mutual submission

God’s Freedom to Say No

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By Linda Rex

I think one of the most difficult things for us as human beings to accept is God’s freedom to tell us “no.” For those of us with boundary issues, it can be even more difficult to accept, especially when we see no human reason why he should not say “yes” to what we may be wanting from him. If God is a good God, then why doesn’t he say “yes” to our requests, especially when they are important and good requests? Why do people suffer injustice, pain, loss, and other tragedies when God could so easily protect us all from evil and suffering?

There is something so tragic about someone who is caught due to circumstances beyond their control in a situation in which they must suffer loss, pain and/or grief which is overwhelming and debilitating. The human condition is such we face these type of events in our lives whether we like it or not. We cannot escape them, even when we want to. Some of us may try to find ways to escape the pain and suffering of life through addictions and distractions. But at some point, we all have to come face to face with the reality God sometimes says “no” to all our pleas for relief and deliverance.

The past few weeks in our Wednesday night small group we have been talking about boundaries, and how healthy and unhealthy ones are formed in the early years of life. Parents play a crucial role in a child’s development of boundaries which will enable them as adults to handle interpersonal and relational issues in heathy ways.

Our modern business world is looking for people with a high EQ or EI (emotional intelligence) rather than just a high IQ or intelligence, because business leaders understand the need for workers to be able to interact in healthy ways with their boss and their peers as well as with the customers they serve. So, teaching a child and a teen to respect other people’s boundaries as well as their own is important work to be done in their lives by a loving parent.

Every parent knows, if they are honest, there are times when they have to tell their child “no” but they really don’t want to. When a parent loves a child too much to tell them “yes” and tells them the “no” they need to hear but don’t want to hear, the parent may struggle with this process. How is it possible to tell a child “no” when it seems to cause them such suffering? Wouldn’t it be better to just let them have what they want?

The obvious answer, of course, is “no,” but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier for the parent to stand their ground. But stand their ground they must. And yet, there is always room for grace. Every parent needs to learn to listen to their child and to come to know their child’s heart.

Sometimes a child says “no” for really good reasons. And sometimes a child has a really good reason to ask their parent for something. This is where the parent can offer his or her child the opportunity to experience what it is like to have their healthy boundaries respected and honored. The critical piece here is the intimate relationship between the parent and the child.

What we see in action in this whole process is something called mutual submission. This is the mutual submission we see at work in the Triune relationship between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. C. Baxter Kruger explains their relationship in this way:

“Jesus lives by relating to God as his Father, by seeking him and knowing him as Father and loving him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His life is not really his at all, it is sonship. He never lives on his own, doing his own thing, following his own agenda. He has no self-interest. ‘Not what I will, but what you will be done (Mark 14:36); is not just the prayer in Gethsemane; it is the prayer of his whole life. …The Father is utterly riveted to his Son’s every move; he is the beloved Son. And the Son is in tune with his Father’s heart and filled with joyous passion for its pleasure. …This is a relationship of the deepest affections of the soul. There is no dead ritual, no façade or shame or hiding or reticence. The Jesus of the New Testament is so aware of God’s presence, so aware of the present God as his Father, and so confident in his relationship with him; and in turn his Father has such earnest joy in him and affection for him, that they share everything and live in utmost fellowship. The formula ‘Thou art my beloved Son’ and ‘Abba, Father,’ signals a living, personal, and active relationship of profound love and togetherness, a rich and blessed communion in which all things are shared.”

We tend to overlook the reality the Father submits to the Son in the same way the Son submits to his Abba. God, who is Judge over all, defers all judgment to his Son. Our heavenly Father, who created all things, created them through the Word in the Spirit. There is no hierarchy in the Trinity, but there is a Father-Son relationship in which there is mutual respect and submission. Jesus illustrated for us and lived out in our humanity the obedience each of us was created for—an obedience held in the midst of a loving, warm fellowship with Father, Son and Spirit as our Triune God of love.

The thing is, Jesus in his humanity, did not tell the Father “no” even when he was faced with the horrors of the crucifixion. He did ask the Father, but he did so in submission to the love and wisdom of his Abba, allowing him to say “no” to what he in his humanity desired. Jesus was invited by the Father to participate in humanity’s rescue from sin and death, and Jesus was free to say “no” to his Father. But his relationship with his Abba was such, he would not say “no”—his free choice was to join us in our humanity and to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, even though it cost him suffering and death.

