What is the purpose of the Christian life?
I started answering this question yesterday, coming to the conclusion that relationships are the key. But if relationships are the key, then how do we get to morals, the Fall, salvation, the Law, and all the rest? Morality is probably the most difficult of the questions, so let’s begin with that piece first.
It’s the most difficult because we often think of relationships as being separated from morality and law. After all, isn’t the point of a family that you let the bad things others do slide to keep the relationship going? Don’t you put up with Uncle Albert, the one who says dumb things and always manages to hurt everyone’s feelings by demanding the best bedroom in the house, at Christmas and Thanksgiving (“it’s only twice a year!”) in the name of keeping the cousins together, and family harmony in general?
But didn’t you just say, “it’s only twice a year?” You see, you put up with old Uncle Albert breaking your normal rules by setting up exception rules —”it’s only twice a year.” This just illustrates that the reality is the opposite of what we normally think on a social level.
Relationships are only possible within a framework of law.
Or, from another perspective —why do you build some relationships, and let others die? Is it because of common interests, or because of common trust? And what is trust built on other than a consistent adherence to norms of behavior?
By grounding the Christian ethic in relationships, then, we ground the Christian ethic in moral behavior. But we can go farther than the general case by grounding the Christian life in one specific relationship that controls two other critical (and God created) relationships.
Towards God. This is the relationship that sets our ethic in general. Here is where we learn that other people are made in the image of the God we worship, and hence that they are valuable beings, not objects to be manipulated for our pleasure. Here is where we learn that the Earth, as a creation of that same God, is valuable in ways beyond our imagining. These laws, these moral imperatives, ground the rest of our relationships, and ground our ability to understand and work with the world around us.
Towards Others. Because of our relationship with God, we can see the image of God in others around us, and learn not to treat them as objects of our pleasure. Here we can learn respect for marriage, because it treats all the parties —husband, wife, and children— as beings with limitless value. In the modern view of marriage, it’s all about me. How do I satisfy my cravings, my desires, my wants, my genes? The modern view of marriage is a bilateral “use me” agreement, and not much more. This also has wide ranging impacts on our view of politics, commercialism, friendship, and even church.
Towards the Physical. The truth that God created this world expecting humans to co-create informs our understanding of everything from the environment to work.
From the relationship base, then, we can develop a full blown ethical system. As Jesus said, “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Even the greatest commandment is relational —”love the Lord with all your heart and all your mind.”
What about salvation? If we see our original purpose as relationship, then the entire salvation story falls into place. The Fall was a breaking of relationships, and the result of the Fall was a breaking of relationships. The entire story of salvation is a series of relationships between God and man —Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Israel at large— culminating in the ultimate relationship, the relationship which saves through Christ.
So Christianity is a great moral religion because it’s based on a relationship with a moral God. Morality comes from the character of God, the Fall comes from breaking that relationship, and salvation comes through God reaching out and sacrificing his Son in order to remake that relationship.
Relationship with God as the foundation provides a powerful system in which to see the whole of Christian life.