Bret: I’m speaking to Andrea of the blog “Write Down the Revelation.” Andrea, how would you define your religion? And feel free to go beyond just “Christian.”
Andrea: Religion is a set of rules to keep people in line. It is based on fear of punishment. I am in a relationship with Jesus.
Bret: When did you become religious?
Andrea: I grew up within the Mennonite culture. It was religious - well meaning, but religious. I rebelled at the thought that God could be put in a box like that. I didn’t see that as a witness from the Bible but it’s what I experienced all around me. My “Christianity” was largely ineffective both in my own life to effect change and in others’ lives, as keeping rules tends to be. I finally became “irreligious” about 13 years ago, in 1998 and it’s been a journey into a relationship.
Bret: Is there one thing in particular which you think most people who are not Christian should know about Christianity? Feel free to go beyond just one thing if you get on a roll.
Andrea: This is one thing that I think people should know about Christianity, including many Christians: it is a relationship. God knows you, loves you and he wants to be known by you. It is not a dictatorship, or a set of rules.
God could not love you any more than he does right now. It doesn’t matter if you acknowledge him or not, it doesn’t matter if you grow the biggest church, it doesn’t matter if you pray and read your Bible regularly, it doesn’t matter if you perform miracles and clear cancer from your city. God loves you the same.
Through Christ, and by faith, we are a new creation. You can be born a sinner, but you can not be born again as a sinner. Many Christians live defeated lives, which attracts no one. I don’t want that kind of gospel. In fact, it’s not a gospel at all because gospel means good news.
Bret: How would you respond to the millions of people who say there is no one on the other end of the relationship with God? Are we not trying hard enough?
Andrea: The short answer is they don’t have a relationship. It isn’t about trying hard, it’s about being.
Bret: That’s a very Buddhist way of looking at Christianity. However, it seems odd to me that a being who wants a relationship with someone, and who loves them, would not oblige because the person is trying too hard. Is God a guy who likes to play games, or am I just completely not understanding what you said?
Andrea: When I say that we need to be, rather than try hard, what I mean is that we need to be in a relationship. When we try, it introduces rules and religion which is NOT what Christianity truly is. Being in a relationship means we actively try to please each other; and God pleases us, in the same way we please him. Think of any other type of relationship we can have: friend-friend, parent-child, husband-wife. My son doesn’t have to do anything to be in relationship with me; I will love him no matter what he does, even if he hurts me, I’ll still love him. Does that make sense?
Bret: It does make sense, but that isn’t the sense I get from the Bible. I read a post of yours called “Why Heaven Isn’t For You,” and it sort of raises some red flags. You seem very nonchalant about the fact that some people are, according to the Bible, going to burn in hell. I mean, I find your view to be more accepting and all, but I just don’t see it as the same message as what I get from the Bible. It’s not a matter of, “Well, it’s just not for everyone.” Do you have any feelings on this?
Andrea: There are two questions here, let me answer your first: am I nonchalant about people going to hell? No. Absolutely not. I desire that everyone comes to the full realization of who God is and what his desire for us is. The post was inspired by a conversation I had with my FIL (father-in-law). He’s agnostic and couldn’t fathom an eternity in heaven. It dawned on me that why should he? Heaven is about being and dwelling with Jesus, if he doesn’t have a relationship with him now, why should he want one for eternity? As an atheist, who believes that we live and die and that’s it, it’s a moot point, don’t you think?
In answer to your 2nd question/comment: I believe my views are very biblical. I love what I’ve found in my relationship with Jesus and I want to share my joy with others and I want them to have the same experience but it’s not a set of rules, which can only change things from the outside. A relationship changes the person - from the inside.
Bret: Maybe I read another Bible, but Jesus was big on rules. You mentioned that in a relationship, you want to please the other person. This is one way of saying there are no “rules,” like me and my wife have no “rules,” but there is still a basic understanding of what is expected, and unlike with a person, we don’t get our understanding of what God wants from God, but from the Bible... which is full of rules you have to follow to be on God’s good side. This isn’t to say Christians must follow all the rules (after all, there’s always forgiveness). I have noticed Christianity isn’t about “being good,” it’s about obedience. Am I off the mark?
