I got delayed in writing my promised post on what a “relationship with God” means. In the previous 2 posts, I expressed some concerns over the evangelical terminology of having a “relationship with God.” I’m afraid we’ve “domesticated” God, and our phraseology of “relationship” can give a false impression.
A blogging friend of mine had his own post in response. Please read it here: Intimacy or Worship? – I hope you’ll take a moment to read his valuable insight and contribution to the conversation. He quotes from a book called “Reaching for the Invisible God” by Philip Yancey. I have this book, but have not read it yet. Seems I need to, as the subject matter is exactly about this topic of a relationship with God! Here is what one review says about the book:
‘How do I relate to a God who is invisible when I’m never quite sure he’s there?’ – Life with God doesn’t always work out like you think it should. High expectations slam against the reality of personal weaknesses and unwelcome surprises. And the God who, you’ve been told, wants a personal relationship with you may seem remote, emotionally unavailable. Is God playing games? What can you count on this God for? How can you know God? This relationship with a God you can’t see, hear, or touch—how does it really work? Reaching for the Invisible God offers deep, satisfying insights to the questions you are sometimes afraid to ask. Honest and deeply personal, here is straight talk on Christian living for the reader who wants more than pat answers to life’s imponderables. (Rick Warren)
Finally…I wanted to share my promised thoughts on having a “relationship with God.” I definitely don’t think that the concept of having a “relationship” with God is anything new or recent. I think it can be traced back to Jesus, the New Testament, and the early years of the church about 2,000 years ago. While the concept is not new, I do think the way of wording it “relationship with God” is new. Here are 3 thoughts:
1. Remember that Jesus’ message was originally to a Jewish audience. In the Old Testament, the people came to God with an animal sacrifice and through a priest. God often spoke through prophets as well. There was also ritual and law. One might say that much came between God and the people. But in Christ, all this changed! The book of Hebrews in the New Testament is particularly good at emphasizing this fact.
Hebrews is sometimes referred to as the book of “better” or “superior” things. Jesus is “better” than the Old Testament sacrifice system, the priesthood, the prophets, the angels, and the law through Moses.
Jesus completed or “finished” it. His death on the cross became the once and for all sacrifice for our sins. Jesus became the final high priest and mediator. No longer did animal sacrifices have to made over and over again. The Old Testament way of a priestly mediator was gone. The people now had direct access to the Father through Christ. Many verses in Hebrews could be referenced.
Through first-century Jewish eyes, all this would have been amazing! Barriers had been removed. Jesus had become “the way, the truth, and the life” and the only way to the Father. (John 14:6, I Timothy 2:5) Not only could they approach God directly through Christ, but they could do so confidently and boldly. The same applies to us…we need not go through a priest or saint or other special procedures or rituals.
2. The Incarnation itself (how God became a man in the person of Jesus) is not only a core and fundamental Christian teaching, but something we should all spend time reflecting upon. It is an amazing mystery! The transcendent God came near, humbled himself, and became one of us. God, the Creator, reached out to his creation in a unique and personal way. Jesus is no longer here on earth for us to know in the exact same way as they did 2,000 years ago. Yet the fact remains that God lived a human life among us. When I pray and study the Scriptures, this is a God I can relate to…a God who reached out to humanity…a God who understands what it is like to be human.
3. The Christian’s connection with God is often referred to in relational ways in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, our being humble before the holy God was most emphasized. In the New Testament, God is still holy and we should still be humble, but something new is added! New Testament believers deal with God as their Father. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus for salvation, the New Testament says we are now “adopted” into God’s family. We are children of God. (John 1:12-13, I John 3:1-2, Galatians 4:4-5.) To those who are Christ’s, the holy God is…a loving father, we belong to his family, we may approach him without fear, and we can be sure of his fatherly concern for us.
Much more could be shared, but I hope these 3 thoughts help explain what is meant by a relationship with God. As my first 2 posts emphasized, we can’t expect our “relationship” with God to be exactly like a relationship with our spouse or friend. Faith and mystery and worship must be a part of it.
While I too sometimes feel frustrated at trying to have a relationship with an invisible God, I also sometimes think our expectations can be rather silly. After all, this is God we are talking about! The post I mentioned at the beginning (Intimacy or Worship) does well at articulating the worship factor:
“Worship….that’s the one thing that makes our relationship with God different from any other relationships. No matter how much we claim intimacy with God, we always worship Him. In strong contrast, that’s one thing we don’t do with other people who are so “intimate” with us—we don’t worship them.We can be intimate with both God and humans, but it’s only God that we worship.”