YourSay-June

Towards becoming a Real Person

I am a searching non-Christian. The road to faith is a difficult, tough one, with many struggles along the way.

I was once a Christian and during this time, some forty years ago, I read a book called ‘The Meaning of Persons’ by Dr. Paul Tournier, a Christian Psychiatrist. I appreciated the sentiments in the book and thought I would re-visit it. It focuses on what constitutes a real person given Christians believe in a personal God.  In May this year we had a mission day at our church which looked at the direction the church might take in a number of areas. One area related to relationships. Paul Tournier has much to say about relationships with God and others. What follows is my summary and interpretation on a personal level of his thoughts.

Who am I in reality? We often hide behind a mask. This can be OK up to a point. The ‘how are you?’ can lead on to deeper things and in any case we can’t be talking on a deep level all the time! It can, nevertheless, help us avoid true communication. The mask can become a shield eliminating true relationships. We can be in the situation where we work or for that matter attend church and no one takes a real interest in us as people. We can jump to conclusions about others and our judgements can be superficial and false. It is easy to get lost in the crass superficiality of the world which can be stifling e.g. TV, material possessions etc.   We can be scheming and defensive when It comes to our opinions, even our faith. We learn the kind of behaviours that win us acceptance and keep at arm’s length those whose company we don’t like. It is easy to treat others as things. Anger can lurk below the surface. This often occurs in meetings. People can feel uneasy, discouraged and some even resign. Differences of opinion, conflicts, jealousy and bitterness can hide behind the mask.

Christians can be less willing to face these issues because of expectations associated with being a Christian. Being a real Christian involves accepting our own failings and the failings of others.

Christians can be less willing to face these issues because of expectations associated with being a Christian. Being a real Christian involves accepting our own failings and the failings of others.

The real relationship occurs with God in the context of God knowing the very hairs on our head and importantly knows us by name.  Prayer is one vehicle for this to occur. Sometimes people speak to God but don’t listen in return.  Still the Christian life is mixed with faith and doubt.   Paul says ‘we see through a glass darkly’. It is a matter of Grace. God goes straight to the person and sees behind the mask. The true Christian relates through honesty, sincerity, respect and a lack of defensiveness. In Matthew 7:20 Jesus writes ‘by their fruits will you know them.’ Paul lists these as love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, self-control and kindness’.  A tough standard with a recognition that it is alright to fail. Part of this is keeping confidences, being empathic and showing understanding.

It is also necessary to listen, to have eye contact when talking and to avoid thinking of what you want to say before the other person has finished talking or finishing off what the other has said. We need to make a personal decision to relate to those we like and those we don’t! We need to get interested in people as real people.  Love God and love your neighbour. (Matt 22) The Bible speaks of a Living God. We need to ask ourselves when relating to others what would Jesus want? True communication! We all want to be valued and taken seriously. The people who have helped me the most are not those with advice or even doctrine. Rather it has involved listening to me, sometimes in silence, and telling me of their own personal spiritual life and journey.

A number of people of at my church have helped me in this way. If one is expressing the truth without love it is likely to crush the other person. The Bible is a book of choice. New birth is possible leading to new life. Deeper relationships are possible if we work on it. It is important to choose to do something rather than not choose fearing failure.

I guess we all need to examine how well we implement the above as church goers and as Christians. My church does this quite well.  As a non-Christian I would opt out if this wasn’t the case.

We need to consider our relationship with God and with others and make sure these are on the right footing.  I suspect if relationships are out of sync everything else will be out of sync.

Graeme Hanlon, Pilgrim Uniting Church  

Wagga Wagga




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