Tag Archives: relationship


In my book, Four in the Garden, I avoided the use of the word “sin” because it’s such a religiously-loaded and off-putting word. It conjures feelings of shame, guilt, and condemnation. Rather than driving us to God, it generally has the opposite effect. Sin is often used to describe “bad” behavior or to describe the lifestyle of “bad” people. The traditional view of sin is that it makes us the object of God’s anger and subject to His judgment. In some unenlightened circles, we’re told that sin is sin because it’s “wrong.” Or sin is wrong because it’s sin. This shame-inducing mentality doesn’t lead us to experience the abundant life that Jesus talks about: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” – John 10:10.

So I chose the word “willfulness” in place of sin. I think the word willfulness more aptly describes the true nature of sin. When we are willful, we insist on our own way, we resist authority, and we are unyielding. From a relational perspective, willfulness pushes others away and doesn’t take into account their thoughts or feelings. When we are willful, we push God away, we reject His participation in our lives, and we refuse to listen to Him.

A Meaty Example

Let’s suppose I’m on a road trip with friends and we stop for dinner. I suggest we stop at In-N-Out because I’m in the mood for one of their hamburgers. Others weigh in with their suggestions, but I insist on In-N-Out. A friend says, “You had a hamburger for lunch. Don’t you want something different for dinner?” I say, “It wasn’t an In-N-Out burger. It’s not the same. It’s In-N-Out or nothing.” Another friend says, “Eating hamburgers isn’t healthy. Shouldn’t you have a salad instead?” I say, “I don’t want a salad. I want an InN-Out burger. I won’t change my mind.”

The above example illustrates how willfulness behaves. Willfulness is usually expressed as “my way or no way.” It’s stubborn, doesn’t listen to reason, doesn’t consider consequences, and doesn’t make room for the will of others. It’s an energy that asserts its will and resists or discounts any opposing forces. We use it to justify our unhealthy or addictive behaviors. Can you think of situations where you were willful? In what ways have you been willful toward God?

It’s About Relationship

We need to discuss the effects of willfulness in light of our relationship with God. Jesus died to make relationship with God possible, so sin (willfulness) is defined in terms its damaging effects on relationship. The wrongness of willfulness is due to the relational harm it causes. When we are full of our own will, we disregard others and disregard the interdependence we have with others. From the beginning, God wanted relationship with us. When willfulness enters, we set ourselves as independent of God, severing our relationship with Him. That’s why God abhors willfulness. God hates anything that damages our relationship with Him. His primary concern is our relationship with Him and how our behaviors affect that relationship. Some people think His main concern is whether we are “sinning” or not.

God can’t work with willfulness because it’s oppositional. Willfulness resists God. And God resists willfulness. Willfulness can be subtle. It manifests when we rationalize our behavior, when we make excuses for our faults, whenever we shove God aside or ignore Him.

Laying It Down

When we recognize willfulness in our lives, we have a choice between holding on to it or to holding on to God. We can’t do both. True spirituality is to lay down our willfulness and submit to God’s will instead. It’s a choice between our will and God’s will. The humility God seeks of us is to lay down our will and to choose to trust Him, believing that His will for us is good. The hard part is doing this on a regular basis. It’s a daily practice to recognize willfulness within our hearts and to intentionally lay it down every time. In doing so, we make ourselves open to relationship with God. Instead of resisting Him, our humility invites Him to take residence in our hearts so He can engage us daily in ever-growing relationship with Him.

In my book, Four in the Garden, the protagonist, Cherished, chooses forbidden knowledge. This act of willfulness is seen as a declaration of independence from Creator. In effect, Cherished chooses knowledge over having to depend on Creator for guidance. His willfulness has shoved Creator aside, thus destroying his relationship with Creator. Self-rule becomes the norm for Cherished, but he learns that being master of his own life isn’t that great.

Like Cherished, we struggle with the tension between depending on ourselves and depending on God. Depending on God seems fraught with uncertainty. Depending on ourselves feels like the more reliable option, but it fails us when life gets difficult. In my experience, depending on God is the better option because God has shown Himself faithful to those who trust Him.


Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html

A Solitary Adam, without Eve

One of the most dramatic detours from the Garden of Eden story is that Four in the Garden explores the relationship between one person and God. In the Garden of Eden story, God created a companion for Adam because none of the animals proved to be a suitable companion for him. In the book, Four in the Garden, Creator chose to not create a companion for Cherished because He wanted nothing to distract from their relationship. That relationship is the focus of the story and that’s why I made the decision that Cherished would not have a companion or even a pet. So many things distract us from our relationship with God and yet that relationship is so important to God.

Removing the Trappings that Trip Us

Four in the Garden takes place in a primordial world, before rules and before religion. There is no church, no organized system of worship, no predefined code of conduct. Just God. I found this the ideal setting to depict God because I could describe a relationship with God without all the trappings of religion or culture or history. I could depict this relationship in a pure form as it ought to be portrayed. In its writing, I was careful to avoid words that are religiously loaded terms such as God, faith and sin.

I wanted to show what a relationship with God might look like, complete with the full range of emotions that accompany any meaningful relationship. We experience joy and disappointment,  understanding and frustration in human relationships and our relationship with God is no different. I believe that our relationship with God develops in the same way as our other relationships develop, as we learn to task risks, be honest and trust more and more. We have setbacks. We misunderstand. We get angry. But if we value the relationship, we work through those issues and hopefully grow closer.

An Intimate God

When we think of emotional intimacy, we rarely think of God. Yet, God created intimacy. Not only that, but God is capable of deep intimacy. Some people were put off by the intimacy Creator showed the main character, Cherished, in my book, Four in the Garden. Why is it so easy to imagine a loving father snuggling with his child, but so difficult to picture a heavenly Father being intimate and playful with a child of His? We struggle with that image because it is not our experience. And yet, our discomfort with it prevents us from experiencing it. God desires intimacy with us, but only to the extent we allow it.

God and Brussels Sprouts

People seem to either love or hate Brussels sprouts. People who hate them made that determination because they have tried them at least once in their lives. Then you have those people who have spurned God because they tried that once, too, and they didn’t like it or it didn’t work for them. But I wonder what it was they tried.

When people reject God, often they are rejecting their perception of God. That perception is based on upbringing, religious teaching, church/temple experience, and encounters with religious people. How many people have actually encountered God directly? Many of those who fall in that category would say the experience was positive.

Pure Relationship with God

In writing Four in the Garden, I tried to present a relationship with God in the purest form possible, stripping away religious and man-made obstacles. The ideal I aimed for was to give people a direct experience with God.

One person reading the book explained his surprise at being presented with a relationship with God that he found workable, one that he had never considered before. He is struggling to know what to do with that information. I suppose that if a person is being shown an open door, then he must make a decision whether to walk through it.

Why the book?

In February 2007, I had a dream. I dreamt that I was sitting in a college religion class. The class was discussing a book that presented a world where God had created only one person. The story described the growing relationship between this person and God. When I awoke, I concluded that God wanted me to write this story, believing that it had not yet been told. I started writing later that year, beginning with a chapter in the middle of the book. It didn’t take me long to discover that I didn’t know how to write a book. In September 2009, I found a writer’s workshop that I have been attending ever since. My writing teacher, Sue Clark, is brilliant and I have learned so much from her. With her help and thirteen revisions later, I finished my manuscript on February 7th of this year. Over time, the book gained a life of its own and took me places I didn’t expect to go. I take that as a good sign and hope that the journey for the reader will be as rewarding as it has been for me.