I refuse. I absolutely refuse to go back to a god who is only interested in what I do, not who I am. I have no interest in a god who keeps score, who I have to appease by doing good things and avoiding bad things. A god who is more interested in institutes and forms and structures than he is in relationships.
The One True God is an intimate God. He is not impressed with my lousy attempts to keep rules. That kind of life just gets in the way of the intimate relationship he wants with each of us.
There is no other religion I know of other than Christianity where intimacy with its god is not only offered, it is demanded. What do we think we are saying when we repeat “God is love” if not that he wants to have an intimate relationship with us?
Some were not pleased with me writing earlier this week to say how God led me to buy a certain car a year ago, and how that car helped to save my son’s life in a serious accident. Some have said the only way God speaks to us today is through the Bible. This is the same Bible that shows us a God who invades lives on regular basis in the most intimate of ways. A God who delights in us as a lover delights in his beloved. A God who does not just request intimacy with us: He demands it.
So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11).
Michael Spencer wrote on this some years ago in an essay he called Our Problem With Grace. It is the essay that God used to begin messing in my heart in a huge way. Here are Michael’s opening words.
“Amazing Grace” may be the church’s favorite hymn, but I’m not the first person to notice that the subject of God’s actual grace seems to give many Christians a case of hives. Singing about it is way cool. After that we need a team of lawyers to interpret all the codicils and footnotes we’ve written for the new covenant.
I don’t really care whether we all agree on how to reconcile Paul’s justification by faith and James’s justification by works. I don’t care whether we agree on the application of the threat of Bonhoeffer’s sermons on “cheap grace.” I don’t care all that much about Catholic grace vs. Protestant grace or conservative grace vs. liberal grace, though I have my convictions. Grace as merely a point or a subpoint in theology seems rather bizarre to me. Grace is an all or nothing gig, not some percentage of the take. Get with it, or get out of the kitchen.
For me, the Gospel itself is “the Gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) The Bible is incomprehensible apart from grace. It is the tidal wave predicted in the first scenes, and it eventually arrives to soak everything and everyone in Jesus. Titus summarizes the incarnation and work of Jesus as, “the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” The New Covenant is grace and truth from Jesus, as contrasted with the law that came through Moses. (Consult Hebrews for the difference.) Every single New Covenant blessing comes through grace. Listing the scriptures that substantiate this would be woefully redundant to most of my readers. The air of heaven is grace. The heart of the Father is grace. The Good in the Good News is grace.
So why, I must ask, is it that we still have such a problem with grace? And if we cannot accept God’s grace in its pure, undiluted form, we will never be able to accept that this same God wants to have an intimate relationship with us. Part of the intimacy God longs to have with us comes in the form of a conversation. He wants to talk with us and then listen to us as we talk with him. A real live conversation.
Sure, there are many who have abused the intimacy that God wants to have with them. Look, I live in the “Charismatic capital” of the United States, if not the world. I attended the only “Charismatic university,” Oral Roberts University. I taught there. Don’t think I haven’t seen and heard abuses of “God told me…” That does not mean, however, that God doesn’t long to have an intimate relationship with each of us today. He wants to talk with each of us if we will but listen.
Would any of you consider a relationship to be “intimate” if there was no conversation? If your spouse gave you a list of things he or she wanted you to do on your wedding day, and then sat back and kept score as to how well you did them? In most countries, that would be referred to as “slavery.” Unfortunately, many people see that as how God relates to us. “Here are the scriptures, a collection of books written over a period of a couple of thousand years, from cultural perspectives that don’t match up to anything known today, with ancient laws as their foundation. Now, I want you to follow these precisely. I’ll be back to check up on you. Don’t screw up or else.” Â Is that really the way of the God whom we so glibly say loves us so?
(We have talked about the role of the Bible in the life of the believer in the past, and I’m sure we will yet again. Don’t think I am saying scriptures are not inspired or are not for today. I’m not saying that at all. Here it is in a nutshell: The Bible has one main purpose: To reveal God to us through his son, Jesus. When we try to make it do something else we are getting ourselves—and usually others around us—into trouble.)
So why do so many of us have trouble accepting an intimate relationship with God?
Because the times we have tried to have intimate relationships with other humans we have been hurt.Yes, that is painful. The closer you get to someone, the more opportunity that someone has to hurt you, and hurt you deeply. Yes, I do know this from experience. And for many our first reaction is to shut out any other attempts at intimacy, thus beginning a protracted period of soul suicide. It is said that for most of us, we cannot really accept the idea that God is a loving Father until we have been healed of the image we have of our earthly father. In order to get past this, we must trust God is not going to hurt us.
If we get too intimate with God, he may look into areas of our lives we would rather he not. Ok, that’s all of us. We all have things we are none too happy to have brought into the light. But we are thinking of God as some kind of inquisition policeman, looking for bad stuff in us in order to accuse us and ultimately destroy us. Here is a little secret: He already knows everything. Those parts of you that you have pushed so far down not even you can see them any longer? He knows those things. You need to trust that he is wanting to heal you, not punish you.
Intimacy is too good to be true. Well, you are right in this one. It is too good to be true. The perfect God wanting to know us as we are in our messy lives? This God wanting to enter right in to where we are without condemnation? Jesus wanting to touch lepers? Yes, it is true: He does want to. All we need to do is trust that he wants us as we are. Let the healing begin.
This is not how I was taught in my church. Yeah, sorry about that. There is a lot of that going around. Sermons saying, “All is forgiven. Go and enjoy life to its fullest” don’t quite have the punch of sermons where we are given a list of things we need to do to please God. Joel Osteen aside, I would rather listen to a “word of faith” preacher than a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” preacher any day. It is up to us to trust that God really has forgiven us and invites us to now live beyond our death into the life of the Son of God who lives in us.
Do you see a pattern here? The way we enter into intimacy with God is byÂ trust. ByÂ faith. Not by doing good things, right things, proper things. Trust in him alone. And this brings us back to grace, that word and concept we have so much trouble with. We want to balance grace with what we need to do. “It’s not all grace,” someone will write in the comments to this. Wrong. It is all grace. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater. Grace that is sufficient. There is no other way to have an intimate relationship with God. He wants to be our lover, not our employer. Your timecard of good works no longer merits you a thing. Throw it away.
God as our lover. Now there is something to throw you a curve. How about this? God wants to have a wild, crazy love affair with you. (And if you think using sexual imagery is inappropriate when discussing the kind of relationship God wants to have with you, then you will need to throw out your Bible, for it is full of such descriptions. It’s amazing we are even allowed to bring such a sex-filled book into church with us each week.) He wants to be intimate with you. Does that scare you? It does? Good. I think you’re beginning to understand now.