Am slowly working through Lesslie Newbigin’s “Christian Freedom in the Modern World.” In light of the last post from The Marrow of Modern Divinity, I thought this a mighty helpful teasing out of not only the human relationship we were intended to have but also the ultimate relationship of God to his people.
When I turn from dealing with natual objects to dealing with another person, I am in a quite new world. I am no longer in the position of a subject dealing with objects; I am no longer the single centre of decision and will, and a centre which is inaccessible to my will in a way that nothing in the natural world can ever be. I am in the presence, therefore, of something which can resist me finally in a way no natural force can, with something which can hide itself from me as no natural secret can. A secret of the natural world can in the end be wrested from it by persistent and painstaking research. THe simplest secret of my friend’s will towards me can never be so reached. I can only know it when he chooses to speak–he, a new subject not in my control.
It is this quality of ultimate resistance which is a big part of true friendship. Loneliness, the terrible loneliness of the egocentric man, means, above all, being without any such resistances. It means being the sole subject in a world which is all objects, being alone on a wide sea where one can go everywhere and see everything, where no path is closed and nothing will ever finally resist, where one is always at the centre of the world with a vast horizon all around. The joy of friendship, or a large part of it, is the knowledge that my friend is not in my power, that he is not merely one of the objects in my world, but that he can do to me what only another subject can do–challenge and resist me.
So it is with any and all relationships we have or hope to have. Blissful infatuation eventually gives way to the battle of the wills. Rather than being frustrated, we can embrace the joy and secret and challenge of being vulnerable and enjoying the fact that another subject willingly opens up his/her life to me.
In the same way, we cannot study God as though he is an object. We receive his self-disclosure as an act of grace and opportunity. We relish the secrets he reveals to us when he wants and how he wants. We cannot shake our fists when he is not ours to command.