A lot of people blame religion for their problems. I’ve had a pretty good share of negative experiences in church, but I can’t say that it ever occurred to me to blame “the church” for them or religion in general. I pretty much had to learn about God on my own with some very general help from my Dad who was also finding God at the same time, other random people around me, and reading the Bible. Eventually, however, even after trying in all honesty to follow it, I hit the train wreck. Or multiple ones I guess. It finally penetrated through my very thick skull that what I needed was “relationship”. Now “it’s a relationship not a religion” is one of our favorite church things to say, but it basically means nothing unless you’ve experienced what it means. Lots of people with no relationship are going around saying you need a relationship not a religion.
But the real question is WHY don’t we have a relationship with God? Why do we have so much religion instead? Well of course there is the sinful human heart which causes us to always fashion our own false golden calf religion, and of course we have a lot of false traditions, just like they did in Jesus’ day, but I want to hone on one specific thing. We don’t have relationship because we do not see God in personal terms. Oh sure he talks, but it’s more like when the borg speaks on Star Trek. It’s not like a person person, that you would talk to. It’s the creepy voice from the sky that only gives you some orders to follow. Think about how you see God. Now imagine someone, say, that you worked with had the same attributes and relationship style as the God you believe in. Would you want to know them? Would you get a beer with him? Clearly the real Jesus is the kind of guy you would get a beer with because people actually did invite him over to their parties. Was that because he was super hip and compromised? No. It was because there was something about him as a person that people who wanted nothing to do with any other straight laced folks liked about him. He must have had a great “personality.” Clearly the disciples loved him like crazy.
Does your God pass the friend test? Would you want to be friends with him? We sing songs about being the friend of God, but I dunno, for me that kinda always processed like “Wow, what other cool things will he make or call me.” So let’s talk about some of the unfriendly ways we see God.
- God has no emotions except anger. The only people who have no emotions except anger are abusers. It’s no wonder we don’t like hanging around this guy. Jesus wept because it says he longed for Jerusalem to come to him but yet they wouldn’t. That’s a lot of love. He wept over a city that was getting ready to kill and reject him. It means he was actually SAD if he wept. Yes, God was sad. It also says angels rejoice when one lost person comes home. They aren’t just up there rejoicing without him. They are rejoicing because that’s where his heart is. Look JESUS GOD NAILED TO A CROSS because he loved you. Seriously, think about it. Now, write down the list of people in your life that you are willing to be tortured to death for. If that list has any names on it, then write how you feel about them. So.. What is God actually like emotionally?
- We think he is in control of everything. Would you have a relationship with someone who had the cure for your son’s illness but didn’t give it to them and just stood by and watched them suffer? What if they just stood by while your son was sexually abused? What if they stood by while your son was sexually abused and said that it was “for their glory”? Um NO. It’s no wonder we don’t want to relate to God.
- We are always thinking about Him as someone who knows everything. This is a very unrelational way of thinking of someone. We tell ourselves things like “well of course you already knew that.” And “God already knows what you’re gonna ask.” When Jesus said that, he was trying to show us the depth of God’s love, not how amazingly smart He is. God comes down onto the relational plane which means he relates to you in “real time.” I had to kick the habit of thinking things like “you already knew I would fail” or “you already had this planned.” It’s very fatalistic to think that way. God is not making my choices for me. He knows what they will be, but they are actually real. I have real choices. I relate to him in the now. He “knows” but that’s treating him like a cosmic genie, and it has a way of negating my own awareness of choice, and relationship with him. Actually he is there in the choice, showing me where to go.
- We say God doesn’t “need” anything. What’s one of the worst things you could ever say to your romantic partner? “I don’t need you” or “You don’t need me.” That’s basically saying there is no possibility for relationship. God may not be “needy” but actually he does need you in one very specific way. You are the BODY of Christ. He has no other body. He can’t touch or reach out to someone without you. He needs you to come through for him. He needs you to hug the sad person at your office. He needs you to take the phone call from the guy who is at the end of his rope. Those people may not be able to hear God’s voice, but they can hear yours. And God needs you to come through. We tell ourselves that he will get it done some other way, etc, etc. I just don’t see that in real life. That’s just religious talk. Sometimes you are the plan B. Whether you come through or not makes a difference.
- We make the Bible more important than knowing Him. I’ve got news. The apostles didn’t have the Bible, and neither did almost anyone for nearly 1500 years. The church fathers, only had some parts. And many people couldn’t read it. John 5:39 sums up the way we believe in the current era. “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” The point of the Bible is to point to Jesus. That’s it. It teaches you who God is and how he thinks so that you can KNOW HIM PERSONALLY. Knowing JESUS is the main event, not knowing the BIBLE. We talk about not being legalistic, but forcing the Bible down your throat every day is a really good way to hate reading it. Or hating yourself because you didn’t read it often enough, is a really negative relationship cycle. It says that the Word is written on our hearts. That’s relationship. I don’t spend my days memorizing Scripture. That’s what Muslims do. I want to spend my days knowing God. I’m not gonna read more Scripture than I can become. That will just make me a Pharisee.
- Pressure. We’re always putting pressure on ourselves to do things. We need to witness to more people. We need to be more sin-free (and I don’t mean like 10 commandments type of sin. I mean like for example our obsession with healthy diet as if it were holiness). We need to grow faster. We need to save the whole world. Pressure is another relationship killer. You can’t grow in a relationship with God if you are always trying to be something that you can’t be. You need every day to be OK. God knows what your capacity for growth in the relationship is each day. Just do that and enjoy the fulfillment of knowing you did everything he put before you that day. Tomorrow has enough worry of it’s own right?
- Some of us talk too graphically about the suffering of the martyrs. This is less common but, in some camps, we go into these graphic details about how the martyrs suffer, to the point where it’s like “Well being a Christian means you are supposed to suffer more than Jesus himself” And we’re like running around afraid of being tortured, or ready to be tortured at any time. This is really really unhealthy. Thinking about being administered extreme tortures for someone kinda shuts down the relationship. Jesus willingly laid down his life. It was joyful to him to do it. The focus is supposed to be on loving Jesus. If I love him that much, I would take a bullet for him. Maybe the devil will invent something horrible to do to me, but I promise you this — if the devil does manage — IT WILL HURT GOD MORE THAN IT HURTS ME. Jesus loves you a lot more than you love you. I’ve learned that from pastoring. When God’s love for the person hits me, me it’s so intense, but often they barely can register something that deep. How much more for Jesus himself?
- We think God is not capable of fulfilling our deepest desires. I used to really struggle with going to heaven, since there will be no marriage, there will be no sex, which well why would God make me male for all eternity to be celibate? This seems awfully frustrating. Although our relatoinship with God in heaven is certainly not sexual, we can say the reverse — sex on earth with your partner is only a shadow — only a shadow — of the depth of intimacy you can experience with God. Chew on that. If you walk close enough with God, he can way over-max-out your capacity to desire anything.
Really all of these stresses we have in our “relationship” with God are because we aren’t relating to God at all. We’re relating to our theology, our conscience, our idea of what God is like. When you look more carefully at the Bible, you begin to find a God who is not only relational — HE CREATED RELATIONSHIPS. He’s so deep and so conencted. And He is so into you.