Andrea: To be on God’s good side, we have to hide behind Jesus, by whom the wrath of God was satisfied. We live by grace, not law. Grace is above the law. Jesus was big on relationship, not rules. He ridiculed, chastised and called the rule keepers of the day (Pharisees), fools. I want to please my husband, so I find out what pleases him and I do it - often times to the sacrifice of myself. Don’t you do that for your wife? Is it about keeping rules with her? Obedience plays a role for reward, not for relationship.
Bret: Jesus opposed people who were what we might call today “fundamentalists,” but Jesus clearly supported many rules. He was opposing people who wouldn’t help a person out of a well on the Sabbath, not disregarding the entire morality of the Jewish tradition. If anything, Jesus added to the rules, usually with suggestions of what to do, rather than emphasizing what not to do (though Jesus had his fair share of pet peeves, and is obviously famous for driving money changers out of the temple with a whip).
I think what I’m trying to get at is... I’m not sure it’s such a good thing that Christianity does not encourage followers to be better people, and what’s more, I think obedience is a very dangerous trait in general. Is there any redeeming value in Jesus’ teachings if it encourages dangerous qualities in its followers and emphasizes that it’s not important to be a good person, only that individuals should aim to have a relationship with Jesus so they can get into heaven?
Andrea: The icing on the cake of relationship is that by it and through it, I become a better person, because I want to please the one I’m in a relationship with. The “fruit” as Christians like to call it, is what happens because of the relationship, it is not what we strive for. John 15 is a famous passage (perhaps only for Christians??) that says he (Jesus) is the vine and we (Christians) are the branches, any branch that is not connected to the vine does not bear fruit but the branches that are connected are pruned to bear fruit. It says, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.”
I also want to say in regard to your last question that heaven factors into my worldview because I am looking forward to dwelling face to face with Jesus but seeking a relationship with Jesus is not simply ‘fire insurance’. If what I experience now is all I’m ever going to experience, I would still be a Christian. The best news is that I can have my cake and eat it too.
Bret: You don’t ever feel threatened by all the food and livestock metaphors in the Bible?
Andrea: I don’t know what you mean by your last question, are you asking if I’m offended because Jesus calls me a sheep?
Bret: Well... apostles are fishers of men, Jesus is a shepherd to his flock, no fruit grows from seed that falls upon the ground or is eaten by birds... there’s a lot of instances where believers are food. You’re not the least bit worried that you’re just being groomed to be devoured by God?
Andrea: No. :)
Bret: I doubt the chickens in the chicken coup suspect a thing, either. I mean, this is all assuming there is a God, obviously, but it just seems very possible to me.
But more than whether God is lying or not, I worry about the human aspect of the Bible. Do you ever worry that you are not following in the footsteps of Jesus, but are instead following the path of those who claim to have followed him centuries ago, despite never having met Him?
Andrea: You and I came across each other because of a post I wrote about God speaking to me, you also said that you’ve spoken with God too. Although I have not seen God in bodily form, I do have conversations (I speak to him and he answers), I have visions and I see things that are beyond this reality. My relationship with God is EVERY bit as real as my relationship with my husband. If God has lied, I have not recognized it, perhaps you think that makes me a fool but I generally trust people at their word until proven false.
Bret: We should both ask God what number he’s thinking of and see if we get the same answer. Up for it?
Andrea: Let’s try this, let me ask God something about you, something specific. Let’s see if I can hear?
Bret: I feel like it would be more scientific if it was numbers, but we can go with that.
I like the old experiment, because it’s not about disproving God, it’s about seeing whether I’m talking to the same god that you are. What if you’re talking to a completely different god who knows me somehow? Er, what if I am, I’m sure you’re talking to THE God.
Andrea: Ok, numbers it is.
Bret: Okay, hold on, I need to light a candle or something. My wife just picked fresh basil, so maybe that will do. The whole room smells like pesto.
Okay, I got the number. I’ll write it out, then you write yours out when you get it, and when I see you send it through, I’ll just hit enter without altering the number... make sense?
Andrea: I’ve got a number. 2471
My god is obviously less mathematically advanced than yours. Now I’m wondering what happens in 2471... end of the world?
Andrea: Does the number 319 mean anything to you? Is it part of your phone number or a street address?
Bret: I have a 317 area code on my cell, that’s pretty close.
