We live in a world awash in choices. Our society values both the power of choice and the freedom and the satisfaction of the individual; to this end, it is understandable how many have developed a “fear of missing out,” concerned that making one choice would preclude the ability to make other choices in the future. At the same time, people also want to value commitment in relationships. Unfortunately, prizing choice must come at the expense of the integrity of such commitment.
As Christians we come to understand what commitment in relationships ought to look like by seeing God’s commitment toward mankind (cf. 1 John 4:7-21). The Psalms testify that God is not only our Creator, but also displays hesed toward His people (e.g. Psalm 136:1-26). English has no equivalent term for Hebrew hesed: hesed represents the intersection between warmth, love, and loyalty in covenant agreement. God thus proves faithful to His commitments and to His people, and has demonstrated His faithfulness over and over. He delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage and proved faithful to His promise to their fathers uttered hundreds of years earlier (cf. Exodus 3:1-15:21); He restored Judahites to their land after they had been exiled for their continual disobedience and covenant faithlessness (cf. Isaiah 45:1-6, Ezra 1:1-11). God displayed His covenant loyalty and faithfulness to His people, and to everyone, pre-eminently in sending Jesus His Son to embody the story of God’s people, die for their sin, and to be raised from the dead to give hope for life forevermore (Romans 4:16-5:11). God suffered greatly to reconcile humanity to Himself so as to be able to share in relational unity now and forever (John 14:1-3, 21-23, 17:20-23, Romans 8:31-39). God, therefore, proves super-abundantly faithful to His people and to His promises.
Humans seek relationships, after all, to obtain relational unity. We enjoy solitude for a few moments, but very few people want to spend life alone. We want to spend life with people who are committed to us. We do not want to be abandoned, betrayed, or left alone.
God therefore offers in Christ to share in relational unity with us and to never abandon us, betray us, or leave us alone if we would commit to Him in faithfulness as He has already committed to us (cf. Romans 8:31-39). We can have complete confidence in God’s faithfulness because God has already proven faithful; what He says He will do, even if it is not according to our ways or our timetable (Psalm 90, Isaiah 55:8-9).
Yet we also yearn for relational unity with other human beings as well. And yet all too often anymore people view relationships in transactional ways: people seem more than willing to act like a friend or lover for other people if they gain some advantage in the relationship. But if the relationship does not seem to “pay dividends” anymore, the person will find a way to vanish. We see this in friends who are there when things are great but gone when things go wrong and professions in marital commitments to remain together “as long as love shall last.”
Transactional relationships feature no real commitment and prove bankrupt and empty. If our relationships are transactional, our lives will remain unfulfilled. We cannot truly depend on anyone who is only present in our lives for their own benefit. Furthermore, imagine if God’s relationship with us proved merely transactional: where would we be for eternity?
We cannot treat relationships transactionally and glorify God. We cannot be fully assured that others will relate with us in a non-transactional way, but we can live according to the Golden Rule and strive to be the friend, the family member, the associate, and the Christian who relates to other people authentically and willingly no matter what (Matthew 7:12). We ought to be people faithful to our covenant with God and faithful in our relationships with other people, living according to the hesed upon which we depend from God.
In God in Christ we also learn the importance of covenant loyalty not to an abstract ideal but to actual people. It can be very easy to fall in love with the idea of love; we can love the idea of loving someone without actually loving the person themselves. People invariably disappoint: we all have our quirks, eccentricities, flaws, temptations, weaknesses, trauma, and pain. It is always easier to love people in the abstract than it is to love actual people.
And yet we, despite our flaws, quirks, challenges, and pain, yearn to be loved despite of them or even because of them. We do well to meditate upon how Christ took on flesh, dwelt among us, and served people to the point of a humiliating death, loving actual people in their dirt, uncleanness, sins, and flaws (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). God has not proven loyal to His covenant in the abstract, nor has He displayed love only to a collective without regard to the individuals who comprise it. God proved loyal in His covenant to Israelites despite their faithlessness. God has displayed covenant loyalty and steadfast love toward us in that He sent His Son to die for our sins when we were sinners, broken, and at our most unlovable (Romans 5:6-11). God has no delusions about us and our condition. He loved, and loves us anyway, and bestows upon us grace and mercy beyond measure (Ephesians 1:3-11).
Thus again: if we would want to be loved despite our failings, so we must love others despite theirs. We cannot love the idea of love and find fulfillment, nor can we just show consideration as long as we are getting something out of it. To choose to love really demands commitment in covenant loyalty. Yes, that will preclude a lot of other options; but other options must be precluded in order to truly grab a hold of love in commitment. God has displayed covenant loyalty toward us and has blessed us beyond measure; it is not too much to display covenant loyalty to God in return. In a world full of transactional relationships, may we embody Christ and love others as He has loved us, so that we may all find relational unity with God and one another and share in life for eternity!
Ethan R. Longhenry