God’s Good Plan for Relationships

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Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

If you’ve heard me speak, you know one of my “things” when I talk to parents is natural consequences. Not that I was too great at this as a parent. I’m a 5w4 Enneagram, and that 4 kicked in pretty tight when one of my kids wanted empathy for a situation she had gotten her own self into.

I enabled just a little more than I ought to have. Because that’s what happens when you feel every feeling your kid does. It’s kind of a handicap in this parenting gig.

Some of us teach from what we’re brilliant at—some of us teach from our mistakes. At least I learned from them and I’m willing to share that knowledge bountifully.

You can be like God–How’s that working for you?

As we talked about creation a couple weeks ago, we all know “the rest of the story.” The world didn’t remain a place of wonder and joy. It still is—we just have to look harder and be intentional about finding it.

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The gloriously created humans chose being god rather than being like God. The serpent offered the latter—a cruel twist of the reality that this was precisely what we already were—images of God like him. (Read the story here.)

But humans understood the real offer on the table—we could be the ones in charge. We could make the rules. We didn’t want to settle for being like God—we wanted his job description.

It’s the consequences of that choice that I’ve been delving into lately, connecting all the dots of what happened in the Garden and why it matters so deeply to us even now.

Because it really, really does matter. Just hold tight to see why.

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The first consequence: Relationships

To the woman he said,“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3.16)

The first consequence of sin is that our most precious relationships—spouse and children—will suffer rupture and pain. It’s no coincidence that the first blessing and commission God gave also revolved around our most important relationships.

“Be fruitful and increase in number.”

As soon as God created humans, he gave them their first job—create community. Glory in your relationships. Fill this world with fellow images who will all be partners in this great task of caretaking creation.

Have beautiful, fulfilling, supportive relationships.

That was the first thing to go after sin showed its colors.

Pain and Love

Family is one of the strongest ways in which we gain our identity—and ever since the Fall we’ve been craving that identity and looking for it again—sadly, often in wrong places. As God predicted (NOT mandated as some think), women in particular look for it in relationships.

The pain happens not only in childbirth—the Hebrew is greater than that tiny translation. It means the pain we feel in all aspects of this relationship—childbirth and all it entails, fear of losing a child (before or after birth), grief at not being able to conceive a child, nagging worry over that child when she is out of your sight, the eventual realization that she will not be yours forever and will have her own separate life where you are not number one.

It’s all there in that small phrase—sin entwined in our relationships makes them painful sometimes, even the best ones.

Love before the Fall meant perfect partnership and joy in one another’s presence, untainted by fear or shame. In this new world outside the garden, to love anything is to discover pain beyond anything a person has ever known, and that is both good and bad. If we know God and trust him, we embrace the pain, knowing that the love is worth it every time.

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Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Power Struggles and Love

The same pain enters relationships between men and women, where women inevitably lose the power match that ensues when pride becomes our go to. We desire a relationship—but it is that strong desire, that need we see in women too often to recreate themselves in order to meet a man’s approval—that results in his power over her.

As a a pastor, I’ve seen it so many times. A woman who will do anything, make herself whatever she has to, sacrifice her own identity and calling, even submit to abuse, so that a man will say he loves her. It’s crushing, and it starts here in the aftermath of sin.

God did not declare this good. Remember his pronouncement after he created humans in Genesis 1? For the first time, he called creation very good, not simply good. Humans, created equal partners in their new world, merited the label—very good.

This other thing—this inequality and ruling over by men or husbands—this is NOT what God planned or wanted. It’s still not what he wants. Creation clearly offers a picture of very good partnership—and unequal relationships are a result of a prideful attempt to be God, not God’s chosen order.

Pride and power—and their twin siblings shame and fear—have been a part of human existence since the first sin, and they are potent drugs.

Re-Creation

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Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Thankfully, that is not the end of our story. Christ came to make all things new. ALL things. The original blessing of God—create community and form healthy relationships—may have been horribly distorted by sin, but sin is no match for the risen Lord. He came to restore our original blessing.

The relevant question for us, then, is—

how are we doing at working out God’s original desire for human relationships?

Are we allowing Christ to work in our lives so that what God intended shines out of our most important relationships? We don’t have to be married or have children to have important relationships. That is not the point.

Pride and power—and their twin siblings shame and fear—have been a part of human existence since the first sin, and they are potent drugs.

In our marriages, parenting, friendships, sibling relationships, work relationships, etc., where are we quashing pride and power? Where are re refusing to surrender to shame and fear?

  • Fear breeds manipulation, as we tighten our control of a relationship in order to feel secure. Are we repenting of manipulation and sending it packing? Women, do we embrace the joke that tells us, “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants”? I know, it was funny in the movie, but that’s manipulation, and it has no place in a healthy relationship. Let’s be better than that.
  • Are we learning to tell the truth about our needs and wants, not allowing fear to get its foot in the already-fragile cracks in our souls? Do we tell the shaming words, “you’re not worth it” to get lost, knowing we are worth it if God created an entire cosmos for our enjoyment?
  • In marriage, do we refuse to separate our possessions, our money, our time, and our priorities into “yours” and “mine,” realizing that God’s plan was complete partnership, oneness, not fearful hoarding of “mine”?
  • Partnership means support of one another’s dreams, callings, highs and lows. That could be a spouse, a child, a co-worker, a friend. How are we doing at eliminating the fear and pride that tempts us to envy another’s success rather than cheer it? At pushing out the shame that keeps us from fully supporting someone else, even when we feel like failures? At honestly talking those things through?
  • How are we doing at smashing the patriarchy that harms both women and men through its power and shame? Oh, that’s another very long post . . .

God’s “very good” proclamation came only for humans created to partner with one another to fill this world with relationships that copied his way of relating—without fear, pride, shame, or power struggles. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if Christians chose to live in his image on those terms in this wildly selfish world?

It would be very good, once again.

3 thoughts on “God’s Good Plan for Relationships

  1. Pingback: Redeeming Our Work – jill.m.richardson

  2. Pingback: The Mark of Cain – jill.m.richardson

  3. Pingback: More than Enough – jill.m.richardson

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