So, how’s your relationship with God? Personal? Troubled? In love? Inert?
The question is helpful for some, but I’ve noticed others retreat. They feel like God isn’t speaking to them. Or their life is a struggle right now. If they felt safe enough to give an honest answer, they might respond like Job, “If only I knew where to find him” (Job 23:3).
Sometimes you’ve had the stuffing knocked out of you and you barely know which way is up. When you’re down, it doesn’t help to have someone say, “If God seems far away, guess who moved?” I guess Job’s friends are still with us: trying to get God off the hook by blaming the suffering individual.
Talking about a personal relationship with God may be misleading. It is personal in the sense that we are persons, in God’s image. But if personal means individual, we have the wrong framework.
Relationship with God is experienced primarily in community, not in isolation. Our deepest sufferings grow from isolation: solitary confinement, the grief of losing someone, the hurt of rejection, the deep loss we feel with death, divorce, distance, or disease.
People respond to isolation differently. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery, and jailed on false charges, but he knew “the Lord was with him” (Genesis 39:21, 23). When David suffered defeated by his enemies, his own people blamed him for their hurt and grief, so David felt completely alone: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) Isolation can feel like God has wronged you, your friends have turned on you, and you’re left with nothing but a dogged darkness (Job 19:6, 19; 24:17).
Truth is, we need each other. We experience God in each other. It might be better to describe our relationship with God as interpersonal rather than personal — knowing God in community rather than in isolation.
Despite their blaming theology, Job’s friends did one thing right. They sat with him. Initially they sat with him for a week. In silence. Letting him process his loss (Job 2:13). When they spoke, their accusations only added to his grief, but at least they stayed with him in his mess.
The truth is that none of us sees God directly. We see God in each other:
- God is present in the people who image him.
- Christ is present in the community that lives in him, his body.
- The Spirit is present in the people he regenerates, the living stones of God’s temple.
Even God experiences God in interpersonal relationship (trinity).
So perhaps we should shift focus. Instead of asking, “How’s your personal relationship with God?” ask, “How’s our corporate relationship with God?”
Let’s make the counter-cultural move from self to community, from personal progress to communal impact. The crucial question is whether people around us can see God in the community that lives in relationship with him (John 13:35).
The goal is not individuals having experiences of God. It’s a city, new Jerusalem, restored community under God’s governance.