What dictates our relationship with God? Do we seek out the “golden calf” of our times just to have something to worship or do we simply rely on cosmic fate and destiny? Where do we go to increase our faith: fallible man or infallible God? What does it mean to fall out of faith and why does it happen?
I feel like I have been exposed a lot lately to the sad fact that we limit the scope of our relationship with a “higher power” by basing it on man (and/or woman). I heard a sermon not too long ago about the story of the golden calf. For those who haven’t heard of it, it can be found in Exodus 32. As a synopsis, the story tells of Moses ascending a mountain to receive the infamous Ten Commandments from God and in the meantime, the Israelites lost hope and therefore forced the next in command to construct an idol or another god for them to worship. The lesson taught in the sermon was about how we set ourselves up for failure because we base our faith on another man and when that man leaves, fails, or otherwise disappoints us, our hope and faith follows suit.
Why do we formulate our ideas about God based on the actions (or inactions) of man? I’ve heard some say that if God truly loves us, why is this world the way it is and if He doesn’t love us, then why should I care what He has to say? It actually saddens me that we take this stance (including myself). It saddens me because we are missing the mark. It bothers me because we allow others to have such a huge influence over us, suffer the consequences of it, and then blame God for letting it all happen. It’s hurtful to us and it’s hurtful to others. Certainly, this can expand into a multitude of tangents such as cognitive behavior, what goes around comes around, and even cosmic fate and manifest destiny. These tangents however would distract from my point: man is not God and therefore should not be used as the deciding factor in our search for His truth.
I say “His truth” as a general concept. It is meant to represent our personal understanding of God. Notably, we all have different understandings of God. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that we all have a unique understanding and experience of God. I must return to a point I am sure I have made many times already in my writings: if we want to know about someone, why do we go to others instead of ask them directly? In reiterating this question, I realize that there are actually good answers:
Trust – do we think we will get the honest answer?
Knowledge – do we know who to ask?
Ability – Can we ask?
Articulation – What do we ask and how do we ask it?
Availability – When do we ask, is there a certain protocol?
The uncertainties in life cause us to want to know and understand more, naturally. The problem is not the question, nor is it the answer. It is, rather, where we go for the answers. “Ok,” I can imagine someone thinking, “so if in this situation we don’t feel like we can go to God and you are saying we shouldn’t go to man, then where do we go?” This very question is the question that drives the seeker. My immediate answer would be, “Go to God directly,” based on my own personal experience. Is this not the mission of Christians around the world? The very mission that Christ calls believers to is to direct others to Him. The interesting thing is that I say this not because it is a religious command, but because that is the best answer I know from experience. My experience in “going to God” with my problems, my burdens, my trials in life is that He sets us free. Yes He will answer us honestly. Yes He is the one to ask. Yes we can ask Him whenever we want to. There is no specific way to talk to Him other than honestly. But who am I that you should believe what I am saying and who are you to tell me I am wrong? Likewise, who am I to say you are wrong for your views? If we focus on those elements, then we distract from the point altogether. I feel as though we let our hang-ups in our relationships with fellow humans affect our relationship with God. We understand that it is unfair to hold the actions of one person against someone else (such as treating your current spouse in a manner that reflects how you were treated in a previous marriage), then why do we do it with God? Maybe we served a god in the past that did not meet up to our expectations. Maybe the one true God doesn’t meet up to your expectations. Herein lies the conundrum: how do we seek out a God we are not sure even exists and why should we?
I have met many people in various stages of their journey in regards to their relationship with God. I am always excited to hear how they got to where they are now. Like meeting a fellow traveler on the Appalachian Trail, stories are shared, advice may be given, etc. but there is always an opportunity to learn. In what I have gathered, the biggest stumbling block in one’s relationship with God is other people. I have yet to meet someone say that they woke up one day and stopped believing or that God told them to turn away from Him and stop following Him (maybe I have not met enough people in the world). I have heard, however, of and from others who have seemingly “fallen out of faith,” or “fallen away from the church.” This is a result of their relationship with other people. Maybe it was an entire congregation of church staff. Maybe it was a spiritual mentor who betrayed someone’s trust. For the longest time, it didn’t make sense to me how a person or group of people could negatively affect someone’s relationship with God. It would be akin to saying that someone at work ruined my relationship with my dad. Then I started thinking about the other side, people helping someone increase their faith. We have growth groups, church congregations, seminars, VBS, weekend retreats, the list is endless. The common denominator: a person or persons.
