As I was rereading this post, trying to pick today’s TBT article, it connected strongly with my own recent post on the theology of romance and the ethics of unrequited love, an essential part of which involves our and other people’s! free will. We aren’t obligated to say yes, or even give a reason, when someone we don’t have feelings for likes us. And others aren’t obligated to say yes to us when we put our heart on the line, nor do they owe us a reason for saying no.
When it comes to our relationship with God, free will is one of those topics that makes people’s teeth grind and their faces turn purple. Perhaps it’s our own tendency to deny others’ independence, our tendency to demand rather than propose, that causes us to create God in our image.
As Bethany contemplates how her relationship with her now-husband mirrors her, and our, relationship with God, she reflects that her then-boyfriend didn’t hold a gun to her head when he proposed, and neither does God. I don’t know if Bethany’s husband physically got down on one knee when he proposed, but that gesture is one of vulnerability, not dominance. Philippians 2 talks about God’s posture toward us in somewhat similar language when Jesus came down to us, extending his arms in love to the whole world.
Sometimes we try to define God by isolating our brains with our Bibles; we theorize and theologize about who God is and how he works. But human relationships–healthy human relationships–provide one of the best ways we can ground ourselves and our abstractions about life with God in physical and emotional and soulful manifestations of God’s very image.
I Said “Yes!”
Did he choose me, or did I choose him? Did he pursue me, or did I pursue him? Recently engaged to be married, I find these questions have crossed my mind about my relationship with my fiancé just as they have crossed my mind (and many theologian’s minds) about my relationship with God.
Almost as soon as I think those questions about my fiancé, I realize they are silly. The answer is that it’s mutual. At times one person or the other may have been more keen on the pursuit and the ways either of us pursued were very different. When it comes down to it, it was mutual.
Even though he did the actual asking, I answered. Answering is not weak, and asking is not forceful. He asked because someone has to ask. In any relationship, someone has to ask. There is always an ‘asking’ even if it is implied. But usually it’s not. “Do you want to go to lunch?” or “Can I get your number so I can text you?” are both ways a romantic relationship can start, but they can also begin a friendship.
We tend to think that when a new acquaintance asks us to lunch, we have to say ‘yes,’ but we don’t. We think that if someone posts a picture of their baby, we have to look even if we have no reason to do so. On the flip side, if we are doing the initiating, we think others are obliged to respond to us by agreeing, but they aren’t. We can, and sometimes should, say no. We can say no to lunch, to baby pictures, to a marriage proposal, and even to God.
My engagement really cemented in my mind that God is asking, perhaps begging at times, us to respond to Him in the positive. He doesn’t make us, though. He doesn’t as some (Calvinists) would say, have ‘irresistible grace.’ If that were true, no one would have the ability to say no. If saying no was not an option with my fiancé, it would have negated much of what our relationship means. Knowing that we both want this, that we both agreed, that we both did the choosing and the pursuing adds to our relationship… in ways hard to explain.
God gave us the process of moving out of singleness into engagement and finally into marriage to model the way God desires to be in relationship with us. He pursues, He asks; we agree… or disagree.
Bethany Sundstrom-Smith holds a Master’s Degree in Theology (Th.M.) with a focus in Media Arts from Dallas Theological Seminary. Her background is in journalism, marketing, and making lattes. She lives in Portland and runs Cadia Marketing.