A single friend of mine used to “go on a date with Jesus”. She would mark the event in her diary, set the table for two, light a candle and pray for the evening. I understood the sentiment, but still found it a little cringeworthy. Jesus doesn’t sit opposite you at a restaurant and compliment you on your outfit. He doesn’t tenderly hold your hand over dinner and he certainly doesn’t kiss you goodnight. Even the well-worn phrase “I love you Jesus” can sit oddly from an outsider’s perspective. Sociologists describe Christians as having an ‘imaginary friend’ and I can understand why. How do you envisage a relationship with an invisible deity?
Our Metaphorical Groom
I think this is why metaphors are used so often in the Scriptures to make sense of our relationship with God. They’re an effective way to aid our understanding of a phenomena that can be difficult to describe. Each metaphor acts to highlight a different element of the relationship. For example, the metaphor of father-child (Matthew 7:11) reminds us of God’s protective and nurturing nature and our trusting responsive heart, the metaphor of king-servant (1 Corinthians 4:1) reminds us of God’s sovereignty and power and our need to reverence him as beneficiary, the metaphor of a shepherd-sheep (John 10:27) reminds us of the God who personally leads and guides and our role to follow.
Yet out of all the metaphors that are used (and there’s plenty more), the image of bride and groom is the most common (e.g. Isaiah 62:5) and we have to ask why. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week, what is it about this particular metaphor that we can learn from when we think of our relationship with God and the conversations we have with him?
A Relationship that Takes Time
One thing we see is that relationships take time and it is as true with God as it is with any human lover. You get to know the character of your beau through shared experience. You get to know their likes and dislikes through watching their behaviour. But it doesn’t happen overnight. We’re never fully vulnerable on the first date.
The same dynamic applies with God. The first steps with him are often tentative. You start with the smaller topics of conversation and gradually open up to the deeper ones. You begin opening your heart and pulling down the masks. The relationship begins to grow.
From God’s end, it’s much the same. He starts with the basics. He’ll speak of his key traits, his love for us and how it applies to who we are. In time he’ll share more of what’s on his heart, he’ll open up about his plans and entrust us with greater spheres of understanding.
With time comes trust. At first you hear about how he has related to others. You see it with your community and friends. You hear about it in the stories of history from the Scriptures. Then as you walk with him, your trust begins to grow. As the relationship builds, you’ll be able to hear him say the harder things. When he asks you to do something you find difficult, you’ll know his character enough to step out with him knowing the outcome will only be good. Soon, you’ll pick up on the nuances of his actions, you’ll know his thoughts without even asking, you’ll see his hand more clearly as he entrusts more of his heart.
Love God, Love Others
The beautiful irony about developing your relationship with God is that the skills and truths you learn communicating with him will overflow into your human relationships. Loving God will help you love others. Receiving love from him will help you receive love from others. Growing in our relationship with God enables us to fulfil the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39) and that’s a good reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
For More: Want to get better at hearing God’s voice? Listen to podcast 036 How to Get Better at Hearing God’s Voice!