36 Questions and a Cross

Last week, I stumbled across an article in the New York Times by Mandy Len Catron, a lecturer in English at UBC. As the curious title might suggest (“To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This”), the piece briefly chronicles Ms. Catron’s attempt to replicate an experiment first performed by Arthur Aron, a psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York.

Years ago, Dr. Aron (who studies relational intimacy) apparently succeeded in his attempt to make two complete strangers fall in love. In fact, the two participants were married six months later and Dr. Aron was invited to their wedding. Talk about a matchmaker.

So, how did he do it?

In short, he got them to talk, to learn about one another, to get personal. And, for the grand finale, he had the two look into each other’s eyes for four straight minutes. You can make people do things like that if you’re a psychologist.

Aron asked the two participants a bunch of questions (for example, “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”), and, according to Ms. Catron, made the questions more personal throughout the session (“When did you last cry in front of another person?”).

Ms. Catron tried the whole experiment at a pub with an “acquaintance” from UBC. Obviously, in this case, there was mutual interest in the possibility of becoming smitten over one another.

In the piece, Ms. Catron reflects on their evening together. Asking one another all 36 of Dr. Aron’s questions (they passed Catron’s phone back and forth), the two shared a few secrets, disclosed some of their fears, revealed hopes and dreams.

And—just like the two participants in Aron’s experiment—Catron and her colleague stared into each other’s eyes for four minutes (they stepped out of the pub for this part). I love how she describes it:

“I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever,” she writes, “but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected.”

I don’t know what Ms. Catron thinks of Jesus or the gospel. Regardless, I suspect she might find my next statement laughable if not downright annoying. But it seems to me that in this moment with her friend, eyes locked on a warm night, she was tasting something of what it means to be a Christian—if only so slightly.

In his letter to the Romans (the fifth chapter, specifically), Paul makes a very intriguing assertion: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

The great exclamation point around this reality, of course, is his classic preface to this statement in the eighth verse: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Have you ever considered the fact that God has never held a single misconception about who we really are? As Paul makes clear, God refuses to tell little white lies about us for the sake of civil relationship.

When we see Jesus of Nazareth stripped bare and hanging from a Roman cross, we see God really seeing us. Jesus Christ did not have to convince himself of our moral potential before giving himself up to a pseudo-trial and a perversely cruel form of execution.

He knew exactly who he was doing this for: his enemies.

Yet, in God’s story, enemies are the people you die for—and turn into lovers. Indeed, while we were sinners, Christ died for us. And, as Jacques Ellul so eloquently put it, “Hell is robbed of its certainties.”

When we see Jesus, we see the Lord of the universe truly seeing us and responding with a vulnerability that makes Dr. Aron’s questions look like child’s play. God has answered our animosity, our contempt, even our revulsion of him, with a deliberate act of love.

Ms. Catron saw someone really seeing her, and it was terrifying. But as she embraced this reality, she “arrived somewhere unexpected.”

She arrived in love.

“I wondered what would come of our interaction,” she writes. “If nothing else, I thought it would make a good story. But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.”

Christianity in its richest sense is about knowing, and being known by, God—in and through Jesus Christ. 

I think we can safely say that there is no direct correlation between laboratory love and life in the Spirit. I’m not advocating that we ask God 36 questions and stare dramatically into his eyes. But, that is not to say there is not something to Dr. Aron’s work.

Let’s not hide behind some rom-com understanding of Christianity, as if cultivating intimacy with the triune Creator of the universe just happens (in an amusing and happily-ever-after sort of way). God is not Oprah; and intimacy is not an “Aha!” moment. Faith comes by hearing. It comes by looking to and listening to the One who knew no sin, yet became sin for you—the real you. Intimacy with God is about believing the One who has first believed for us, in our place, on the cross.

You don’t have to wait for, or be anxious about, some magical moment. To be born again, as N.T. Wright notes, is to “be made new with a life that death cannot touch.” It is to be given eyes to see him as he is: God with us.

In Jesus, he holds nothing back. This is the God on whom we rest our eyes and our lives—the God who sees us as we are, and breaks his own heart open to make all things new.  

Jake Taxis


Jake was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he met his wife, Greta, in film school. He's currently a student at Regent College.