In the old days, before divorce was a convenient option, it was not uncommon for a couple to be married, perhaps for many years, and yet not to know each other very well. Marriage is a fact of life, knowing one another, however, is a matter growing relationship. What a shame it is for a man and woman to be married for many years and perhaps raise a family together, but still not know each other very well. I wonder if that is what hell is like: to wake up every morning with someone in your bed who you do not know, and worse, do not care to know.
Baptism is like marriage. In baptism, we are betrothed to Christ (the crowning to take place in the Kingdom of Heaven). Some people put a lot of effort into their relationship with Christ and come to know him well before baptism–like a couple who have fallen in love slowly over many years and who (to the relief of their friends and family) finally become engaged. In the scripture, for example, we have the pious Jews who received baptism or Cornelius the generous and compassionate centurion who was the first Gentile to receive baptism.
Others of us are baptized from infancy–like an arranged marriage–we had nothing to say about it. Those who are born into the faith, ideally grow in their knowledge of God as they grow in their knowledge of themselves. However, just as being married is not the same as knowing your spouse, being baptized is not the same as knowing God. Both marriage and baptism define a relationship, a context in which growing knowledge and love can take place. However, whether or not knowledge of one’s spouse or knowledge of God increases depends completely on what one does with the relationship.
In marriage eros plays an important role in growing to know one another. Eros here refers to longing or desire for one another that is experienced on all levels of the relationship. Longing, as every married couple knows, does not sustain itself. A couple must work on loving each other, learning to know, respect, and honor each other, learning to nurture desire for each other, for the one who is your spouse. If a married couple does not work to deepen their relationship, they will grow apart, become bored with each other, longing will wander, and they will become strangers, maybe enemies.
The same thing is true in our relationship with God. If we do not work on that relationship, if we do not nurture longing for God, if we do not take the time to nurture our inner life, then we also grow apart from God. We are still baptized, still joined to Christ, but growing apart we become bored with God, our longing wanders to more exciting possibilities; and if we are not careful, God become a stranger, even an enemy to us. And this, perhaps, is what hell is like: to be joined to God, yet be bored with Him; to go to your own wedding, despising your fiance; to spend eternity knowing that you ignored for a lifetime the God who loves you so much that he allows you even to ignore His love.
So what do you do? What do you do if you find yourself becoming bored in your relationship with God? You do what any married couple does who needs to revitalize their relationship. First, get away with the one you love (even if that love has grown cold) and spend time listening to each other. Perhaps schedule a few days at a monastery, or at least a few hours before an icon saying prayers or reading a spiritual book. Cry with the one you love. Next, make time in your schedule to be with the one you love. Schedule prayer time, reading time and church time. Finally, get counseling. Confess your struggle to someone you respect, who you think can help you in your relationship with God. This might be a priest or a monastic, but it might also be a grandmother or friend who you trust and admire. And if the first person you talk to doesn’t help you, keep looking. Just as a good marriage must be fought for, so must a good relationship with God. It doesn’t just happen because you are baptized any more than a good marriage just happens because you had a wedding. And the longer you have put it off, the more aggressive the fight must be.
The Good News is that God is for us. He is the loving Spouse who wants the relationship to work. God is already turned towards us. All we have to do is fight to turn ourselves to Him.