Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Is it Religion or Relationship?

"Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

-C.S. Lewis

When I first heard this quote, many years ago now, I thought it was strange. I remember thinking, "C S Lewis, you're smart guy, an educated guy, and this sounds a little mushy." This idea about God loving us no matter how we've acted, or if we even love Him back, made me angry. You see I had decided that Christianity, to be real and meaningful, should contend with other religions. By this I mean that it should be rational, manageable, and defendable, have goals and conclusions, etc... For me, Jesus either had to make sense scientifically -by answering big questions-, or have a process to be followed like other religions. If faith was a fight, I wanted a worthy contender.

In Buddhism if you don't follow a certain path than you will never achieve Nirvana, and be trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth. In Hinduism, if you don’t make sacrifices or give right praise to the Gods they could turn on you. Orthodox Judaism still maintains hundreds of laws about purity and morality, essential to knowing God and getting blessed. There's a formula to most of the world’s religions. So what was the formula for following Jesus?

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of Christian literature that tries to put formulas to Jesus. You have probably read some of them, maybe even studied them in a small group. Books with title such as:

"Seven Steps to a Strong Marriage"
"Three Ways to Know God"

Lots of sermon series try and use formulas as well...
"Five Ways to Connect to God!! Week 1: Have you tried the Internet?"

I think these formulas can help people's marriages and help them connect to God... But I don't think they're very biblical. In the Old Testament they tell storys and poetry to teach lessons. And the New Testament isn't much help either, it's full of parables and letters... Heck! What am I supposed to do with the Revelation???

"12 Marks of the Beast for Your Prayer Life! Buy Now before the Apocalypse!"

No! The bible is freaking useless when it comes to formulas for life! In the book of Job, Job asks God "Why me God? Why do bad things happen to good people?" And God says things like, "Where were you when I created the earth? Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise? And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?" (Job 38: 4-9)

God doesn't answer Jobs question; in fact, he throws in a bunch of NEW questions!

People ask Jesus, "What is the kingdom of Heaven like?" And he responds with,” It’s a treasure that someone stumbles upon in a field." "Jesus, what is faith like?" "Well... it’s kind of like a mustard seed."

What was a I supposed to do with this? When you actually sit down and read the bible it seems like most of it is grey area, rather than black and white answers. And the worst support for Jesus as a powerful Messiah, ready to show the world the power and mightiness of God? The Cross. What are we supposed to do with a God that let people gossip about him, run him out of town, arrest him, kill him?.... And not only let them do all that, but forgive them for it! Love them even!!

Show me a beliefe system that lets that happen. Where's the formula for this kind of God? How do I begin to follow a being such as this one? Jesus says, love me and others like I love you and all that stuff will work itself out.

... love?

In the Song of Solomon, the God character is described as a Bride-groom romancing his Bride (us as the Church). Is the Bible telling us we are married to God? Later on in the Bible, God asks the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute as a symbol of God's love for his wandering people. So we cheat on God?

It seems to me the Bible is making a clear argument for a REATIONSHIP with God. And it's messy, and we cheat, and there's bitterness and we're unsure how to love this God the "right way." This sure sounds like love to me.

Christian Author Donald Miller puts it this way, "Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon."

God has loved us, loves us now, and will forever love us. And the best part? There is nothing we could EVER do to make him love us less. There is no formula that can hold our God. His mercy is BIGGER than how good we can be. His love outmatches our best praise. The Bible says Jehovah extends farther than the galaxies and yet is closer to us than our very breath.

You see, followers of Jesus understand (as other religions do) that God is powerful and beyond our understanding. But Jesus followers also understand that humanity gets strength, meaning, and purpose from relationships. Pastor/Author/Speaker Rob Bell has said that some religions are very powerful, but not very personal. And sometimes, the Christian religion waters down Jesus until he is purely a close friend you should hang out with (aka: have you accepted Jesus into your heart?), and so the message is personal but not very powerful.
But God invites us into something that is both personal and powerful. Its love that "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13).
So now may you live in full knowledge that the way of Jesus is bigger than formulas. May you build a meaningful relationship with your creator, one that is personal and powerful. And may you invite others into the kingdom of God!

<><  Leigh

Derek Webb ("Wedding Dress")
Donald Miller ("Searching for God Knows What")
Rob Bell (Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, MI)
CS Lewis


  1. awesome post Leigh, i love it! so true, why do we continue to make Christianity about formulas? why do we try to simplify Jesus and his teachings? why do we put limits on Him and put Him in a box?
    life without formulas please!

    oh and dont forget.....
    1 man + 1 cross = 4given. :)

  2. thanks kel!! so makes me think of "the boundary breaking God"

    go danielle shoyer!

    also, how is 1 + 1 = 4? lol

    im sure its some church annecdote but i dont get it