Getting Relationships Right

Aldo Leopold was a U.S. forester and the author of a well-known early masterpiece on ecology, Sand County Almanac. Here’s a sample of what he wrote: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Here he’s writing about our relationship to a part of God’s creation—what we see around us all the time—the land. He is writing about a right and healthy relationship and, by implication, the positive benefit to us of this right relationship. He’s saying that the creation is a community to which we belong and in which we’re responsible to play our part. When we’re in harmony, in a loving relationship with creation, we and creation around us are the beneficiaries.

So the creation is something to be nurtured and maintained. In fact, in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we find a reference to ecological principles. Genesis 2:15 says: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” The words for “tend and keep” in Hebrew carry the connotation of serving and preserving or protecting. We might say nurturing. The right relationship with land, then, is to protect, not abuse. We have the evidence all around us of what happens when we abuse our relationship with land.

Abuse is an interesting word. Ab-use: It means wrong use. At the pinnacle of God’s creation is a being that also needs right relationships—a being that does not do well either when ab-used. Like the land, we humans are also subject to wrong use by others. If Aldo Leopold’s comments on land are applied to humans, how much more powerful are they? Substituting a few words in the quote I just read, and applying the quote to human relationships, here’s what we get: “We abuse people because we regard them as a commodity we may use freely. When we see people as a community to which we belong, we may begin to relate to them with love and respect.”

The Bible shows us that a healthy community is made up of all manner of relationships—husbands, wives, parents, children, old people, young people, employers, employees, etc. The Bible has much to say about how different cultures should respond to one another as well. In fact, the Bible has something to say about every conceivable kind of human relationship. One thing that’s clear is that all relationships have to be based on love toward God, and love toward neighbor. They have to be based upon the law of God, spiritually applied. Why? Romans 8:6-8 tells us: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind [or the fleshly mind, the normal human mind] is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

So love toward God would lead us to keep His law with respect to our neighbor, and to love our neighbor as we love and take care of the self. The Spirit-led mind is going to be seeking the good of the other. It’s not going to abuse the other person by manipulation for selfish ends. It’s not going to be trying to use the other person. It’s going to be unselfish. It’s going to be patient. But human nature teaches us to use other people. It doesn’t teach us to please others.

A related aspect of how we should be treating other people is to be willing to suffer wrong. We live in a litigious society, and it can rub off on us. We feel we have to get our pound of flesh. None of the Bible’s instructions about relationships leave room for any kind of dictatorial, manipulative, pressuring behavior—using other people to get the results we want. These are aspects of the law of God based on the principles of love toward God and therefore obedience to His way. They involve a real appreciation for and love toward neighbor, treating others with dignity, and with respect for their individual freedom before God.

Getting relationships right—it’s an important part of each day’s experience.