In comments to my last post, Ryan has asked some good questions. They deserve a post of their own. (I have altered the order of some of the questions to group them.)
What does a relationship with God mean?
How do you personally connect with God, and how God guides you and then give me some pointers?
Some people seem to instinctively relate to God in a very personal way. My wife is like that, but I am not. I relate to God in faith. I believe the evidence points to him being there, and on the basis of the evidence I believe Jesus told the truth. So I try to live in the way he and his apostles taught us. And the strange thing is, the relationship just developed over time. When I was younger, I had no feeling that God was there, but now, after 50 years of faith, I do.
I think it happens because we pray together every day for God’s help, protection and guidance, and for our friends, and for other people too. We try to live in obedience, and we ask for forgiveness when we fall short.
How it happens
this is really my foundational struggle: how can we have a relationship with Jesus/God, what does it look like?
I understand this relationship may not be like any human relationship, but how can one have this personal connection, this relationship?
Is it too mysterious to be explained? What are some personal features of this relationship?
My suggestion is, if you believe Jesus was truthful, just start to live as his follower, asking for guidance and forgiveness as you need it, and don’t worry about the relationship. And it will just happen (by God’s grace).
But it is a matter of faith. We believe in Jesus and so we trust what he said. And so we believe God will never let us down and the Spirit will guide us, even if things are unbearably tough. And as we trust, we will begin to see signs – things that work out better than we expected, a sense of fulfilment and peace (not always, but enough), a feeling of grief when we let him down and of peace when we receive forgiveness. And if we pray often, we’ll find it becomes more natural.
At least, that’s been my experience.
If you are not yet able to believe in Jesus, I suggest you read the gospels again, and pray as you go that God (if he is there) will enlighten you and reveal truth to you.
How do you separate your opinion and preferences from guidance from God?
It’s not easy, and it requires faith. It helps to pray with someone else (provided they are open-mionded and open to the Spirit), so that if you agree, it’s a stronger sign than just our own thoughts. We have the teachings of Jesus and Paul and the rest to guide us, and the Spirit will guide us through our conscience. And once we make a decision, God will often make it clear that we have chosen rightly (by giving us peace, or by how things work out), or that we haven’t. And so we learn.
Sometimes when I pray, I specifically say to God that this is how I’m feeling, but if I’m wrong, I want him to correct me. I try to keep honest about this.
But we’re not infallible, and we grow in our relationship and maturity by trial and error.
Is faith a virtue?
But in a belief where faith is taught to be a virtue, and those who believe despite seeing are blessed, how is a relationship developed?
I think there is some misunderstanding about this. Faith that is contrary to evidence is not a virtue, in my opinion. We have to follow truth. But once we have decided Jesus is the truth, then it makes sense to trust him when we can’t see the answers. That continuing trust is a virtue, I believe. And it is necessary for any relationship.
What the Bible says
Does the Bible even allude to a relationship with God? Or is this a modern catchphrase people have come up with – it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship?
I think in some respects it is a modern catchphrase. But the Bible does assume that God will relate to us through his Spirit. Jesus says we can call God “our Father” or “Dad”, so there’s relationship straightaway. We can grieve the Spirit, or we can walk with him and be guided by him. Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters. And this is just a small part of the personal.
But the relationship is still fragile, requires faith, and isn’t always what we’d hope.
Doubts and difficulties
Is faith self-affirming?
There is part of me that wants to connect with God; I mean if God exists then we were created to be aligned to Him/Her/They? …. However there is another aspect of me that considers that faith is self affirming, and once you are in a faith cycle there is a risk that other ideas or beliefs are considered false (or even evil) for no reason except that this idea or belief is not affirmed by the church doctrine/holy book or teaching.
This is true of any belief. You can be an atheist or a Republican or an environmentalist or a follower of a football time out of wish fulfilment, just as much as you can be a christian. The only way forward is to check out the evidence and be as honest with yourself as you can.
Are religions man-made?
Furthermore, It seems possible that some religions at least could develop and thrive even if god(s) did not inspire them. For example, for Christianity to be true Islam is either man made or propagated by demons, yet it continues to grow and thrive as a belief system. If it is manmade then doesn’t this suggest that at least some faiths can exist without divine intervention or a god?
It is the nature of the world, and truth, that some things are true, some things are false, and other things may be partly true. So it is hardly surprising to think that some religions may be more true than other ones, and some may hardly be true at all. So one assumes some don’t require a God.
But I think it must also be said, that most religions have a lot in common. So if I believe christianity is true, and it has a lot in common with, say, Islam, then Islam must therefore be at least partly true QED. And if God is the source of all good, then he must at least partly be revealed in other religions.
So I think all religions have a mixture of the divine and the human, but christianity has the most divine, and the most important part of the divine which others tend to lack, is Jesus.
From a Christian perspective some might consider this other part of me and these thoughts as stemming from my “old man” or a manifesting of my sinful nature. After all, The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9)
I suppose that may be true, or not, how could I possibly know? But I do believe asking questions and seeking the truth are good things, and that seems to be what you are doing.
A violent God?
Furthermore, the Good book does refer to actions that confront and make me wonder why God was so violent in ancient history, and violence will come in the future?
Yes, I wonder this too. I have come to the conclusion that anything which portrays God as contrary to how he is portrayed in Jesus much be giving me a wrong impression. Therefore, I am leaning towards the view that God couldn’t have said and done those violent things, at least not in the way they are presented.
Those are my thoughts, thanks Ryan for the questions. Everyone’s ideas are welcome. Thanks.