Andrea: On or off the record, let me tell you a story:
I’ve been practicing hearing God, so when I go to a grocery store, restaurant, etc., I ask God to give me a word of knowledge (a fact) about someone next to me. At the last election, I was standing behind a fellow and I asked if his name was Robert. He says no, then I ask, “Patrick?” He says no, his name is Don. A few seconds pass and I ask him if he is from Ontario? He says yes. Then I ask him if he’s from Southern Ontario. He says yes. I’m thinking Lemington but before I can ask, he offers that he’s from Burlington. (I gave myself half points for getting the ‘ington’ right).
Then he asks if I know a Robert from Burlington, I tell him that I’m practicing hearing God. Then he looks at me like the conversation is no longer fun and I’m a kookoo, unfortunately he can’t get away from me because he’s next in line to vote. I smile politely. About a minute later, I ask him one more thing, “Were you driving a tractor around 7 or 8 years old.” He looks at me and says, “Yes, but everyone did and that doesn’t impress anyone.”
I reply, “I didn’t know that and it impresses me.”
Bret: Everyone drove a tractor at 7 or 8? That’s news to me, too.
Andrea: God speaks and says things that are too explicit to be explained any other way. The only time there is error, is on the part of the hearer, not the speaker.
How and when did God speak to you? What did you do with what he told you? And why are you an atheist if you spoke with God, doesn’t that prove to you that he exists?
Bret: I think the problem is, I’m talking to the wrong gods. Plus, the gods told me themselves they don’t really exist.
Andrea: I believe I’ve read on your site that you were born into a Catholic family, what was your experience that led you to believe that God didn’t exist?
Bret: Well, I was raised Catholic. That’s enough to make anyone an atheist. Catholics produce some of the best atheists, from George Carlin to Bill Maher. I think the only religion that has us beat on producing important atheists might be Judaism.
Andrea: But what’s your testimony?
Bret: I don’t have a testimony. I’m not so much a witness as I am a lawyer in all of this. My job is just to not piss off the judge.
Andrea: Of course you have a testimony, everyone has a testimony. Who cares about the judge if you don’t believe in him anyway?
Bret: Sometimes the best judges are the ones you can’t even tell are there.
If you were to experience a relationship with God, like I have, do you think it would make a difference for you?
Bret: I’m not sure what kind of difference religion could make in my life. I’m relatively happy, I handle the problems I do face with the help of more people than I probably deserve, and I have found answers to questions religion and the Bible couldn’t answer. If anything, I feel like worshiping a God would be a step backwards.
Andrea: Are you atheist or agnostic?
Bret: I’m definitely an atheist. I’m really, really atheist. I’m like a Shi’ite atheist.
Andrea: Okay, but what was your journey to atheism? What made you decide that God didn’t exist? What answers do you have that the Bible couldn’t answer?
Bret: I asked God if He existed, and He was quite clear, “No.” As for what information I have that the Bible lacks... for starters, I know who God’s parents are. That’s sort of a helpful tidbit.
Andrea: Enlighten me.
Bret: You want me to tell you who God’s parents are? Or would you rather know what I worship, who my God is, and what my religion is? I think the parentage of some insignificant desert shyster isn’t all that important, in the grand scheme of things.
Andrea: Alright, tell me how being in a relationship with God is a step backwards?
Bret: Well, it’s worshiping a liar. A well-meaning liar, but a liar nonetheless. I’m not saying He doesn’t need attention, I’m just saying there’s over a billion people giving it to him, and He won’t miss me.
Andrea: How is God a liar?
Bret: He’s either a liar or grossly mistaken. His mother assures me he doesn’t realize what he’s doing. But I think He knows, if only because I told him. Maybe he doesn’t believe me.
Andrea: If you have 4 children and one pulls away from you - you will always desire a relationship that will bring the child back to the family. Huh? You spoke with Mary too?
Bret: No no, Sophia, not Mary. Mary is Jesus’ mom, not God’s. Ha, can you imagine a human Jewish woman hanging out before the Earth was created, waiting to give birth to God?
Andrea: I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry for you.
Bret: The correct response is laughter. Don’t make me feel bad by making you cry. Unless you cry laughing. So, to get back on track, do you ever wonder where God came from?
Andrea: No, I’ve wondered and questioned a lot of things about God but I’ve never doubted that there was a time he didn’t exist. As I believe, he is outside of time and space, he is eternal, without beginning and without end.
Bret: So, in your view, God is outside of space and time, and nothing is outside of God?
Andrea: Right. When I asked you about having a relationship with God, you made a comment (a couple, actually) that equate what I asked with worshipping God.
