Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Relating to God

When I think about God I tend to think in terms of relationship. I've always been taught to believe in a God who loves me and wants to be involved in my life. The image I have of God is of a benevolent deity who is concerned about my daily choices, actions and attitudes. Further reinforcing my relational understanding of God is my tendency to understand the world through the lens of subjectivity. The way I see it, any knowledge that I can have of God is available to me only by personal experience. There is no way for me to know anything about God objectively, so the only way I can know God is the way I know other people--through interaction. Because of my background and my personal inclinations, I often conceive of and speak about God in terms of relationship.

Relationships are funny things. Even though we think we know our friends objectively, most of what we know about them comes to us subjectively, through things like inference and personal experience. Sure, we may know how old they are, how many siblings they have, where they grew up, and many other objective facts, but when we say we know someone, those factual details aren’t really what we’re talking about. When we say we know someone, we’re talking about their personality, attitude, and character. We know how people would act in given situations by making inferences from past experiences we’ve had with them. We can vouch for people’s character because we’ve gone through difficult times with them. When we say we know people, we aren’t talking about things that can be tabulated in a spreadsheet—we’re talking about subjective, relational aspects of their personality and character.

It is through this kind of subjective relationship that we come to know God. Since we can’t really see God or have conversations with God, we don’t really have the option of knowing any objective facts about God. Our knowledge of God comes to us only by subjective means. I suppose that really isn’t a problem, though, because those objective details aren’t really important in the relationship anyway. Who cares how tall God is or what God’s favorite color is? What matters is God’s character—God’s commitment to faithfulness, honesty, justice, and love. And those are things that we can only know subjectively—through the experience of a life lived with God.

But there’s a problem: If we aren’t certain that God exists, how can we have any sort of relationship with God? If we’ve already acknowledged that God is latent—that in our experience God exists as potential—where can we go from there?

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), the answer to that question is faith. If we want to try to know God, at some point we have to start by trusting that God is there. We must take that leap of faith with the hope that, if we operate from the assumption that God exists, eventually we’ll rack up enough experience to know God subjectively. We start by trusting that God is there, and as we journey through life we have experiences that teach us who God is—and these become the foundation for our relationship with God. The more we experience God, the deeper our relationship becomes and the more we understand who God is. God is increasingly revealed to us through relationship.

It may seem like we’re trying to build a castle on a toothpick—trying to build a solid knowledge of God on a risky little assumption—but that really isn’t the case. What we’re trying to do is to replace the objective assumption of God’s existence with the subjective knowledge of who God is. The assumption of God’s existence isn’t a foundation that we’re trying build upon—it’s the starting point of our journey.

But all this talk about relationships brings us to another important question: Is this latent God relational?

We can only hope.

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