I had lunch with an old college friend the other day, and he brought out two points that I haven't covered yet that I thought were worth discussing. I'll talk about the Power of Grace in my next post, but today I want to talk about what exactly Christians mean when they say that God desires a "relationship" with us.
My friend pointed out that when we talk about having a relationship with God, we tend to talk about it in the same terms we talk about our own relationships with other people. We tend to cram God into the little hole we have carved out for what a relationship should look like. But there is a problem here. This approach assumes that our relationship with God should look similar to the relationships we have with other people. It assumes we have any idea what a relationship would look like between two beings differing in consciousness the way we differ from God. This isn't like our relationship with another person- not even like our relationship with a dog, or an ant, or anything else we can think of. We really have no model for what a "relationship" with God should or even possibly could be like. But yet we're surprised (and indeed offended) that we don't have a "two directional" relationship with God (this was my single biggest complaint with Christianity, and is certainly the biggest reason I walked away)
Now I see both a big problem and a big relief for Christianity in this statement. The problem is that after all the research I've done, and all the Christians I've talked to, I still can't find a consensus about what Christians mean when they talk about having a relationship with God. Most individuals I talk to end up admitting that they don't in fact feel God's presence in their day-to-day lives. If Christianity can't even tell us what it means when it talks about a relationship with God, then Christianity isn't really making any claim here at all. Moreover, this makes any attempt to verify the existence of this relationship fundamentally impossible (even in the most subjective sense)
But there is also relief here. If we don't feel this relationship, perhaps that's because we don't know what a relationship with a being so different from ourselves feels like? Perhaps a relationship with him doesn't feel like anything? The problem with this argument, of course, is that the relationship the Old Testament God demonstrated with Moses, the Israelite people, and the prophets in general seems to be exactly the kind of relationship we expect from God- two directional, present, and leaving no doubt of its reality. The kind of relationship we get seems quite different- one directional, full of ethereal vagueness, and closer to self-actualization than meaningful dialog.
So what's the takeaway here? I think we need to answer a different question first: do we require an active and present God in order to believe in a particular religion? My inclination is that if God is active and present, then there should be no doubt for his believers (and almost every serious believer I've talked to has struggled with doubt in some form or another). Moreover, there should be no way for someone like me, who wants to believe, to arrive at the conclusion that God simply isn't there. So if our answer to this question is "yes", then I think I have an insurmountable problem with Christianity. Unless and until I have a supernatural experience with God (some "other half" to my prayers), I cannot take Christianity to be true. But if our answer is "no", then I think we must turn to what the Bible says. If Christianity does indeed claim this kind of relationship for its followers, then I'm stuck once again. But if it does not, then I don't think I'm justified in demanding it. It seems reasonable to me that the God of the universe would not feel particularly inclined to converse with me.