Attachment to God and Hermeneutics: Part 1, The Attachment Bond

I was recently visiting with a group of pastors and shared some observations regarding attachment to God and hermeneutics. In this series, I'll share those thoughts.

To start, let's revisit the basic idea, that our relationship with God is experienced as an attachment bond. As studied by psychologists, attachment theory explores the close affectional bonds we form with early caregivers, generally our mother and father. Later in life, romantic partners and friends become attachment figures as well. And as we know, these attachment bonds are used throughout Scripture to describe our relationship with God. God is a parent. God is a romantic partner. God is a friend.

God as Mother and Father:
"As a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you." (Isaiah 66:13)

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born?” (Isaiah 49:15)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how I have often longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Luke 13:34)

“When Israel was a child, I loved him…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in my arms.” (Hosea 11:1, 3)

God as Romantic Partner:
“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)

“For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name.” (Isaiah 54:5)

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2)
God as Friend:
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. (Exodus 33:11)

"Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house." (Job 29:4)

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend." (Isaiah 41:8)

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15.15) 
As psychologists have studied these affectional connections, they have explored the features of the attachment bond. As I've shared before, Mary Ainsworth, a pioneer in attachment theory, described the attachment bond as being characterized by four aspects:
Proximity Maintenance: We wish to be near or close to our attachment figures.

Separation Anxiety: When separated from an attachment figure we experience distress.

Secure Base of Exploration: The attachment figure functions as "home," our emotional "base camp," giving us the confidence and security to explore the world and take risks.

Haven of Safety: When hurt, fearful or distressed we go to the attachment figure for protection, healing, and/or comfort.
We see all of these at work in our relationships with parents, romantic partners and friends. We want to be close to our attachment figures. We feel distressed, anxious, and out of sorts being away from our attachment figures. Our attachment figures give us a sense of security and confidence which allows us to take risks. And we seek out our attachment figures when we're sad, scared or hurting.

And most importantly for attachment to God research, these four things also apply to God. We desire closeness with God. We become distressed when we feel separated, distant or disconnected from God. God gives us confidence and a sense of security. And we turn to God when we are anxious, hurt or sad. In my Friday series on the Psalms I've highlighted how the poetry of the Psalms traces the contours of the attachment bond. For example:
Proximity Maintenance: "But for me it is good to be near God." (Ps. 73.28)

Separation Anxiety: "Do not be far from me." (Ps. 22.11)

Secure Base of Exploration: "By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall." (Ps. 18.29)

Haven of Safety: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Ps. 46.1) 
Summarizing all this, our relationship with God is experienced as an attachment bond. Life with God plays out in the arena of this attachment. And yet, while all this can seem warm and fuzzy, attachment bonds can vary. To understand that important dynamic and its affect upon how we read the Bible, we need to discuss attachment styles. 

We'll turn to that issue in the next post.

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