I should note that what I am talking about here is not whether these things are good or bad, but rather I’m discussing the fact that they are elements through which our faith can be increased or decreased. They are events or persons that can help us along the way. However, our faith should never rest on one thing or person alone that is not God Himself.
In reflecting once again on the story of the golden calf, let’s think about being in a relationship with someone. You have a girlfriend/boyfriend and after being together for a long time, the individuals in the couple become friends with their partner’s friends. A good example would be me and my ex-wife. We became friends with each others’ friends and all was good until we split up. In any breakup we can acknowledge the rapid decline of these extra “friendships” that were developed. My relationship with her friends was totally dependent upon my relationship with her and vice versa. Once the split happened, even though some of us (or them) might have wholeheartedly meant to stay in touch or remain friends, it didn’t happen. Why? Because that relationship was dependent upon the original relationship. Once the foundational relationship suffered or no longer existed, the dependent relationships declined. This is evident even if two people in a relationship are currently going through a rough time. If I’m fighting with my wife, my relationship with her friends will in turn be hindered. When our foundation of faith in God is dependent upon a relationship with another, once the original relationship suffers(and it will), then our faith and relationship with God will also suffer.
It is possible that I have not yet experienced enough in my own life or maybe haven’t talked to the right people yet to understand my next point: you cannot “fall out of faith.” True faith in God is not something you can lose. I imagine that our humanistic way of thinking would lead us to believe that we can. We lose faith in people all the time. They abandon us, disappoint us, betray our trust, etc. However, we must recognize that God is not like man. If He was, then He wouldn’t be God. I can understand someone feeling doubtful or even that they feel “low on faith” because they are simply having a hard time trusting God about something. However, faith is something that builds upon itself. Additionally, faith in God does not come from man, it comes from God Himself. Why then would He take it away from us? I have come to the conclusion that if someone has “fallen out of faith” then they never really had faith in God in the first place. This isn’t to say they did anything wrong, but rather that the faith they thought they had or were told they had, never existed in the first place because it was actually faith in someone or something other than God. Instead, it was dependent upon the faith and/or direction of another and once that relationship changed, so did their relationship with God. You could have been just following along with what you were taught as a kid even though you never really believed it. Maybe you went along with it because your spouse was a believer. Maybe you just wanted to fit in. Maybe you believed in the teachings of someone and when that person contradicted themself, your faith went along with your trust for that person: it disappeared. This is the danger in relying on man (including ourselves) for faith and belief. Faith and belief is not a man-made institution. If our faith and belief in God is man-made, then it is not genuine and therefore will falter and crumble.
In knowing what it is we search for, we must first understand what it is we are seeking. Unfortunately, our only experience in relationships is that with other men (or women). It isn’t until we fully comprehend who God is that we can know what it is we are to believe in. God is pure, unblemished and perfect love. Aside from God, we see love as having fault because it is with other people. Since we all accept that no person is perfect, then their love cannot be perfect. Furthermore, if we use that standard (the standard set forth by men) to try to understand God, then we are equating God with man, and therefore God remains a being that is not set to be revered more than any man we know. If we look at God with the standard of man, then surely He won’t be God at all, but another man. Then we enter the cycle of not seeking God or not believing in God because we have been led to believe He is no greater than man.
I’ve also noticed recently that in our seeking of God, we try to learn about Him before starting a relationship with Him. This is counterintuitive to how it works. This is the same reason why in military intelligence collection, the best source of raw information about someone is through a relationship with them, not other facts that are gathered outside of that relationship. When starting a relationship, we don’t know everything about the person, do we? We might know a couple things, things that attract us to enter a relationship with them, but we don’t know them until we put in the work of the relationship over the course of years. I mean, if a guy likes a girl, he might do some “research” by asking his or her friends about her, stalk her Facebook page, or look her up in the phone book, but he really won’t know her until he pursues her and starts and continues the relationship with her, right? So then why do we spend so much time trying to learn about God without actually starting, building, and continuing the relationship with Him?
It is the hope that God offers us that is the attractant and the reason to start the relationship. It is the follow through on the promise that makes the relationship worthwhile. We should know that in understanding that God is pure, unblemished, and perfect love, we do not get to experience or affirm that until we enter the relationship with Him.
Who do you base your faith on? Is it your parents, your siblings, or your pastor? Do we have faith in their guidance or faith in God’s love? Do we seek the acceptance of man by his standards or God by His? Are we caught in the cycle of insanity that is trying to have a relationship with God through the standards of men? How long will we let fallible man affect our relationship with an infallible God?