No longer do I give you the name of servants; because a servant is without knowledge of what his master is doing: I give you the name of friends, because I have given you knowledge of all the things which my Father has said to me.John 15:15
We certainly associate a hierarchy between the master and his servants, and especially when we use the inherent meaning the word in the Greek has, slave, that becomes blatantly apparent.
This is not the case so much for friends. Sure, there are those peer groups that gather around a person in admiration, being proud of being in the sphere and the limelight of that person.
But do we think of this as friendship?
True friendship does not know fixed hierarchies. It rather acknowledges natural hierarchies–one might be best at sports, another more at the analysis of things and data, while the third might be the relational glue. Thus, hierarchies are constructed and destructed at will when facing certain problems and situations. Some such hierarchies might last 90 minutes, the length of a soccer game. And some will last months.
Jesus alludes to one other distinguishing factor of friendships vs. servanthood: friends have no secrets. (Hopefully to the degree that this is healthy and not more. One can easily imagine situations that this would get pathological. But to a commonly agreed degree, it is true.)
On a limb: having secrets does constitute a hierarchy again, as with some people you are more apt to share. It is a hierarchy of trust.
Jesus told us that he holds nothing back from us. He is non-concealment. There is this playful hide and seek, as it is God’s pleasure to hide things, and the king’s function to discover. But ask, and you will be given. Seek, and you will find. He does not hold back from us.
So one could see this relationship as the good father, and Jesus is certainly called that. But Jesus himself does not see his function primarily that way. He is referring to friendship.
One reason for that is the value friendship has in eastern culture at that time. Is is voluntary and therefore even more precious than blood relation.
Another reason is that fathers do keep things from their children, if only because they want to treat them age-based.
And that certainly is what the father in heaven does with us. He leads us through growth and growth of consciousness. Just look at the narrative of the bible. There is revelation added from time to time, and then time is given to solidify the new found understanding–as long as we stay in the constant flow of wisdom. There are new covenants, thus new ways of relationship added. And it did not stop when the bible was coined. Just look at reformation and the outpouring of the Spirit in the pentecostal movement.
This is more than hide and seek. This is timed, based on our maturity and consciousness, and it is purposefully guided towards a deeper goal: us becoming his friends.
It is not about winning us over. God does not need to win us over. As he is our father, we are his all along, and nothing we or he can do is ever going to change this, not even a decision for or against that relationship. We just might be not aware of this fact.
This is about helping us grow. Just imagine: God created a wonderful unconscious being in paradise and made them conscious, which thrust them out into the world. Actually, nothing had changed but themselves: they had become aware of their otherness and their mortality. And now, God took us on a journey to become him, just as fathers do. Carbon copies? Not quite, but certainly categorically equivalent. Or as he put it: made in his image.
This has been true all along, just as a child is human. And yet it is only the potential of full humanness, which has to be lived out.
We could say, and it sounds so wrong at first glance: we are God, yet only the potential for full divinity, which we have to live out under the guidance of a father that exactly knows what it means to be divine.
This constitutes a natural hierarchy. Father knows best.
But Jesus now came alongside us, as the time was fulfilled, and became our friend. God had deemed the time as ripe for another relationship with us. One of friendship, one of equal stature.
He came to teach us how to be a friend of God, a mature son. How to graduate from hierarchy while still being a son to a father.
The following 40 years roughly–that is the generation that was alive when Jesus walked the earth–the church showed us how this is done collectively, after Jesus showed us how the individual can do this.
Then, when we had sufficient examples and evidence, the old covenant vanished and the new was fully instantiated. We are living in the time when we have sufficient examples on how to become friends with God, and the offer has been made is is ours to take up, which was not true under the old covenant.
If this evidence was to become the exact plan for how to do this, we would reinstitute a hierarchy. The first that followed this path would be the experts, and we just needed to follow their example literally. Thus, God gave us stories of different accounts that make it harder to constitute a seven step plan for salvation.
We have examples, and they are to be followed on some level, but we have acted this out on another level, a more literal one.