I DO worship but because I’m in a relationship and as I’ve gotten to know God, I have felt that it’s my only response. Not because God demands it but because I HAVE to do it. He doesn’t demand anything, but he wants a relationship with us.
I didn’t always think like that. A portion of my worship testimony is posted on my site under the Worship Flags tab, but essentially I had a major problem with worship, in that, I rebelled at the thought of God demanding that I worship – it was egocentric and I didn’t want to do it just because it was a rule and I don’t like religious rules. As I said before, rules only changes the exterior of a problem, it doesn’t get at the heart issue.
What I didn’t understand before, but feel like I’m starting to now, is that God doesn’t expect us to worship a God we don’t know. He wants us to know him, thus it’s all about relationship and when you know him, the proper response is adoration, and through adoration, I WANT to worship him because he truly is worthy.
So...moving back to your comment, I have to ask why did you equate relationship with God to worship of God? I asked you if you had a relationship with God like I have, do you think it would make a difference in your views?
Bret: I’m not sure you can have a relationship with God without worship anymore than you could have a relationship with a person without love or affection. It’s not that a relationship with God would make a difference in my views, it’s that I would need a very different view in order to embark on some sort of relationship with something I see as incapable of returning the favor.
I prefer to use worship, because I have never seen someone in a “relationship with God” where they feel as equals, or even just as companions. There is always hierarchy, and the flow of adoration seems to always be going up.
Would you say that nothing is greater than God?
Andrea: Correct, nothing is greater than God because he can not be contained.
I disagree about the flow of adoration. It comes down as well. Jesus also called us friends of God in John 15. There are examples in the Bible where God changed his course of action because of a conversation he had with people. Moses being one, and Abraham being another. David had conversations with God as well.
This is one point I want to make about rules and relationship, but I’ll explain using an example of my son.
My son is easily frightened by movies/shows. I frighten easily too, and long ago, I decided that life was too short for me to be afraid. (I like adrenaline rushes – the kind you experience on a roller coaster or even better, sky diving but I don’t need a racing heart because I’ve been frightened by a movie.)
When he was younger, and without the ability to reason (like 2-4), I simply didn’t let him watch those things. As he got older, more mature, we could reason together. He wanted to watch a certain movie and I would tell him yes or no, depending on what I knew the fright factor to be. I explained why I had decided the way I had and he accepted my judgment based on his experience that I usually granted him his desires unless they conflicted with his complete enjoyment of life. He trusted me not to let him get wounded.
Now as he is even older (although I can still wrestle him to the ground), he sometimes decides that I am wrong and proceeds to watch a movie anyway – at his friends, not at home where I can see everything he does. I always know when he’s done that because I spend the next few days dealing with a child who is afraid of going downstairs by himself or his sleep is disturbed. I don’t get mad; I understand that he needs to try some things for himself to realize that what I’m saying is true. I want him to enjoy life, ALL of it. I wish I could spare him all trauma and turmoil but he needs to be able to make choices, some of those choices are going to hurt me, some are going to hurt him. I make guidelines and ‘rules’ but our [continued] relationship is not based on whether he follows the rules.
When he does the things that please me, he is rewarded. For example, if he eats 2 stalks of asparagus, he can have a brownie for dessert – that’s reward. But if he doesn’t, I’m not going to punish him and take away his dinner, and tell him he’ll never eat again. Either way though, I love him.
That’s the way I would describe a relationship with God. The writing on my blog is primarily directed at believers who don’t understand that it’s about relationship and not rules, so you are not alone.
In the Scripture Matthew 7:21, Jesus is speaking to so-called Christians. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? I will say to them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.”
In Luke 10, Jesus says to his disciples who are exuberant from performing miracles and other exciting things, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have give you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
That is all about relationship, not about doing and performing. We can do a lot in Jesus name (obeying the rules, performing works) but if he doesn’t know us (as in have a relationship with us) then we will not enter his presence. It is not through rules (works) that we are saved but through a personal relationship with Jesus. Many, most Christians do not know this.
Bret: Well, here’s my dilemma: there’s so many gods. Honestly, there are thousands, and hundreds of them claim to have created the universe. The only way I have found to know what I am doing is accurate is to ask questions and to seek the answers. I asked you some of them, and you confirmed my findings.
Nothing came before God. Nothing is greater than God. Ergo, I feel it is only logical to worship Nothing.
[To be continued]