Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Relationship with God

(News-Herald, July 2002) For a columnist in an area like Venango County, addressing issues related to religion is a little like checking to see if the electric fence is on by licking it.

Every time I’ve licked that fence, the power has been on and I’ve drawn some rather spirited mail.

But what with the ongoing flap about “under God” and the various discussions about religion in America that have been stirred up, it seems like the fence is just itching to be licked again.

There are plenty of excuses for ignoring religion and the church. I think most of them are a crock. Some folks are partial to the old standard, “I have a personal relationship with God that I just work out in my own way,” meaning generally that they try to think God-related thoughts when the mood strikes them and they’re not too busy. Try running your marriage that way. The important relationships in your life require regular maintenance and a daily effort to hear the other person involved; that principle also applies to a relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

Another excuse is the observation that church people have occasionally turned out to be hypocritical and very unChristian. This is a hard charge to counter; I have absolutely no doubt that there are churches in this county that are some of the most unwelcoming, coldest spots a person could wander into. You would be better off wandering into a biker bar and ordering a milkshake than walking into some local churches as a Known Sinner. And certainly there is a well-documented list of big-time church leaders who turned out to be somewhat overwhelmed by their fleshier pursuits.

To which I say, “So what?” Some people get divorced; doesn’t mean we throw out marriage. Some people get food poisoning; doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up eating. Church people are human, which means we can predict fallibility will fall right in the 100% range. True, there are plenty of church people who forget that, but just because something can’t be done perfectly, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done at all.

But it’s fallibility that causes me to part ways with conservative Christians. It’s not that I think God is a vague cloud of imprecise suggestions that change with the latest human fashions; I don’t. What I doubt is the human capacity to read the mind of God.

History is full of people who were 100% certain that they knew exactly what God wanted. They knew with certainty that God wanted people from different churches killed, women kept subservient and silent, and blacks kept in bondage. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Salem witch trials to the World Trade Towers, people who were absolutely certain of their knowledge of God have displayed some Very Bad Behavior.

Now, at some point, we have to catch on. If you keep telling yourself, “God has sent this fuzzy caterpillar to make me warm and happy,” and twelve times you’ve picked the caterpillar up, and twelve times it’s turned out to be a rattlesnake that bit you on the rump, this is not a failure of God or your relationship with Him—it’s a failure of your relationship with your own brain.

If you can sit there and say, “Well, over the last several millennia the people who were certain they knew exactly what God wanted turned out to be mistaken, but I know I really know what God’s thinking, so I will be an exception” then, well, I am in awe at the size of your self-esteem.

And if you are sure that your little human brain can completely encompass an understanding of the Author of All Creation, I’m disappointed by how tiny your picture of God is.

I believe that as human beings the best we can hope to accomplish, with time and effort, is to grasp a part of the Big Picture clearly, some other parts not so clearly, and some other parts not at all. And if we aren’t willing to humbly approach each day open to the possibility that we are flat-out wrong about everything, and to accept that some self-correction may be in order, I think we grasp even less.

So I am suspicious of people who are certain that they have the answer, and I am suspicious of people who believe that since the answer is hard to find, there just isn’t one. People make their own journey toward the truth in their own ways, in their own time. Sometimes it’s your day to put a fence up; sometimes it’s your day to tear it down. And sometimes it’s your day to check to see if it’s on.


Anonymous said...

Is marriage really an apt analogy to a relationship with God? You suggest that both require regular maintenance and a daily effort to hear the other person involved. Leaving aside the unflattering likening of an infallible, non-corporeal, possibly sentient deity to a flesh and blood person, a marriage requires two-way communication, whereas the heavy lifting in any sort of "relationship" with a personal deity seems decidely one-way.

Peter A. Greene said...

Fair enough. My analogy was meant to draw a parallel between the maintenance one needs to do with one's relationship with a spouse to maintaining one's relationship with God. IOW, I was only making a comparison of one side of the process, not the entire whole hunk o' relationship (I also suspect that there are plenty of folks who would say the person-deity relationship is not one-sided, but that's a whole other kettle of worms...)

justi said...

Can we understand everything God has planned? Absolutely not. I recognized that as it says in Isaiah...His ways are not my ways...His thoughts are above mine (to paraphrase). However I do know that when He sent Christ, Jesus made it quite clear that "I am the way, the truth and the life...no one comes to the Father except through me". Jesus was not being egotistical, He was not condemning all...He was simply stating that because He is the way, and if you want a relationship with the Creator, it is through Him and only Him. I didn't say it, God Himself said it through His Son. Because of that, and because of how I've seen God work in so many ways through my relationship with Christ, I with my whole heart believe it. Church is a great way to worship Him with other believers as well as stay under a shelter of safety and accountability. In Hebrews it says "Do not forsake the assembling with one another". Church will never be perfect. It is "run" by humans. I know I have never claimed perfection, but I do claim His promises, one of which is "whoever believes in me, shall never, yet shall he live" Christ died and rose again to bring us life...an abundant life. When I go to church, my focus and heart should be on Him...not humans...because they will most definitely fail. Keeping my eyes on Christ enables me to worship with others, be accountable to one another and grow closer in my relationship with Him. Again, I don't know completely the mind of Christ...otherwise I would be perfect. But placing my trust in Him has been the best thing in my life. He is the way, the truth and life...and I am privileged to be called His child.

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