Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beliefs About God/Relationships With God

For as long as I can remember I have discussed the nature of God with people. Questioning what I believe, what others believe. In fact most conversations I’ve experienced about religion focus on belief—what we think, how we explain the world, how we understand our purpose.

Its as if when we start talking God and religion, our thoughts automatically go to the cosmic/transcendent. “When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made.” So one person says, isn’t God great to have place all the stars in their place, and a secularist says—well the stars are great, but I’m not sure anyone placed them there… We talk about things like whether we are reincarnated lifetime after lifetime or if we have only one shot. We talk about things like the nature of heaven and who gets to go there. We argue over to what extent God (if we even agree there is a God) interacts in our lives—does God answer prayer, or is prayer primarily a changing of our own heart—or does our heart change while praying because in prayer we encounter the God who changes hearts? What do you think—what do you believe.

As important and as interesting as all these questions are, we perhaps miss the point. If we who are Christians believe that God has come to this world in the person of Jesus that by the Spirit we can experience God on a regular basis… then lets move beyond what we think/believe about God and discuss how we have experienced God.

This is the nature of the great discourse among the people called Methodists a few hundred years ago, They talked with one another about how God had convicted them of their sinfulness and their renewed commitment to holy living. They shared how they believed God was moving them towards new ministries, or how they felt abandoned by God in times of conflict. Sure they talked about doctrine, but always in direct relation to what it meant about their relationship with God. In 1770, Elizabeth Mortimer wrote:

Mr. Illingworth particularly insisted on the natural depravity of man, on justification by faith only, the new birth, and the influences of the Holy Spirit. These subjects were news to me… but I heard from others and often said to myself, ‘This is very necessary for persons that have been openly immoral;’ but I still remained ignorant of my own deep interest in them, in ‘til it pleased the Holy Spirit to remove the veil from my heart. (Chilcote, Paul Wesley. Her Own Story: Autobiographical portraits of early Methodist Women, p. 107.)

If only every time we discussed/debated our doctrine (what we believe to be true about God, humanity, etc.) we couched such believes in the examination of our own experiences of them.

In The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Ghandi recounted the experience of witnessing a doctrinal debate between a self-satisfied atheist and a Christian clergy.

“Well, sir, you believe in the existence of God?”
“I do,”
“You also agree that the circumference of the Earth is 28,000 miles, don’t you?
“Pray tell me then the size of your God and where he may be?”
“Well, if we but knew, He resides in the hearts of us both.”
“Now, now, don’t take me to be a child,” (Griffiths, Paul J. Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes, p. 220)

It isn’t enough to know/believe the doctrine that God lives inside the hearts of the people God created… we must also be able to consider what that doctrine means for us… how have you experienced God living in your heart? How do you experience the living Christ? How do you not only believe God will give you comfort in dark hours, but what does that look like? Beliefs about God detached from our Relationship with God are meaningless.


  1. While I may be alone and separated from all others and all help, I know God is with me.
    That's very comforting, I can talk to and listen to God.
    It's also consoling to reflect on God's sense of humor, that I am called to be His servant.
    We can laugh together.

    And when I finally stop looking inward and look to others, I often see the Living Christ in equally unlikely faces as mine, and I'm amazed and joyful.

  2. Anonymous,
    Thanks for sharing your experience of God. What a great example of not only believing the doctrine of God's immanence (that God is close to us) but reflecting on the experience of it.