Knowing that God has promised everyone heaven, knowing that there are important reasons for our being here on earth, knowing that there are consequences to all our behavior, and knowing that God regards our motives as paramount, all combine to give us a reason for waking up in the morning. We’re going to heaven and this very day brings us one step closer!
We don’t, however, have to wait until we get to heaven to enjoy a relationship with Him. On the contrary, knowing that we’re all going to heaven makes relating to God now all the more attractive. Anyone who’s that gracious is worth getting to know better…right away. And knowing that heaven is assured, means we don’t have to worry about saying or doing something that will cause Him to back out of the relationship. Since He’s promised us heaven, He’s obviously in this thing for the long haul!
A relationship with God, therefore, doesn’t suffer as much potential for breakdown as human relationships we’ve encountered. Ungraciousness and abandonment are all too common. Right off the bat, then, we know that a relationship with God is going to be different. Those differences sometimes so disorient people that they despair of a good relationship with God. If we patiently accept the building blocks of knowledge God has given us, however, we can come to an understanding that transforms life itself into a personal relationship with God.
Perceiving a Personal God
God divided each of our lives into connected little segments called days. Many people recognize that life is best lived in one of these segments at a time. Much more than that and we humans get overwhelmed. Even with the message of heaven, life is still best lived one day at a time. So, how will we live this day before us knowing that we’re going to heaven? Differently.
This difference is not one that others always see in us, for it’s a difference in consciousness. The method of living that the message of heaven inspires is a change in our daily thinking. This begins with the way we perceive our everyday surroundings.
We know that our physical surroundings are governed by laws. If I let go of my pencil, it will fall to the floor. The law of gravity makes sure of that. I don’t go around meditating on the law of gravity. It’s simply a part of my understanding about how life works. Therefore, if I’m carrying something breakable and precious I try to be very careful. Only on such special occasions does the law of gravity loom large in our minds. The operation of such laws are so constant that we can come to regard our surroundings as something of a machine. This makes creation seem impersonal to us.
The Bible is constantly sounding out the message, however, that behind the physical creation is a personal God. The Bible says that we humans were made in His image. The Bible also attributes to God the kinds of thoughts and feelings that we have. It further encourages us to imitate Him, something impossible to do if God is an impersonal force. The ultimate statement that God is personal comes when Jesus of Nazareth is understood to have been God in the flesh. His life, suffering, and death were intensely personal.
We must now rethink the scene surrounding us and recognize that a personal God lies behind all those laws. This shouldn’t be too difficult. If you had a parent who was faithful and dependable, you have someone to compare with God. A loving parent can be very warm and personal but also operate in ways that have all the consistency of laws. This may show up in a regularity of schedule, a strictness of discipline, a predictability of temperament, or something else. Therefore, constant physical laws and a personal God controlling them don’t necessarily conflict.
It does become a little more difficult to imagine a personal God running the universe when we see a little child fall off a bridge and drown. A loving father would jump off the bridge and rescue the child. When God, who is able to do far more than dive in, doesn’t prevent the child’s death, we begin to question whether God is personal, or whether He even exists. But if we remember what we’ve learned about the purpose of the creation and that the child is going to heaven at the moment of death, we can mesh in our minds an unyielding physical law with a merciful personal God. This doesn’t explain all the mystery of that scene, but it’s a good foundation with which to start.
Therefore, we live the day not before impersonal forces of creation, but before a personal God. It takes effort to build this into our thinking. Our normal state of mind has God as impersonal. This is not a conscious perception. If someone asks us if we believe God is personal, the idea then looms large in our minds and we affirm it. But that’s a different matter from carrying that idea around in our moment-by-moment consciousness – a point I’ll be emphasizing again and again.
Perceiving a Relating God
Not only do we want to redeem our daily consciousness from the assumption that God is impersonal, we also want to redeem it from the idea that God is distant. To do this, we simply have to give more attention to a couple of facts about Him that are already widely known. Little children say, “God is everywhere.” Theologians call that omnipresence. Little children also say, “He knows everything.” Theologians call that omniscience.
Let’s get a grip on this “omni” stuff. If God is everywhere and knows everything then He’s obviously not wanting to be separated from us. If He didn’t want to associate with us, why would He plant Himself in such a way that He could never avoid us? If He thought He was too good for us, He’d go where we weren’t. And if He didn’t want to hear all our problems, He’d fix it so He didn’t know everything. This “omni” stuff speaks volumes about God’s desire to consciously relate to each of us – if we think it through.
Think about this, too: How is it that we know He’s everywhere and knows everything? Sure, many people proclaim these facts about Him. But who told them? And why is it that on these points their voices resonate within us and find little argument with our deepest instincts? The only reasonable answer is that God has been spreading the word about Himself, not just through human voices, but through His own voice, deep in all human hearts. We couldn’t know of His omnipresence and omniscience if He didn’t want us to know about them. The fact that He has spread the word about Himself indicates that His omnipresence is not for the sake of secretly bugging all our conversations. If you just want to quietly spy on someone, you don’t tell them where you are. Broadcasting your presence is an invitation for contact!
Now catch this: If you’ve already heard the word about God not just from human voices but from your own heart, then you already have a relationship with Him. You’ve already “heard” Him talk to you. The very fact that your heart sounds an agreement with the idea of one true God is evidence of His having touched you. Therefore, you don’t need to be introduced to God. You already know Him. It’s just a matter of getting to know Him better than you already do.
Relating to God isn’t our idea, it’s His. He is the pursuer and we are the pursued. It’s so much easier to build a relationship when you have no doubts about the other person’s interest. God has taken the initiative; all we have to do is reciprocate. And because of His initiative, the relationship has already been launched. Therefore, relating to God is simply a matter of our being more responsive to Him.
In this regard, I think often of Helen Keller. When 19 months old, she was stricken by a disease that left her blind and deaf. When she was seven years old her parents employed for her a teacher, Anne Sullivan. The story of Helen’s relationship with Anne was reenacted in a play called The Miracle Worker. From a later television adaptation I recall seeing Helen in a temper tantrum, struggling against Anne’s gentle but firm grip. Anne patiently wrestled with Helen, never breaking the child’s spirit. After many such sessions, Anne was able to tap a code for the alphabet in the child’s hand, leading to direct communication. Once able to communicate with Anne, Helen overcame her temper tantrums and went on to live one of the most inspiring human lives ever recorded on earth.
God works that patiently with each of us. We are blind and deaf to the spiritual realm. We struggle against it, pulling and pushing, not quite knowing who or what resists us. That gentle but firm resistance comes from God who is trying to lead us to a greater understanding and more regular and edifying communication. His patience toward us and belief in us is like that of Anne toward Helen. God is the great spiritual “miracle worker.” And He’s been working with us from the time we were born.
Improving an Existing Relationship
Since we don’t have to introduce ourselves to God, we simply need to do those things that will strengthen our existing relationship. Indeed, life itself is a personal relationship with a God we’ve had trouble perceiving. Even though we still have trouble “seeing” and “hearing” Him, He is going to wrestle with us until we know Him face to face in heaven. Maybe the first thing we should do is relax a little. As Anne tapped a code into Helen’s palm, so God is patiently telling us to be more responsive to Him. To pick up what He’s saying doesn’t require more struggling, it requires less. Less struggling puts us in a position better hear Him…and be more responsive to Him.