The concept of transaction is probably value neutral. After all, the verb transact means to make an exchange of equal value. I give you this; you give me that. We each walk away happy. Business is all about transactions. Your money for my good or service. My good or service for your money. It’s all perfectly legal, not to mention American. As Calvin Coolidge famously remarked, “The business of this country is business.” We’re a country built on transactions.
Yet when it comes to human relationships, the situation is somewhat different. Perhaps the simplest example of a transactional human relationship is prostitution. The john pays for sex, the hooker gives him what he wants. Of course, transactions exist at levels high and low throughout society. Corporate donors help politicians get elected. The politicians in turn make sure to give the donors what they want. After all, if not, the donors may not be helpful come the next election. The lobbying industry in Washington, DC and the state capitals is nothing if not transactional. Alas, special interests are by definition not about serving the greatest good of the greatest number. Who pays the piper calls the tune. A joke has it that a rambunctious kid goes to his mother and says, “I’ll be good if you give me a dollar.” (Transactional.) His mother replies, “Why can’t you be good for nothing like your old man?”
The God figure of the Hebrew Scriptures tends to be transactional from the get-go. “Okay, Adam and Eve, I’m placing your two in Paradise—endless summer, no mosquitos, no work required. Just live off the fat of the land. Of course, once you eat an apple off that tree, you’re toast!” Later on, we read over and over that so long as the people toe the mark, all will be well. But the minute they screw up, well, here comes the toaster! Jesus’ Abba (Dad) is a different story. In a well-know Gospel passage, Jesus tells his listeners to love their enemies and pray for them (Matt. 5:44). This is pretty counter-intuitive, as Jesus admits. Of course, there is still a whiff of transaction here since verse 45 goes on to say “so that you may become the children of your father in heaven” (Good News Bible). But hey, that’s a good incentive for growing into an optimal human being who knows, enemy or not, that all God’s children have wings. Shouldn’t we try to think and act likewise?