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Seeing the Invisible God: Part 2: Formed by Relationships
The human being takes longer to mature than any other animal. An antelope can drop out of its mother's womb, stand, and master the basics of running and eating in a matter of hours. Human babies, in contrast, must depend helplessly on other humans for many months. A baby cannot truly become a person apart from human relationships.
The truth is, we become who we are because of those relationships. We do not enter the world as discrete "minds" dropped magically into waiting bodies. Our experiences, mainly our relationships, form us as persons. Feral children, those rare but documented cases of children raised by wild animals, never truly develop the ability to relate to others; they can hardly be classified as "persons" in any meaningful sense. Similarly, psychologists have studied children who were locked in closets for years in grotesque instances of child abuse. These children too never develop language skills, and seem permanently stunted.
In a parallel way, I conceive of the spiritual life as a capacity built into the human person, but one that can only develop in relationship with God. Although we all have the capacity, which reveals itself in spiritual thirst, it will remain unfulfilled until we make contact, and then develop the skills of spiritual "correspondence." Considered in this way, Jesus' striking image of being born again makes perfect sense. Conversion, the process of connecting to spiritual reality, awakens the potential of brand new life. And as God's children we become who we are through relationship with God and God's people.
I think of the person who has influenced my Christian life more than any other: Dr. Paul Brand. Over a 15-year period, I wrote three books with Dr. Brand. I accompanied him on trips to India and England, where together we re-traced the key events in his life. I spent many hundreds of hours asking him every question I could think of. I interviewed his former patients, his colleagues, his family, his operating-room scrub nurses (the ...