For the past couple of days I’ve been speaking with a coworker of mine about various churches approach on faith. I’ve struggled quite a bit with how to deal with a particular hurdle regarding what is taught. Not that anything is wrong . . . I just couldn’t quite put a finger on it though. At first glance a person would say that it has to do with the education level of the pastor but that’s not it . . . so I was stuck. Tonight though I over heard someone make a comment regarding a church they had grown up in and I over heard the phrase, “They taught religion, not relationship . . . ” and BAM, I had what I was searching for.
So I know my own understanding of Religion and Relationship but to make sure I headed over to Dictionary.com to see what they had to say about the two words. I found what I thought I would, while Religion has 6 different definitions most of them have to deal with a set of edicts that a person “does” in practicing faith or establishing a world view. Relationship on the other had has 4 definitions which center around a “connection”. Well what does this mean in the broader scope?
If I have religion which is a rule set by which I live my life . . . what do I do when something runs contrary to my rules? Do I pretend it doesn’t exist? Do I ignore? Do I hate? Do I toss out my beliefs because something more has come along? If I believe in an all loving and caring God then how do I answer those who ask about why children die of cancer . . . or worse? It’s God’s will? Really? If it’s God’s will that children die then how can He be all loving? But if it’s not of His will then does that mean He’s not all powerful? It’s a very slippery slope when all you rely on is religion.
So what about Relationship? Well, by relationship I’m not relying on my own rule sets but I’m getting to know God through my “connection” or relationship with Him. So now in knowing God and the character of God what does that afford me? I can respond better to questions that don’t fit a certain previously established parameter . . . because now I’m not just reading a script . . . I’m answering from my heart which is “connected” to and with God. Now, that doesn’t make the tough questions any easier . . . why do children suffer? If God is all powerful then why doesn’t He obliterate evil and remove all the pain from the world? Good question . . .
Because of a relationship, I know that it’s not God’s will that a person be sick or in pain . . . I also know that we live in a fallen world. That it is not as God intended. I know that God holds back on His power to reveal more of His character. If God were to make us nothing more than robots with no will of our own then where is the glory when we worship Him? Isn’t it better when our children respect our guidelines out of love rather than blind obedience? Now . . . I’m not going to be able to answer all the questions raised concerning the “why” of things in this post . . . perhaps ever . . . but my point has to do with the difference between religion and relationship.
If I had nothing more than a religious understanding of my father then I would have no idea how he would react at the news of me getting married, having my first daughter, or the second. Because of the relationship that I had with dad I know that he’d flirt with my wife, pester Littlefoot, and be bursting at the seems to hold the one on the way. Now because of the relationship with my father I followed his rules out of love. Isn’t there a difference between the statements:
- I follow God’s law so He’ll love me
- Because God loves me I follow God’s law
See the difference in attitude and approach? In the first it’s something we have to earn, as if we could ever have anything to do with earning God’s love or favor. This puts a person on par with every other religion in the world. If you do enough good deeds or make enough pilgrimages or enough sacrifices or kill enough infidels then I’ll earn my way into God’s favor. I know it seems harsh but if you think that your Christian faith is something that you earn . . . then it’s really no different isn’t it? What makes God “God” is the fact that we don’t deserve His favor and love and that there’s no way we could ever earn our way to Him. But still His love sent His Son to die on a cross in our stead. The cross establishes a bridge to where we can come to the throne of God above and commune with Him.
I fear at times that we’re so busy with our religion that we miss the relationship . . . you could argue that relationship can look like religion at times but it can never replace it. Without a relationship with the Father where we’re “connected” to the source of life we’re about as useful as a thumb that’s been chopped off and set on a table. Oh we may twitch for a minute or two . . . but in the end we’re nothing but a rotting, smelly, pile of decomposing flesh . . . the walking dead. In Matthew 23:27 Christ compares the Pharisees, who were some of the most religious of their day, to white washed tombs. It’s definetly not about what church you go to . . . a person can be in a body of believers that focuses on religion and still have a relationship. And a person can be in a body of believers that focus on relationship and have a heart of religion. Relationship is a heart knowledge . . . not just following some rules in a book . . . it’s basking in the presence of an Almighty God. Praise be to Him forever!