A Dynamic Correspondence with God
Excerpted from Paul Marshall's Barefoot Revolution: Biblical Spirituality for Finding God.
The greatest blessing of coming to God is to truly encounter him. Think about what happens when you open your heart to someone else. If their heart is also open to you, there is the possibility of a dynamic “correspondence” between you, ongoing exchanges and interaction—spending time together, conversation, and doing things with or for the other. Correspondence in the rich sense of two people relating or being co-responsive. Now imagine the other Person is God. This relational rather than merely utilitarian view to encountering God is much more hopeful, exciting, and biblically complete.
The Basic Paradigm: Corresponding in the Garden
The centrality of a dynamic correspondence for life with God hits you in the face in the Garden of Eden. The very fact God spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden (see Gen. 1:26–28) was no small thing—it signaled his patronage of the human creature. He exercised a divine paternal instinct by offering them the opportunity to live a life shaped by every word from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4)—a higher-order life beyond the dust-to-dust rhythms of creaturely existence.
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Eph. 1:4–5 nlt).
The mythical gods of the Greeks and Babylonians were not patrons at all. They left humanity in the meaningless cycles of creaturely life by remaining silent, but Yahweh spoke to us. It was a powerful prophetic act anticipating our ability to hear and respond in ways that would both draw us to a higher existence and glorify him. God stacked the deck by making humans response-able. Helmut Thielicke, the German theologian, said that to be human and made in the image of God is to have the capacity to hear and obey God’s Word instead of our own rights and desires.
Before God’s image in humans was mangled by the Fall, it was natural for Adam and Eve to correspond dynamically with God and, consequently, Eden was paradise. Hearing and obeying made God’s Word personally transformational rather than just truth echoing through the cosmos. They coexisted with God in the Garden, showing that hearing and obeying God is a basic paradigm for what it means to live in his presence. As soon as they put a halt to hearing and responding, they were bundled out of the garden and God’s presence.
In a culture preoccupied with acquisition and ownership, it doesn’t come naturally to hold things loosely and wait on the answer to the question, “What are you saying, Father?” In our post-Fall world, the image of God remains in us, but our response-ability has been impaired. It must now be regenerated by the Holy Spirit so God’s Word ignites our hearts with extravagant delight for him, and we eagerly obey like children do before they lose their innocence.
The Voices of a Fallen World
Being unwilling to hear and respond to God has a cost: we forfeit his patronage and presence, and our life will inevitably be shaped by the voice of the devil or self. These voices of the Fall drag us down and away from God’s reality or presence.
Separation from the Presence is, quite literally, what the Fall is. As a result of the Fall, mankind slipped from God-consciousness into the hell of self and self-consciousness. Such a state is at once sinful and incomplete. This fallen self, turned inward and narcissistic, dwells in misconceived feelings and attitudes, those that arise from listening to the self-in-separation and to the voices of a fallen world.
As a simple example, God’s voice affirms we are valuable and dearly loved by him. Embracing this truth edifies and empowers our souls—it is the by-product of a dynamic correspondence and living in God’s presence. But by rejecting God’s voice, we subject ourselves to other voices telling us we don’t amount to much. Our souls are burdened as a natural consequence of failing to correspond. Consider your own similar experiences.
Adam and Eve could not disobey and stay in God’s presence. They died spiritually by ignoring God’s Word—with no correspondence or patronage. God might as well have been a mythical deity to them, as he is for many Christians today who worship dutifully in a flatland. A warning bell rings here against slipping into spiritual death because we assume a relationship with God when we are not actually corresponding at all! Like the frog in the pot of water being heated slowly to boiling, good Christians can slip from God consciousness without realizing what’s happening, until they die.
Is your real correspondence with God consistent with what you assume it to be?