I once had a boss who talked to someone else about me before he really knew me. They told him their opinion about me, which wasn’t great, and then he thought he knew all he needed to know. As it turned out, it didn’t even really matter in the long run if what he had been told was right or wrong. He assumed he knew what motivated me, and for the entire time I worked with him he interpreted everything I did to fit what he thought he knew about me. His relationship with me was filtered by what he had been told before he even really knew me. It got in the way of ever getting to know me as an actual person, and in the end it was too toxic for any productive relationship to ever develop.
Sometimes I think we do that with God. We can’t sit down with him at a kitchen table and ask him to tell us about his life. We read about him in the Bible. Some of us who are diligent or have years to spend on it learn a lot about God. Most of us learn about what he said from other people, second hand. We read books about him, or we listen to preachers. Those are good things, but they aren’t the same as having a relationship.
Knowing about someone is no substitute for knowing them personally.
Christianity does include theology, and religion, and learning, and world view. But those things aren’t the heart of our Christian life, if we are really walking with God. At the heart of our Christian life is a relationship with a real Person. I don’t believe and trust God because I’ve read that he’s there and that he’s powerful and trustworthy. I believe and trust God because I know him and I’ve seen what he is like and what he does in my life. That’s what real relationships are like.
I need to be careful to not give the impression that I think theology is bad. On the contrary, theology is very important. When we love someone we want to know all we can about them. God has told us a lot about himself in the Bible. If you love him, you will want to know what he’s said about himself. You’ll want to read about how he was faithful in the lives of countless others who have gone before. You’ll want to know what he’s said about what he wants and doesn’t want from us. Not only that, but you’ll want to help other people understand what he’s really like if they have misconceptions about him.
But we can’t substitute theology for relationship. Our theology is faulty. It is made up of human interpretation of what Scripture tells us. It involves human wisdom. These things are not perfect. Our best theology is flawed. There is so much that the Bible doesn’t tell us at length that we really want to know. So we make our theology systematic so that we can bring more sense to it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is no substitute for knowing God. Don’t let your theology become your idol.
Here’s the thing. God is real. The Father is a real Person. The Holy Spirit is real too, and he’s acting today in your heart and mine. He illuminates Scripture to us. He speaks to our hearts. He leads us in our daily lives, if we’ll listen. He’s doing stuff, in you (if you belong to him) and all around you. He is all knowing, all powerful, fully present everywhere, and he loves you more than you can imagine. He’s not faithful and full of grace and forgiving and blessing you in some abstract philosophical sense. He’s really like that, really doing that, right now in your life. Don’t substitute theology and religion for knowing and experiencing true relationship with the real Person.
It is interesting to me that God has chosen to not be as clear as we would like him to be on some things. My son asks lots of questions about eternity. What was it like before God made the world? What will heaven be like? There’s plenty we just don’t know much about. It’s tempting to fill in the gaps. We would like to make end times prophecies more clear than God has made them. We’d like to understand the Trinity better, and to know more about the process of creation. I have tons of “Why?” questions that the Bible just doesn’t fully answer. It isn’t that God couldn’t have explained these things better. The Bible we have is exactly what he’s chosen to say in his Word.
Don’t start with your theology and then try to get God to fit in the box you’ve built for him. It doesn’t work. God is who he is, independent of whether or not we believe the right things about him or even believe in him at all. Many of the people who rejected Jesus when he came to Earth rejected him because he didn’t fit in the box of their theology. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy to be working so hard at being a good Christian that you leave out Christ, as a person with whom you can have an actual relationship? Theology is important, but it is much more important to know God than to know about God.
In your daily walk with him, don’t focus on religion and practices and lists and knowledge. Turn your heart toward God. When you read his Word, read it as one who is pursuing a relationship. Read what he’s said as if you’re reading something written for you by someone you love, rather than like you’re reading a history book or a manual.
The same God who you read about in the Bible is with you now. He hasn’t changed. What you believe about him doesn’t change who he is at all. God is real. He is actively at work today. He’s here, right now. He wants you to have a relationship with him personally, because he loves you personally.