By Norman P. Grubb
LIFE is response to environment, and man's environment is on three levels, spiritual, social, material. Harmonious living means that man has learned the way of right relationships with God, with people, with things. Now, a relationship implies a recognition of mutual rights, both sides in a relationship have a life of their own and a standing of their own, which demands respect and freedom of expression; and the relationship must be a right adjustment between them, a working agreement which gives full and happy scope for both in a unity of purpose and action. Therefore, a relationship is a living bond between living beings. It cannot properly be said that there is a relationship between a possessor and a thing possessed. There is a connection that is all. The one uses, arranges, experiences the other, but there is no life in the experience, no fellowship, no intercommunion, no give and take.
But we said above that right living is learning the way of right relationships with God, with people, and with things. That is just the point. The spiritual mind is relationship and life, but the carnal mind, connection and death.
What is the attitude of the natural man, infected with "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life"? Is it not to possess all people and things, and even God Himself, for his own convenience? He would use religion, friends, material possessions, all alike as his ladder to security and success. Even his prayers are, according to James, asking for things that he may consume them on his own lusts. Even as he would dare to "possess" God, if he could, so he will try to "possess" man; whether it be a Caesar of old time and his slaves, a Sultan and his harem, or the modern totalitarian state and its conscripts.
Such is the essence of the fall, the rejection of a living relationship with God and His created world, and the substitution of the greed and grab of possession, which is merely a dead connection.
Inherent, therefore, in the new creation in Christ is a new threefold relationship: as Paul said, a life lived not unto ourselves, but unto Christ; and the knowing henceforth of no lust after the flesh; and a passing away of old things, all things becoming new:  the new relationship to God and men and things.
The emphasis now is on relationship. Life is fellowship. Man was originally created for fellowship. Man was recreated for fellowship "with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." God Himself founded His creation for the purpose of relationship, not connection, when He made man in His own image, not an automaton He could command, but a being whom He Himself could not coerce but only persuade; and on whose reclamation He expended all the riches of His wisdom, so that He might find a way of transforming determined enemies into loving sons.
This new life of relationship, in its first form of fellowship with God, we have been examining in earlier chapters. In its second form, of fellowship with man, much is involved, much that touches family, business, church and national life; social, economic and political questions; class, color and sex problems. To these we shall give some attention now. But before we do so, for a few moments we will look at the third form, the new relationship with things. In what sense can it ever be said that we have more than a connection with things? How can we have a relationship with them?
In this sense, while all things are held fast by us in the closed circuit of our self-life, chattels for our use, we can only see them from that point of view. They are merely conveniences, food to eat, powers to harness, materials to mould, beauties to enjoy. Even animal life, if for convenience we include it for the moment under the category of "things," the natural man looks upon as valuable for food and clothing, for burden bearing, for sport, or as vermin to be destroyed; for all know the kind of treatment meted out to animals in lands where Christianity has not spread its influences. The crude and cruel forms of such treatment are even still to be seen in countries with a thousand years of Christian teaching, in our zoos, our shooting-parties, our fox and stag hunting; although it is certainly also true that a regard for animals, a sense of their rights, the realization of a living fellowship with them in place of a mere soulless connection, has now been recognized, even by law, in the life of some peoples.
But when the new light in Christ has dawned, there is a sense in which all things are seen in Him and He is the life of all. They are no longer just "things." They are His creatures; they stretch out invisible hands to us... For even science now reveals to us that "it is not we who are looking out upon nature, but nature which is ever trying to enter and come into touch with us through our senses." If we analyze our sense of sight, we find that the only impression made upon our bodies by external objects is the image formed upon the retina; we have no cognizance of the separate electromagnetic rills forming that image, which, reflected from all parts of an object, fall upon the eye at different angles constituting form, and with different frequencies giving color to that image; that image is only formed when we turn our eyes in the right direction to allow those rills to enter; and, whereas those rills are incessantly beating on the outside of our sense organ when the eyelid is closed, they can make no impression unless we allow them to enter by raising that shutter. It is not then any volition from within that goes out to seize upon and grasp the truths from nature, but the phenomena are as it were forcing their way into our consciousness."2 God's life is in them, His beauty shines through them. "Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen." They are all forms of His love. We use and experience them as before, but with a new reverence, a new care. It may yet be proved that our attitude to an object actually affects it. "Believe in the simple magic of life, in service in the universe, and the meaning of that waiting, that alertness, that 'craning of the neck' in creatures will dawn upon you," writes Martin Buber.3 Whether that be so, or no, as a true mechanic feels a relationship with his machine, a good driver with his car, so a Christian gradually learns to regard the whole of God's creation. The world is His temple, all objects in it are sacramental. The whole earth is full of His glory. The Christian is always worshipping, always praising. The very humblest objects of daily use, of the bedroom, of the kitchen, teach lessons of faithful service. He sees with the eyes of the Savior to whom the beauty of the lily was the Father's adorning, and the common sparrow the Father's little feathered creature: to whom the sun and the rain, the seed and the pearl, the vine and the fig tree, were all the Father's bountiful gifts. And the songs of the poets find an echo in his heart.
As Browning, in Saul:
I but open my eyes and perfection, no mere and no less,
In the kind I imagined, full, fronts me, and God is seen God
In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod.
And thus looking within and around me, I ever renew
(With that stoop of the soul which in bending upraises it too)
The submission of man's nothing-perfect to God's All-Complete,
As by each new obeisance in spirit, I climb to His feet!
And Mrs. Browning, in Aurora Leigh:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, taker off bis shoes,
The rest .sit round it and pluck, blackberries.
Or Tennyson, in his little Sonnet, Flower in the Crannied Fall:
Little, flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
And Thomas Edward Brown, in My Garden:
A Garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
The veriest school
of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not--
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay; but I have a sign;
'Tis very .cure God walks in mine.
Or Wordsworth, who "felt the sentiment of Being spread o'er all that moves
and all that seemeth still"
and wrote in the famous lines on Tintern Abbey:
A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Or Francis Thompson, in The Mysteries of Vision:
When to the new eyes of thee
All things by immortal power
Near and far,
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
With troubling o f a star...
Seek no more. O, reek no more,!
And, again, in The Kingdom of God.
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish, roar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air--
That we ask of the ,stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-.shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many splendoured thing.
Even "things," then, take on a new relationship. Faith and love enter and forge a new bond with them. They are still our willing servants. Still "things" to be used. We do not fall into the error of the pantheist, who worships the creature as though it were the Creator; but equally we do not hold the gifts of God in light esteem, not even giving thanks at the meal table, using and abusing them as though life consisted in the abundance of things we possess. Rather, in "having nothing" in the old sense of claiming and holding things as our very own, we find that we "possess all"; all things are ours in the faith and love relationship, as we are Christ's, and He is God's.
 Cor. 5: 15-17. 2 Sydney Klein, Science and the Infinite, pp. 4-5. 3 In, I and Thou, a little book which "is exercising an influence quite out of proportion to its slender size... and will rank as one of the epoch-making books of our generation... Buber gives intellectual status to the problem of the relation between persons; and has called in doubt the massive monistic system within which idealistic philosophy has worked."