We are friends, not servants

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

One of the most glaring failings of the religious establishment is that it has fostered a belief system that allows us to believe that God’s love and attention must be earned, and then they stand by, helpless as we deeply resent that very process.

Reminiscent isn’t it, of the observation by Jesus in Matthew 23 when he says: ‘They (the Pharisees) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.’

The real difficulty here however, is what Richard Rohr calls the ‘power equation’, which for most people is the very definition of God: he has all the power, we have none.

The result is that people spend more time fearing God and trying to control or manipulate God to get him to do things for them than actually loving God, for few have been told that such love is possible.

This then is a real conundrum, for on the one hand we’re told that God wants to have a relationship of love with his creation, but on the other hand we, his creatures, effectively exclude ourselves by following the teachings of our religious leaders.

We allow our perception of his power to get in the way.

So what’s to be done, and who’s to do it?

Clearly the only way this can be changed is for God to shift the paradigm, and it can only be done from his side.

That is the central and oft-overlooked liberating story of the gospel. By God changing sides, from powerful to powerlessness, where we are, he has forged a new relationship based on mutuality and vulnerability.

And Jesus, the firstborn among many brethren, is the living image of this power-shift in which God takes the initiative to overcome our fear and hesitation, making the unimaginable a reality; an honest ‘me-him’ relationship between God and humans!

I think all the other stuff that make up countless sermons up and down the land, week after week, while not irrelevant, certainly does pale into insignificance when viewed beside this revolutionary and shocking fact that we can walk and talk in ‘the cool of the evening’ with God, as the original Adam did.

All the fusty, stuffy, out-moded rules and regulations that we read about in the Old Testament about the priest alone being permitted into the ‘Holy of Holies’ once a year; about not being able even to speak God’s name; that Moses acted as the intermediary between God and man; the food laws; and the Ten Commandments – all are overshadowed by what Jesus did.

The great equalisation when God took on flesh.

Now, surely that is real good news.

It’s not oppressive, not demanding, it doesn’t crush us or demean us. Rather, it raises us up to the level that Jesus spoke about: ‘I no longer call you servants ... I call you friends.’

Contact Adam Harbinson by email at adamharbinson@gmail.com