Nicky Gumbel, author of the Alpha Course writes this:
Christianity is first and foremost about relationships... It is about a Person more than a philosophy. It is about the most important relationship of all: our relationship with the God who made us. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love God. The second is to love our neighbour. So, [Christianity] is also about our relationships with other people.
“Christianity is about our relationship with the God who made us”. I wonder however if the idea of a “relationship with God” can sound a bit odd to us? In our culture we think of a relationship with someone being more about a relationship with a partner or spouse. Relationships too in order to work, must work in two directions. With all the problems in the world doesn’t God have more important things to be thinking about than me? Not least for us too (I can do this!) with our own busy lives – don’t we have more important things to be thinking about than God?
We have however relationships with lots of people. We may have a relationship with a spouse or partner, or girlfriend or boyfriend, but we also have relationships with friends and siblings, work colleagues or acquaintances, and not least parents, children or grandchildren.
The best way to understand our relationship with God, is by thinking of a relationship between a son or daughter with a ‘loving father’ or ‘loving parent’.
Take the story of the prodigal or lost son in Luke’s gospel (chapter 15). The youngest of a father’s two sons leaves home and recklessly squanders his share of his inheritance. Left with nothing, in order to keep at least his life, he realises all he can do is go back to his father, tell him he is sorry and at best hope that his father will give him work as a servant. On returning home however, his father is overjoyed:
‘While [the younger son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him. ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
It’s an amazing story, given to us as a parable to illustrate to us the love God has for each of us and the power of his forgiveness. The story would be better known as the story of the loving father!
When I was very young, I remember one time, monkey climbing my mum and dad’s chest of drawers, deliberating looking for my dad’s scalpel knife that I knew he kept up there. Dad had told me before that it was very sharp but I wanted to know this for myself. On finding it I ran my thumb across the blade and suddenly blood started running. I panicked. Scared of the ticking off I would now receive I ran downstairs and declared, “Look what my younger brother has done!” After what felt like several days, though I suspect it was actually only a few minutes, I told my dad what really happened. A weight lifted off me after owning up but even so I remember bracing myself for the telling off.
But what happened next to this day gives me my best understanding of just how much God loves us. There was no telling off! My dad looked at me instead with the kindest of eyes. He put his arms around me, hugged me tight and told me just how proud he was of me for telling the truth. The love that I felt in that moment was so strong that I knew I would never tell a lie about my brother like that again.
This is the power and beauty of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is rarely deserved. (Forgiveness from God I challenge you is never deserved!) But it helps us to become changed and better people. It is necessary for relationships to flourish.
God’s love for us is like that a loving father has for his child. God’s love for us in fact is even bigger than the love a loving father has for his child!
There is lots happening this month – not least our new Craft and Produce Show and St Cynfarch Festival – do come along! But if you want to commit to just one thing this Autumn – why not sign up for our new Alpha Course that begins this month? (Details inside). Why not take 24 or so hours of your life to ask some of the bigger Questions of life, relationships, love and forgiveness that our Christian faith has something to say on?
Rev Adam Pawley