For about 2000 years, Christians have lived with a term the Apostle Paul used in one of his letters – “foolish Galatians.” (Galatians 3.1) This post is not meant to refute Paul’s use of the term, but to suggest that the term refers to something more nuanced than “legalism.”
The Galatians Christians started their Christian life alright, keeping in mind that no Christians is “born again” to instant maturity!! But, by the time Paul wrote his letter, things were not alright for many of the Galatians, and Paul does call them “foolish.” What had happened, and can it be stated in non-theological terms? I’ll leave those answer up to you by the time you finish this post.
When it comes to humans relating to other relational beings (at a minimum – humans, God) it appears that there are at least two basic possibilities, at least on the level I want to discuss. THE FIRST POSSIBILITY has several variations.
Variation 1 is when Person A sees Person B as a means to get what A wants (needs, desires, etc.). For example, perhaps B can connect A to a particular client whose business could benefit A.
Variation 2 is when A thinks that B has something at his disposal that A wants, needs, etc. For example, B owns a car that A may be able to buy if he has enough money to satisfy B’s asking price.
In both of these variations of the first possibility of relating with other people, A has to do something to get something from B, or to get B to act on behalf of A. For example, A might be willing to pay the price for an object, but B sets the purchase price. For the relationship to be effectuated, A needs B and B needs A.
In this relationship, meeting obligations is a key to success. A is obligated to pay the price. B is obligated to fork over the goods that A has paid for. What exists in this relationship is a significant amount of trade-off, or quid pro quo (this for that); it is a kind of “business” transaction.
This kind of relationship is very human in the sense that we humans practice it continuously, even in the most intimate of human connections such as marriage, child raising, friendships, lovers, class mates, neighbors, etc.
There is not necessarily any kind of interpersonal warmth needed for this relationship to function (although there may be warmth between A and B for other reasons) Each is out for their own interests. It is something like going to the store and giving the store what it wants (money) to get what I want (a pair of socks). I can do all that without a personal relationship with the store; I only have a business relationship with the store.
Even when the other being is God, I can continue with this “trade-off” mentality. I may see myself as the most dependent of the two, the most needy, a sinner. I can see God as holy, as forgiving, etc. BUT, the essential issue is that my trust is in the inherent worth of what I am “offering” to God to make the transaction effective.
THE SECOND POSSIBILTY of how relational beings can relate has a very different set of dynamics compared to the first possibility. The difference is the consequence of the very different natures of the two parties, the giver and the receiver. The giver is self-sufficient. The receiver is dependent.
In this case there is nothing the receiver can do to contribute to the well-being of the giver. The receiver can’t offer any kind of payment as compensation to the giver. The receiver has no clout of any kind to impress the giver to give anything.
The giver’s gifts are exclusively expressions of the inherent character of the giver, which we can label ” love” – the shortcut word that refers to a complete concern for the well being of the receiver. The gifts have not been bought. They have not been stolen. They are not the result of coercion or trickery. They are not the payment of ransom to the “receiver.” They are not the result of bi-lateral agreements or treaties The gifts are birthed in the love of the giver.
One other item to mention, but not expand on at this moment, is that the gifts are (putting this is very materialistic terms, which can be misleading to say the very least) “pieces” of the Giver. That is to say that the giver gives Himself, not something independent of Himself. But, this requires more clarification than can be given at this point.
This second possible relationships is the one between God and humans. God is independent and self-sufficient,
Now, back to the “foolish Galatians”, using the Apostle Paul’s term. Paul knows that the Galatians began their relationship with God by exercising a commitment of trust, or faith, in the Giver’s gracious offer of salvation. It was a gift extended to those who began to trust a loving God, the Giver, to extend His life to the receiver.
Admittedly, trusting God is counter intuitive because we humans have no other relationship like the relationship between God and us. The Galatians, for whatever reasons, allowed their minds to lose sight of the uniqueness of their relationship with God. They were, when Paul wrote the letter, thinking in terms of having to give something to God in order to in return get things from God.
This behavior meant that
- the Galatians were no longer trusting God to be a giver of His love but a seller of His love, which ends up being a denial of God’s character, or at least a denial of God’s love.
- the Galatians were (consciously or not) elevating themselves (at least in their mind, but not in reality) to a level of thinking they had something God needed from them and thus giving them chips to use in a transaction with God.
Paul saw, rightfully so, that in both cases, God was being insulted, and the Galatians were suffering terrible damage. It is foolish to insult God. He has a way of being aware of such behavior!!!