In our understanding of relationships, we are now ready to move beneath the surface of what someone thinks and does, to why they think and act as they do. For a listing of the levels of relationship, see this post.

In a level 4 relationship, we share our feelings with the other person. Not as we might share our joy over our favorite team’s victory, but much more personal feelings, especially negative feelings. There are three basic negative emotions: fear, grief, and anger. We experience many variations of these three, but these are at the base. And these three correlate, to a great degree, with time. That is to say, grief deals mainly with the past, anger with the present, and fear with the future. Grief focuses on loss, and losses are in the past. For example, we grieve loved ones who have died, or even who live far away and we rarely see any more. Our grief focuses on the loss of their companionship, something we enjoyed in the past. There are many other types of losses, but you get the idea.

Anger may be about something that happened in the past, but it is very much in the present. Of the three negative emotions, grief and fear tend to paralyze us, to drain our energy. Only anger energizes us. This is partially because both the past and the future are beyond our reach. The only time we can act is now. So many of us, men especially, often turn grief and fear into anger to avoid paralysis and give us reason to act.

Fear may arise out of grief, but it still looks to the future. We may grieve the loss of a loved one, and then live in fear of losing another. But the time-based focus remains the same; grief looks back, fear looks forward.

No one enjoys negative emotions, so it is not surprising that we should be reluctant to share them with a friend, nor that many would be reluctant to hear them. We don’t, and shouldn’t, share our feelings too freely. It would be unwise to share our emotions with everyone. Only those who have demonstrated that we can trust them with the previous levels of friendship should even be considered.

Unfortunately, Christians are often the least accepting of negative emotions. Some claim that anger is inherently sinful. A grieving person may be told that grieving dishonors God, apparently forgetting that Jesus wept. And a person expressing fear may be told that this shows “a lack of faith.”

Of course, we can find passages of scripture which make it clear that Jesus experienced each of these negative emotions, so there is nothing wrong with experiencing them. But beyond that, it simply shows that a large majority of Christians are in denial about their emotions, and that very, very few are ready for a level 4 relationship. Paul says we should “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.”  The fact that it is unsafe to do this with many of our fellow believers demonstrates the shallowness of what we call fellowship.

For, deep as this level is, it is not enough for a saving relationship. Just because you might trust someone enough to share your negative emotions with them does not mean that you would trust them with your money or your life. And it is just that sort of trust that a saving relationship with Jesus entails. And we know that emotions, though deep and stirring, do not last. If nothing else, the story of the apostle Peter should warn us about the fragility of emotions. He declares his undying loyalty to the Lord, and a few hours later denies all knowledge of Jesus.

At level 5, vulnerability, we have come to such trust that we voluntarily share our faults, our struggles. Friends whom we can trust with this sort of information are friends indeed. And God is just such a friend. For, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins. . .” (1 John 1:19). We have finally arrived at the threshold of salvation. This process of confession and forgiveness sounds very much like what we call justification; where we confess our sins, our need for a savior, and are declared not guilty.

This, I believe, is the beginning of being known by God, that we should voluntarily open ourselves to Him in such trust. One of the great themes of the Bible is God’s self-disclosure, His efforts to make Himself known to us. Every verse of the Bible, every prophet, every miracle, and finally the Incarnation demonstrate that God is willing to go to any length to reveal Himself to us. And what He wants is that we should reciprocate as we are able, that we should reveal ourselves to Him.

This is the beginning of the answer to why He says to those who claim to have done great things in His name, “I never knew you.” What He’s saying is, “You did a lot of things, but you never opened your heart to me. You never let me in to your life.” Yes, He knows what we think; He knows the number of hairs on our heads. But that is knowledge about us. Not knowledge of us.

If you’re a parent, think about this. We know our children well; we’ve watched them grow. We often know what they’re thinking before they give it voice. We know the origin of some of their quirks, their habits. But, as they grow up and become independent, if they never share themselves with us, never tell us what is on their hearts, we find that we know about them, but we no longer really know them. And that is our great desire, that they should share themselves, their lives, their dreams and aspirations, even their struggles, with us. So it is, apparently, with our Heavenly Father.

I believe level 5, vulnerability, is the beginning, the first step, of what constitutes a saving relationship with Jesus. But it is just the beginning.

Read other posts from this series on Adventist Identity.