Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Search Of Truth, Relationships

In our "freeway tour" of the Old Testament, we're looking at some of the "strange" behaviors of God and the people who worship him. Our aim is to gain a better understanding of why some of these things were done, what significance they had, and what they can tell us about who God is, who we are, what our relationship to God is now and what it is ultimately meant to be.

Relationship is extremely valuable to God. In fact, it is an inseparable part of who he is! The fact that God is three distinct persons (which scripture refers to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) directly implies a relationship. Love and relationships did not come into existence when God began creating. Love and relationships exist eternally in God himself!

As we were reminded recently in Genesis, we are made in the image of God, and in some way reflect who he is. (Genesis 9:5-6) I believe part of the way we reflect God is through healthy, selfless, deep relationships with each other. In fact our selfless investment in other people in some way directly blesses God! (Matthew 25:37-40) The Christian life has more in common with a Co-op than it does with a solo game. (Hebrews 10:25)

Unfortunately, many (maybe even most) of us geeks shy away from building relationships. Or we're content to kid ourselves into thinking our shallow, safe interactions with others are the basics of what relationships are meant to be. We help each other kill bosses and gain the best loot in MMOs, we have lengthy conversations on forums or even in person, but the content of our conversations rarely moves beyond what we think or hope the next film treatment of a beloved fictional property will be like.

I should clarify and say that gaming online or geeking out with others at length is tons of fun, and there is certainly nothing wrong with it (and a number of things right!). But if we never go deeper, if we don't reach the point of sharing our struggles, offering and asking for counsel, praying with each other, or even make progress toward those relational elements, can we really say we have relationships as God intends?

Over the years I've had a number of geek friends who make it nearly impossible to talk about anything of real-world significance. If I even start to go into the shallowest of real-world topics, they respond with a geek joke or quote of some kind to get us back on the "safe" topics of geekery.

I don't stand in judgment of them for this. In fact in most of those cases, I'm aware of evidence that they have been greatly hurt by people in their lives. And as my Bible study mentor once observed, we spend an incredible amount of focus and energy on protecting ourselves from each other, even from those we are closest to in this world.

Pain happens in meaningful relationships. There is no getting around it. Even in a relationship with God, who is pure perfection, I find myself exposed and hurt by him from time to time. Not in ways that are selfish or evil on his part as is usually the case with everyone else, but that wound me just the same. And when God, or people acting in a godly way do this, it's even good for me. (Proverbs 27:6)

Meaningful relationships hurt in meaningful ways. Deep relationships cut deeply. Not all the time. In fact the norm for deep, healthy relationships is that they give life and encouragement. (Proverbs 27:9)

But there are bound to be some cuts in the mix somewhere. Some awkward conversations, misunderstandings, or wrongs that need to be talked through, forgiven and healed from. And anticipation of these can keep us isolated, and looking for other things to fill the void that relationships are meant to fill.

Over the Christmas break I noticed a harmful tendency in myself to cling to my "me time", thinking that somehow if I spend enough time in Skyrim, the stresses of being a struggling entrepreneur will fade away, and the energy my sons sucked out of me during the day would be refilled.

I love playing Skyrim, or geeking out any number of ways. But I've discovered it can never be enough. And on the road to testing that theory I neglected important relationships with both people and with God.

In my "healthy seasons", my stresses are dealt with in time spent with God, with my wife, or with my friends, talking it out and receiving encouragement. Then my time spent geeking out is nothing but fun.

But when I neglect my relationships and expect my hobbies to recharge my power cells, I enjoy my hobbies less, as I notice their failure to deliver what I was expecting from the experience.

I'm realizing more and more that I need to develop a greater trust in a couple of truths.

The first is God's eternal plan for me. God does not promise a comfortable life right now (John 16:33). But this life is temporary, and he promises that there is an eternal future for me devoid of the pain I'll have in this life (Revelation 21:4), and eternal reward to be found in giving myself away now (Matthew 13:44, 26:25, Luke 12:33) .

The second truth is God's grace.

We are not commanded to do our best. We're commanded to be perfect. (Matthew 5:48) A task we're doomed to fail endlessly. Living with that kind of endlessly repeating failure would be unbearable. In fact if I wanted to avoid crippling depression I'd have to in some way reject that standard and insert "do my best" instead. (A much more vague and comfortable standard to live with that I am content with all too often.)

God's grace, his completely undeserved favor toward me, as ultimately fulfilled in Christ's death on my behalf, means that God doesn't hold any of my endless failures against me. (Romans 8:1, Lamentations 3:22-23) Grace makes it possible to commit 100% to living as Jesus did, in absolute "death to self" pursuit of perfection, but without any of the shame, guilt or defeat that comes with seemingly endless failure. ("Seemingly" because amidst all those failures, we'll see some success, too!)

I only say grace makes this "possible" because it requires my trust in the existence and persistence of God's grace. It requires that grace not be just a nice-sounding Sunday morning idea in my mind, but that it be understood, recalled and counted on as a real part of my day to day life. When I trust in God's grace I can have a greater willingness to be exposed and hurt by others, knowing that in the grand scheme of things, I'll make it through to the other side and God will have made something beautiful out of it. Even the worst of it. (Romans 8:28)

This is why "seeking truth" is at the heart of what I'm aiming for with my personal life and with Spirit Blade Productions. Seeking truth isn't just an intellectual exercise. We don't just quest for the magic sword and then say "Hmm, interesting" when we find it. We grab that sword and hang onto it for dear life, because the dark overlord is trying to destroy our world every day and that sword is the only thing that can stop him.

I've wandered off the road a bit here, but to bring it all back: Healthy relationships are important to God, and something we are made for. They come with pain, awkwardness, misunderstanding and conflict. But they yield encouragement, achievement, knowledge, wisdom, character growth, security, love, fun, discovery, hilarity, purpose and life.

I hope you'll join me in seeking to trust God more as we look for ways to invest in relationships.
Recently on our forums a few of us started comparing notes on some fun geek activities that lend themselves to developing relationships. You're invited to stop by and see what we've come up with so far or join the conversation!

-Paeter Frandsen

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