Untangling the "God relationship" problem

Updated: Jul 14, 2019



Shedding religion is typically a volatile but liberating experience. Many of the religious beliefs and practices that people leave behind open new doors for personal growth, and a more authentic and meaningful spirituality. It can also leave a void. Some people express missing the closeness and intimacy they once felt with God.

For example, “relationship with God” was the centerpiece for many people involved in Christianity. The idea is based on the premise that God is a person/human-like being and relates to people directly and individually through the avenue of interpersonal relationship, which includes elements such as two-way communication, the expression of love and caring, and a mutually satisfying and intimate closeness. Over the years there has been many people who have shared with me their feelings of failure and shame because they were not able to experience "relationship with God" in ways that were described or told they should.

Christians often use the phrase, "Christianity is not a religion but a relationship." In my view, telling people that a person can relate and interact with God like two human beings interact and relate to one another can be misleading and damaging. I cannot, for example, relate to or interact with animals, the stars, flowers, music, or the sunset in the exact same way I relate to or interact with my best friend. I would think it would be patently obvious that two human beings interacting and relating could not be replicated by one human being interacting with a non-material reality. This possibility is held out in Theism in which God is presented as a person-like being, and expressed through anthropomorphism in the Bible. People report having all kinds of different religious and spiritual experiences, but it's a whole other thing to tell people that they "should" be able to relate to and interact with "God" in the same way they might relate to their best friend and that this is the litmus test for true Christianity/spirituality. I have seen the damage this mentality has done in people's lives. I enjoy and find deep meaning in the different ways I relate to life in all its many different expressions. Our religious and spiritual experiences are unique to each of us, and we shouldn't afflict people with our should's. God isn't a "papa" in the same way as your earthly father, the Holy Spirit is not your "lover," and Jesus is not your "boyfriend." And that's okay.

People who shed religion often deconstruct their idea of “God” in a way that no longer makes “personal relationship with God” a reasonable proposition. However, it should be noted that even the Bible itself refers to God as spirit, and many people understand that the anthropomorphic descriptions of God in the scriptures are not meant to be taken literally.

This discussion begs the question of the veracity of the “personal relationship” experiences people purport to have with God. The options are:

1. God is a human/person-like being and these experiences are real. 2. God is not a human/person-like being and these experiences are imagined or fabricated. 3. God is not a human/person-like being but these experiences are real and valid to the person.

A further explanation of #3 is that people equate spiritual experiences of love, peace, serenity, comfort and belonging as an encounter with a human/person-like God. People are taught to seek these experiences through practices such as prayer, Bible study, other spiritual disciplines and church worship. In the context of these experiences, people often have feelings of peace, belonging, comfort and love.

Regardless of whether these feelings are the result of a direct encounter and experience with a personal God, it is real to them. In other words, in those moments when people have these meaningful and profound inner experiences, they take them as God directly and personally relating to them.

The purpose of this post is not to judge whether a person’s God-experiences are real or not real. One cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, which means you can’t prove or disprove one’s experiences of God.

This post is for people who no longer believe in the notion of God as a person or human-like being, and feel a void because they were conditioned into having their core emotional needs being met within the framework of “personal relationship with God,” which they no longer believe exists.

An alternative is to open oneself to deeply meaningful and profound experiences of love, serenity, peace, comfort, connection and belonging along the everyday paths of life. These can be felt through everyday experiences if a person is present and open to them in any given moment. I enjoy photography and have found that the most ordinary scenes or subjects can produce a sense of joy, beauty, wonder, serenity and a deep sense of connection with other humans, nature, the universe and all living things.

I have found that the source of love, peace and wholeness is not a supernatural human-like religious God up in the sky who comes to me in the form of an interpersonal relationship. Instead, I have found that the most sacred, divine, deeply meaningful and profound experiences I have, come to me as a natural part of my human experience. Jesus himself blurred the lines between what is “divine” and what is “human.” He said he was both simultaneously. Whatever “God” is or could be, it’s not a religious compartment or located in some being up in the sky or separate from my experiences as a human being.

The possibility of these experiences is always available, and the deciding factor has to do with my openness, and awareness of how life comes to me in the present moment. Having said that, we can get carried away with some elaborate explanation about how to “be present in the moment.” It's not that complicated. We can also falsely assume that life should be one love or serenity experience after another. That’s not real. Life is also sadness, sorrow, hardship and difficulty. They are also the human moments that shape and deepen us.

These kinds of matters often come up in the work I do with people who are transitioning out of religion. In many cases, their lives were damaged through an assortment of toxic religious beliefs and mindsets. Spiritual abuse and religious trauma is an unfortunate reality for many people. If you are one of those people and want to know more about the religion recovery work I do, send me an email at jimpalmerauthor@gmail.com

Breaking free from a toxic religious background is one of the most difficult things a person will ever do. You don't have to walk this path alone. I created the Life After Religion Course to support and guide people through the process of recovering from spiritual abuse and harmful religious indoctrination. The course subjects include: making peace with your religious past; dealing with relationship fallout; undoing religious pathology; navigating spiritual crisis; new ways of approaching life's existential questions; cultivating new mindsets for personal liberation; exploring what spirituality is for you Visit this link to learn more and enroll.


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