One comment on “On “personal relationships” with God

  1. ji says:

    Many thanks! I agree with your sentiments — Jesus Christ is our Savior, Redeemer, and God. I think we tend to diminish Jesus Christ when we refer to him as our elder brother, and we tend to diminish Jesus Christ when we insist on looking to the Father directly. We want a personal relationship with Christ because he is our Savior. Amen.

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