Reflection by Tom de Bruin - Almere, Netherlands
A couple of months ago my wife moved to another country. Don’t worry, she didn’t leave me — at least not permanently. She received a job offer we could not refuse, and for the last months we’ve been ‘enjoying’ what apparently is called a Living Apart Together (LAT) relationship. This is what sociologists call couples who have an intimate relationship but different addresses. Needless to say this status has forced us to be more intentional in our relationship.
The funny thing is that my life now consists of two discrete parts: Apart and Together. Every day, right at the top, is marked in my diary as either Apart or Together, with the latter obviously being the best ones. My new relational status has not passed by my colleagues at the Union Offices. I don’t believe I am more grumpy on Apart days, but I must admit that my colleagues often ask me ‘Is Megen with you?’
Clearly, on the Apart days, thanks to FaceTime, we speak to each other regularly. Thanks to iMessage and WhatsApp we share our days together verbally, but on the Apart days, we miss out on anything more.
My LAT relationship with my wife has also helped me understand my LAT relationship with God better. My wife is in my heart all the days we’re apart, but I much prefer the days she’s physically in our house as well! In fact, all days are Apart days with Jesus. We always say that Jesus lives in our heart, when in fact He’s not actually there.
But that’s us. What about other people? The analogy of my relationship falls apart round about there. I want everyone to have an intimate relationship with Jesus; I’d prefer if my wife would stick to just me. When we talk about ‘God with other people,’ we need to go a bit deeper. I at least have a relationship with Jesus, even though we’re Apart. What about others who have no relationship at all?
At the European gathering of the One project, we talked about the Present Truth. I posited that Present has two meanings: ‘here’ and ‘now.’ Traditionally Adventists interpret Present Truth as ‘now’: the truth for our generation. But the Greek suggests that Present Truth means ‘here’: the truth that lives among us. God with us. In other words, the present truth is often understood solely in the temporal sense – the truth that we now have – which could be changed or (more probably) extended in the future. I would argue, however, that the spatial sense – the truth that is among us – is equal to (if not more important than) temporal truth. If we consider the gospel of Matthew, the physical presence of the truth is very much in the foreground.
Present in the Gospel
The theological emphasis on presence is already visible in the name that will be given to Jesus: Immanuel (Matthew 1.23). The gospel writer is kind enough to translate this word into the vernacular for his audience: “God is with us.” In Matthew 18.20 we see a similar trend in the famous promise: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The theme of God with mankind is carried from the beginning of the gospel to its final sentence in Matthew 28.10: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Each of the gospels wants to tell us more about our LAT relationship with God. God originally made Himself present among us through His Son. But God also promises, once again through His Son, that He will be with us, always, for ever. In this last verse of Matthew, the final words of the Great Commission help us to gain a deeper understanding of present truth. Clearly, the context here is evangelism, an activity that has become increasingly difficult in many countries – especially those steeped in what could be called “postmodern culture.” Fortunately, the last sentence of the Great Commission also gives us an understanding of the kind of evangelism that is more likely to succeed in a postmodern culture.
The Great Commission
A summary examination of Matthew 28:18–20 shows three commands from Jesus to His disciples: ‘go,’ ‘make,’ and ‘remember.’ The disciples are told to go forth; evangelism is an activity that needs to take place with people who are outside the current group of believers. They are told to make other disciples, through baptising and teaching; evangelism entails teaching others about God’s commandments and baptising them as a symbol of their new LAT relationship. Finally, the disciples are told to remember that Jesus is with them, always. This last sentence’s link to evangelism is much more vague.
A common understanding of this verse is that Jesus goes with us in spirit on our evangelistic endeavours, but this understanding is rather simplistic and ultimately unsatisfying. I would hope that Jesus’ final promise to the disciples would entail more than just that.
Let’s put this verse in the context of present truth and LAT relationships. God is a god of presence, and we constantly live in the Apart days. I strongly believe that the Great Commission is calling us to bring the presence of Jesus among others. In other words, to evangelise is to make truth present in the lives of others. Evangelism is showing the presence of Jesus to others.
The Great Commission allows us to understand truth and even Christianity in a new way. Often, when discussing truth we define it as rational teachings about God and salvation. The Great Commission, however, reminds us not to forget the other meaning of truth: Jesus Christ. Truth need not solely focus on dogma. It should first focus on the ultimate revelation of God: Jesus.
As we live our lives in constant expectation of the Together days with Jesus, we are called to show Jesus to others through ourselves. God is with us, but has anyone else noticed?
1) How can you strengthen your LAT relationship with God today? What can you do to experience ‘God with us’ in your life?
2) How can you make Jesus present among others? Is there a concrete step you can take today?