Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Beyond Relationship with God

Many Christians talk about having a relationship with God. Evangelicals in particular speak of the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They usually say this begins when one “receives Jesus into your heart” or “accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior.”

Evangelicals frequently distinguish themselves from mainline Protestants and Catholics by saying that these other groups have religion, but “born again” believers have a relationship with God, and that makes all the difference. The slogan goes something like this: “It is not a religion. It is a relationship” or “It is not about religion; it is about a relationship with God.”

I go one step further. I say, “It is not about religion or relationship. It is about realization.” By “realization” I am referring to waking up to the Spiritual Reality that Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Jesus referred to this as being “born of the Spirit” and “born again,” by which he meant something very different from the evangelical conversion experience. Jesus also called it eternal life, which is likewise very different from popular Christianity’s fantasy of a heavenly theme park.

Mainline and Evangelical Christianity may be fine as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. There is nothing wrong with religion when it is psychologically and socially healthy religion. Likewise there is nothing wrong with having a relationship with God when it is a healthy relationship. But there is more to the spiritual life than a relationship. 

You have heard the saying, “The good is the enemy of the best.” A relationship with God can be the enemy of the best. Jesus invited this followers to go beyond religion and relationship to realization.

According to the Gospel of John, on the night before his death Jesus offered a lengthy prayer, which is often referred to as his High Priestly Prayer. First he prayed for himself, and then he prayed for his apostles. Finally Jesus prays “not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” He is talking about his followers in future generations. This is what he prays for us:

“that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Jesus says we are meant to know the same oneness with God as he knew. Jesus is talking about more than having a closer walk with God. He is speaking of transcending relationship. He is speaking about union with God, which is something Christian mystics – East and West - have always said is possible. Eastern Orthodoxy has long taught this truth, calling it theosis.

Jesus wanted us to have more than a relationship with God or himself. He wanted us to know union with God like he knew it. He promised that we would “participate in the divine nature,” as the Epistle of Second Peter describes it. 

Union with God does not negate a relationship with God; it transcends and fulfills it. It is analogous to Jesus saying he came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. Realization of oneness with God fulfills both religion and relationship.

There is more to the spiritual life than most  churches teach. Christian spirituality is more than religion or relationship. It is realization of oneness with God. Jesus prayed that we might know this oneness. The First Letter of John says that if we pray anything according to the will of God, it will be done. Jesus prayed according to the will of God, and his prayer has been answered. Now it is just a matter of realizing this union with God in our lives. 

1 comment:

Guardian said...

Beautiful. Nailed it!--- Thanks Marshall