We have built this hierarchy of priests–calling them pastors, full-time ministers, theologians and such–that can decipher the patterns from the book and tell us how we are to grow. In Catholicism, they are even called fathers. But as they are stuck in the old ways, coming up with requirements, rules and regulations for the children to belong, they cannot see the concept of friendship. And as they have grown fond of their place in the hierarchy, they at times see no reason and certainly are not motivated to let go of position.
One way to prolong their hierarchical status by the way is to say that it is not about position, but fatherhood and anointing. This just petrifies the hierarchy with new justifications.
I am not saying that they do not have their place and value: each of us needs to grow to a point of “and when the time had come”. But then, it is friendship.
I do not say that rules and regulations are void of value. We need behavioural patterns, but they are not requirements for friendship. Friendship goes much deeper than right behaviour, and certainly survives breaching of rules.
It is very telling that it was not the priests that decided that the time had come for the messiah. It was God. He could have gone through the hierarchy he had established, the hierarchy of priests, and told the high priest about Jesus, maybe even having Jesus be his son.
To let go of what has seemingly worked for so long is one of the hardest things there is. It becomes even harder when it is to stay in an updated way with an individual tipping point.
God is in the business of balancing chaos and order. We agree that mere chaos is not good. We have more difficulties to see that mere order is also detrimental, detrimental for growth. This is easily seen in hierarchical structures, as they only allow for growth along the function that constitutes the hierarchy and only when there are vacancies within the hierarchy. Vacancies happen in three ways: growth in numbers by adding new levels and branches to the hierarchy, betrayal of a participant towards the constituting function and rules of the hierarchy, or death.
God has no problem to introduce chaos to shake order from time to time. After the hierarchical states of the warrior age (red), traditionalism (blue), and modernity (orange), he has even enlarged our consciousness and complexity of thinking towards the deconstruction of hierarchies in the green level of Spiral Dynamics, which I hesitate to call post-modernity as post-modernity has failed in that regard, introducing new hierarchies where it rightly saw the pathology of hierarchies and tried to destroy them.
Maybe the way to come to a better understanding of the use of power hierarchies and the point where they get in the way, the use of natural hierarchies and their possibly limited life-span is through the chaos of a time of a void of hierarchies. We at least could learn four things in such a time:
- We could learn how to deconstruct hierarchies.
- We could learn how to, for a short period of time, live without them through cooperation.
- We could learn to value the function of hierarchies afresh.
- We could learn to construct hierarchies on the spot facing certain situations that call for them.
This is what is happening at the moment around CoVid-19: local structures and individual rights are replace with rigid centralised hierarchies to face a common threat. It is important to deconstruct this new structure when the threat has become manageable with less hierarchical means again, that is, when we have adapted to the new situation enough. Enough is the key word here, as we do not want to wait until we have mastered it. That would again petrify the new structures, as the power that be would never decide that anybody but themselves have mastered the situation.
I believe that God has sent Jesus to pave the way, and the first church to live out collectively the walking down that path to friendship.
As God has all the time in the universe, he has allowed us to react to this offer for the last 2000 years.
We have taken the new and reversed it into the old hierarchical structure of priesthood and law with clear requirements.
God has intervened several times and had us take sips from his stream of wisdom, which we after a while petrified again into rules and regulations and criteria for belonging.
He has been a father investing in his children with immense patience. And he has not stopped, and will not, until we accept his offer for friendship and finally leave servanthood behind.
God is trying to share divinity with us with no power hierarchy.
We are to do the same: invest in others patiently until they recognise and grow up into friendship with God.
The role of hierarchy is temporal and functional. It is deconstructed when the time has come. It is deconstructed when there is enough growth, not when there is full maturity. Or did you think that your 18-year-old was mature enough to leave home?
The church in its current state is the devouring mother and the tyrannical father. Overprotective and holding on to position.
Let’s change our view of others. Let’s see them as God sees us. Let’s outgrow naiveté, but also cynicism.
We live cynicism in church. We have been naive and then betrayed. That made us cynical, and we do not trust.
It is only when we realize that not being cynical and trusting again does not mean to go back to naiveté, but that there is a third level.
Knowing all well that there are snakes in me and in you, the potential of doing wrong, we can still focus on the good sides and trust.
Let us become friends. Especially with God.