In our last post we looked at a number of questions that might be raised in response to the idea of “a personal relationship with God”. Your comments have been good. So I’m taking a chance of wearing you out by repeating some of what you’ve said in my own take.
But I’ll test your patience in thinking about a subject that I suspect may be more important than those of us who have grown up with the idea might realize.
The first question was,
Can we understand why some would think it is arrogant to hear us talk about knowing God?
If we could hear us as others do, it might occur to us that familiar references to God could sound like the ultimate form of name-dropping.
Imagine being on the “outside” and hearing people like us refer not only to our own personal relationship with God, but also referring to “outsiders” as “sinners, godless, unbelievers, unsaved”.
Like the “cleanness” laws of Levitical law, a lot of our language (righteous, holy, sanctified, saved etc) could sound both self-righteous and proud.
Our Lord seems to have been alluding to a religious blind spot when he described the behavior of the Levite and Priest who passed by a robbed and beat up man on the Road to Jericho. The two religious professionals who passed by without helping would have seen themselves as part of a “holy”, “chosen people” who knew their God. They also may have been obsessed with the Temple oriented laws of ritual cleanness. But the Samaritan who helped apparently had no ethnic bias or fear of contamination that got in the way of helping someone in need.
In a Temple oriented, first century context, Jesus’ own example of touching lepers, beggars and gentiles, together with his desire to be a friend of those religious people regarded as siners, might deserve to be thought of as one of his “sign miracles”. To be a part of the religious bias and practice of his day, it would have taken a work of the Spirit of God to care for those religious people regarded not only as unclean—but even more animal-like than human.
If there’s any truth to the above, we might then see why some people try to avoid those who act as if God is on their side. Why would they want to be around people who, from their point of view, see God as part of the universe that revolves around them?
That’s also probably enough of the negative take. Let’s try to look at this in a positive way.
Even though the words “personal relationship” don’t show up in most editions of the Old or New Testaments, many of you, in prior comments showed that the idea of whether or not we know our God shows up often.
Within the first few pages of Genesis, the God of creation is walking and talking with the man and woman he has made in his own likeness. Later, long after most of the family has turned its back on their Maker, the first book of the Bible continues take note of a few who are still walking with God (Gen 5:24; 6:9).
Then at one dark and difficult moment of history, God seems to actually encourage those who take pride in knowing him. In 6th century BC, the prophet Jeremiah quotes the Lord as saying, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord (Jer 9:23-24).
So does the prophet Jeremiah really say that the God of the Bible approves of those who drop his name for their own benefit?
A first look Jeremiah’s quote of God might leave that impression. But something else is going on here.
A closer look shows that the God of the Bible is speaking these words to a stubbornly proud generation. At this point, the citizens of Jerusalem were inflated with a self-deceived impression of their own wisdom, strength, and wellbeing (13:9). They took pride in their knowledge of the Law of Moses, the ritual of their Temple, and the reassuring words of their prophets. Yet they were marked by a lack of kindness. They withheld justice from the oppressed; and their relationships reflected little of the rightness that makes God—and those who know him—good for others.
In this setting the Lord of Israel suggests a solution filled with irony. Since his chosen people are already filled with pride, he speaks to them in their own language. If they are going to boast, then he urges them to boast in a way that will bring an end to their self-absorbed idolatry, deception, violence, and a lack of concern for the poor.
Those who really do know and understand the God who delights in kindness, justice, and righteousness find an answer for their pride. They discover the irony of a new kind of boasting. They resonate not only with Jeremiah but with another prophet who says of the same God. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Shows that while having a relationship with God may sound proud– the real thing is just the opposite.