My Trouble with the Christian Concept of “Relationship” with God

Lately, to my delight, lots of things I think I “get” (at least on a basic level) are being revealed to me in new ways. These revelations are usually little things, but they are changing the face of my faith. I think that the way I understand my relationship with God is one of those things that will continue to change and change me.

My religious tendencies (in case you hadn’t guessed ;)) are somewhat expansive, inclusive and liberal. I’m doing my best to hone my beliefs, to discern what is really important and then be willing to get specific about those things. It’s been challenging. Now, before I’ve made much progress on that front, I find myself challenged in the other direction by a book my mother recommended called If God is Love by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.

I’ve only just started it, so this is not a critique or review, but it has already got me thinking.The authors are both Quaker pastors who have come to believe in “universal salvation.” They talk a lot about grace in a way that would be familiar to most Christians but they take it one step further, arguing that every person will ultimately be with God. They provide some scriptural support, but I haven’t read enough to know what I think just yet.

The authors write about their respective relationships with God in a way that stands out to me. I get this feeling that they are confident in their familiarity with God. That they feel they really know Him. I had to wonder why that would stand out to me. After all, I too recognize my personal connection to God. To say that that connection is the most important thing in my life seems lacking. That connection IS the point. I wouldn’t even have life without it. I seek, praise, defy and try to please God just as so many people do.

So what’s bothering me? It boils down to the idea of having a “relationship” with God. I mean, what’s the root word of relationship? Relate. Before we can have a relationship with someone, we have to have a way to relate to them. Relating to other people is (technically, anyway) pretty easy. You have a body, I have a body. I can relate to you. You communicate verbally and so do I, and so on. The greater my ability to relate to you, the stronger our relationship. A relationship with God, though, has to be defined differently. He can see me, knows my thoughts, knows exactly how I’m like Him, but I don’t seem to have those advantages. It hardly seems fair! I’m always second-guessing what I think I know about Him, so that confidence I mentioned before is interesting and appealing to me.

Bottom line, I’ve become aware that I view my relationship with God as too one-sided. I confess I don’t “hear” God in a literal way and most of the time I can only guess at His specific involvement in my life. I don’t know if I will ever feel that I “know” Him in the same way I know my husband or my sister or my co-worker, but I hope to know God in a deeper way than that, anyway. I think it is possible that we limit our capacity for intimacy by applying human expectations to our dealings with the Divine.  Or maybe I really could get to know God in that way. What do you think? Do you feel you know God as you know people?



6 thoughts on “My Trouble with the Christian Concept of “Relationship” with God

  1. This is a very interesting assessment you make of YHVH. You wrote, “The authors are both Quaker pastors who have come to believe in “universal salvation.” They talk a lot about grace in a way that would be familiar to most Christians but they take it one step further, arguing that every person will ultimately be with God. They provide some scriptural support, but I haven’t read enough to know what I think just yet.”

    I think that until you recognize that salvation isn’t universal (indeed that is new age philosophy), and read what Messiah Y’shua says is the ONLY way to the Father (which is Y’shua), then you may continue to have mixed feelings about what it means to have a relationship with Him. Imagine the idea that every person will ultimately be with God. What would that be like? Can you imagine Hitler, Stalin, Charles Manson, child rapists, unrepentant murderers and child beaters, et. al. all sharing the same “heaven” as those who’ve accepted Y’shua as the payment for their sin? Indeed, it wouldn’t be heaven at all. Just another earth. Hell on earth. With the idea that anybody can get to the Father via any means at all reduces Him to nothing more than a beast of a god who sacrificed his son for no good reason at all. YHVH is not reduced to an ideology. Messiah came to give us life eternal, yet He warns us that “my people perish for lack of knowledge”. YHVH’s truth can be known through His Word. I know Him through His Word. I speak to Him and worship Him through prayer. He speaks to me through His Word and through others who are of like-mindedness. Once you are able to recognize the Messiah for who He is and accept Him and no other god or ideology, then you will be on the path to knowing Him.

    Matthew 7.13-23: ” “Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. “Beware of the false prophets! They come to you wearing sheep’s clothing, but underneath they are hungry wolves! You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire! 20 So you will recognize them by their fruit. “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my Father in heaven wants. On that Day, many will say to me, `Lord, Lord! Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we expel demons in your name? Didn’t we perform many miracles in your name?’ Then I will tell them to their faces, `I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’ ”

    May YHVH find you and teach you well. Blessings.

    1. Thank you for your response! “If God is Love” and another of their earlier books do address some of the arguments you’ve voiced. As mentioned, I haven’t read very far, so don’t quote me, but I think that the idea is that God created us all with the desire to love Him and to choose Him and that our lives are long journeys of maturation and ultimate sanctification; because, indeed, He also desires all to be with Him. So if Hitler and Stalin ever made it through the pearly gates, it would only be after repentance and acceptance of God, either before death or after. I think that the passage you included is a good one and I don’t know how they would respond to it specifically, but I do think the “healthy tree” analogy is great. I believe that it is important to test other people’s interpretations to find out if putting them into practice yields results that are in line with Jesus’ teaching, nourishing, promote love and shun evil. Blessings to you as well. 🙂

  2. Hi! I just had my own post on the troubles with saying you have a “relationship with God”. So I decided to do a tag search to see if any other posts were out there. Found yours. : ) I appreciate your honest thoughts, and I particularly appreciate how you word it at the end…”I think it is possible that we limit our capacity for intimacy by applying human expectations to our dealings with the Divine.”

  3. Well, I haven’t interacted with this book at all, but from what I’ve heard, it offers some useful reminders about grace, but relies heavily on personal journey to make a case for Universalism. While I would LOVE for Universalism to be correct, I simply can’t make it mesh with the urgency communicated in Scripture, especially much of Jesus teaching. Don’t have space/time to go into it here, but it’s things like this:

    “I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Luke 12:4-5

    “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.” Mark 9:43-44

    “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…” Matt. 25:31, 32, 41

    I think you’d have to do some fancy reasoning to make these teachings be anything but deceptive if our choices in this life cannot result in eternal separation from God.

    While its possible there’s more to it than we’ve been given, it seems clear to me that as far as our own salvation and our responsibility toward others is concerned, God intends us to live like eternity depends on hearing about Christ, and choosing to trust and follow him in this life. That’s my position.

    “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” Rom. 10:9, 14-15

    As for relationship, I’ll try to give a follow-up comment later. Homeschooling is calling right now! 🙂

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