One of the most difficult things for a loving parent to do is to watch their child suffer. Abba did not turn from his Son when he went through this suffering, but was “in Christ” when he suffered (2 Cor. 5:19). This event of Holy Week from beginning to end was a shared experience with the Father and his Son in the Spirit. There was no separation at all.

So, God’s “no” is never something which disassociates him from us. When we must live in the midst of whatever “no” we may think God has given us, God is present, going through it with us. When evil seems to be holding sway, understand the God who makes things right will indeed do so when the time is right. He sees what we cannot see, and understands the full ramifications of what is going on, and knows the end from the beginning. There is nothing too hard for him to set right. In Christ, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in his gift of the Spirit, we have this assurance.

It boils down to this: Will we trust him? Will we allow God the freedom to do as he wills in our lives, believing he will make all things right in the end, and has our best interests at heart? Will we respect God’s freedom to do what he will in our situation, trusting he is a good God, a loving and faithful God, who will never leave us or forsake us?

Abba, thank you for your patient and faithful love. Grant us in Jesus and by your Spirit, the will and power to believe you are who you really are—good, loving, and gracious. Hold us in the midst of our suffering, pain, and struggles, and enable us to experience a deepening in our relationship with you. Let us know you are near, through Jesus our Lord, and in your Spirit. Amen.

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; …” 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 NASB

Helping the Healing

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By Linda Rex

As I closed the book, I reflected on the many stories I had read recently that told of the power of relationships to bring healing into the lives of the suffering. Each author told of how a person found healing from trauma, abuse or even physical ailments within the context of a friendship or pastoral relationship.

In a technological world that communicates through cell phones, computers and other media rather than through face-to-face encounters, it is getting harder to find people who understand and practice the skill of healthy relationship-building. Many have grown up in relationships that lacked healthy boundaries or in which one or both parents were missing or were no longer a part of their home life.

One of the keys to healthy life and being is living in relationship with others in healthy ways. If those relationships are missing in our lives, we ought to begin the process of looking for positive relationships to be a part of. This can be difficult, if not even painful, as we struggle to relate to others who may or may not respect our boundaries and know how to love us in healthy ways.

The first and most important relationship we can begin to build and strengthen is our relationship with the One who made us and called us into relationship with himself. The thought of having a relationship with God can be intimidating, so a way to start is to find someone who does have a strong relationship with a loving, relational God. They can be recognized by how they relate to the people in their lives.

Sadly, there are those who say they believe in God but their relationships are in chaos and are destructive because the God they worship is not the relational Lord of the Bible, but the God of their own passions, traditions and/or imaginations.

The Triune God of love and grace, who lives in an eternal relationship of mutual submission, service, and unity, is the God to seek a relationship with. When he is worshiped and adored, when he is the center of a person’s life, their relationships will reflect his love, compassion and unity.

Their families and friendships will be relationships in which each person seeks not their own self-interest, but that of others, while at the same time being responsible for their own needs. When there is hurt or unhealthy ways of living and relating, they will courageously speak the truth and offer help, forgiveness and reconciliation. They will be real people who are flawed, and yet in whom there is that unique quality of inner love and peace that cannot be explained but can be felt by others they are around.

If you are a person who is living in relationship with this God of love and grace, it may be time to ask yourself whether you are an effective reflection of him. Keeping in mind that all relationships require much grace, much room for faults and failures, it may be that you are the person who could offer relationship to someone who has not had the blessing of healthy relationships to learn from. Could you be the person someone is seeking to find, to teach them what it means to be respected, loved and cared for? Could it be that you are the one they need to hear the truth from in the context of trust and compassion?

Perhaps it is time for all believers of Jesus Christ, who have the inner light of God’s love filling them and leading them in his ways of truth and light, to step up and provide leadership in relationship building. Perhaps it is time to leave behind our isolationist thinking and behavior and begin to relate to others for Christ’s sake alone—because that is what we were created by God to be and do. Perhaps? No, it is time. The need is there. Let’s meet it. Let’s participate in God’s gift of healing to others through relationship. And let’s do it now.

Holy Triune God, We are so often alone. You never meant for us to be so. Grant us those relationships we need to fully be all that you created us to be. Thank you for being the One who calls us into relationship with yourself so that we never need to be alone. We trust you to provide the other relationships we need in our lives to help us heal and grow into all you have in mind for us. Lord, forgive us when we refuse to share the gift of love and grace you have given us in Christ by not living in healthy relationships with others. Grant us the grace to always give as well as receive your love as you intend us to. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23