Many times we are frustrated when God doesn’t interact with or respond to us the way we expect. The problem though is not with God, it is with us, or more specifically, the problem is with our expectations. We expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with our best friend. Maybe more accurately, we expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with ourselves. I wouldn’t do this to me, so why does God do it?
Others may require empirical evidence to believe in God. They do so because they require empirical evidence to believe in anything. The problem is they are applying the nature of their relationship with the world to their relationship with God. They expect to relate to God on the same terms as they relate to everything else. But God is unlike anything else in the world. He is beyond the world. He is before the world. And, lest we forget, he is the maker of the world. As children at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY will be learning tomorrow: God is the first and best of beings.
So we should not expect to relate to this God the way we would relate to anyone else. It is like traveling to space, not seeing God, and then concluding that he must not exist. It is like create an absolute assertion, such as “God would not let suffering and evil exist,” observing suffering and evil, and then concluding God mustn’t exist. C.S. Lewis argued that if God exists, we shouldn’t expect to relate to him the way a person on the first story of a house relates to a person on the second story. God isn’t just someone who lives “up there.” He isn’t merely “the man upstairs.” So, everything we know or could know about God isn’t left up to our empirical devices or investigative abilities. Our relationship with God is entirely dependent on God’s desire to relate to us–something he has no obligation to do.
We know as much about God as God wants us to know. My brother, Michael, has gained much insight from Tim Keller’s teaching that we are on need-to-know terms with God. So, questions that require information or explanation that we have not been given should be approached with humility and shouldn’t be a stumbling block to our faith. We are on a need-to-know basis with God. But what we need to know is fully supplanted and revealed by God in his Word.
If we do not relate to God empirically or in a way similar to our human-human interactions, how do we relate to him? Working from C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Seeing Eye,” Tim Keller believes we relate to God the way Hamlet relates to Shakespeare.
Our relationship to God…is more like Shakespeare’s relationship to Hamlet. How much will Hamlet know about Shakespeare? Only what Shakespeare writes about himself into the play. Hamlet will never be able to find out anything about his author any other way. In the same way…we can’t find God just by going to higher altitudes. We’ll only know about God if God has written something about himself into our life, into our world. And he has (Encounters with Jesus, 55-56).
Keller then moves to show how the gospel works out of this relationship.
God looked into our world–the world he made–and saw us destroying ourselves and the world by turning away from him. It filled his heart with pain (Genesis 6:6). He loved us. He saw us struggling to extricate ourselves from the traps and misery we created for ourselves. And so he wrote himself in. Jesus Christ, the God-man, born in a manger, born to die on a cross for us (56-57).
Your relationship with God is not determined by your ability to discover him. It is based on God’s desire, resolve, and action to discover you. He writes himself into the story of the world. Without this initiative, we would know nothing about God. And worse, we would not know God. Praise God that though we could never find him no matter how hard we looked, he came and found us to bring us back to him.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.