Getting Along with the Boss: Knowing a Relational God

The first time I was confronted by determinism, when I realized that something was amiss, was during my senior year of college in a Christian education class. One student made several comments about not knowing if he was going to heaven or if he was saved. “Then why follow Christ?” I asked. “How can you have such uncertainty when the Bible says that we can know?” It was during that time that I was discovering a relational God, even though I didn’t understand this at the time. As the Spirit began to unravel the subtleties of reformed thought that had been intertwined into my Christian education, he was also teaching me to know, appreciate and love the God of the Bible. Accepting God on this basis has revolutionized my spiritual formation and helps me share God with others. Therefore, by helping the church to accept this view, the body of Christ will become a more effective force in today’s world for the sake of others.

I knew that God was a relational person before I knew that this theology had name. Clark Pinnock and other theologians have termed the relational view of God as “open theology,” meaning that God is “portrayed as a triune communion who seeks relationships of love with human beings, having bestowed upon them genuine freedom for this purpose” (3). We see this fact portrayed most intensely in the Garden of Eden when God placed the tree with the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil right in the center of the garden and told his creation not to eat from it lest they die. Some view this move on God’s part as a scheme to “get” humanity, or to set them up. They believe that God blames humanity for committing evil acts even though he was the one who authored evil. This is simply not true. As we look further into the account after Adam and Eve had sinned, we find God walking in the Garden calling out for his creation. We sense God’s anguish when he asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you to not eat from?” (Genesis 3: 11, NIV). At this point God brings judgment because his goal was to “bring humankind back to himself” (42). The ultimate proof is when God himself died on the cross in the person of Jesus Christ. A relational God will sacrifice to great extremes for his beloved creation.

By placing the tree in the garden, God was telling humanity that the choice to have a relationship with him was theirs. God took a risk by bestowing freedom on humanity thereby limiting “the degree of his control over the world in granting the creature genuine freedom, and this is not without pain to himself” (39). While God transcends the world, he is heavily involved in the world and is affected by people’s choices and by what happens to them. Our choices affect the future and reality, because the entire future is not determined in advance. While God can know the future based upon his in depth knowledge of our character and personalities, he can still be surprised, angered, or delighted by our choices. Our choices can shape the future, but God is in ultimate control of the overall plan. In other words, from reading Pinnock, I surmise that our choices can delay judgment or can encourage it to happen more quickly. There is evidence for this in the prophetical literature. God delayed judgment when the people turned to him. He brought it about swiftly when wrong choices forced God to act.

This knowledge should revolutionize one’s prayer life. If God is affected by my choices and wants to use me to implement his plans on earth, then my prayer life can take on a new flavor. To illustrate, prayer can be thought of as a managerial meeting with a head supervisor, or boss, or owner of a company. I can tell my superior my idea, ask for guidance or receive guidance, or God can veto those plans because they are not in the company’s or my best interest. If I do not understand a company policy (or a Scripture in this case) I can ask for clarification or wisdom. If I am having a problem with a fellow employee, I can express those concerns without fear, knowing that my concerns will not leave the room. My responsibility as a Christian—or Christ follower—is to receive his guidance and implement what is best based on his desires, which should also be my desires as I grow. A good employee will reflect the desires of his or her employer. With God it is the same.

Knowing God in a relational manner should also affect our relationships with believers and non-believers. By knowing God and because we have experienced his love, we can extend that same love to others because we are secure within ourselves. This is certainly God’s will for our relationships with others, but as Pinnock states, “The will of God is not something that is always done but something that can be followed or resisted” (40). By resisting the will of God in our relations with others, we create problems inside and outside of the church, our families and in our lives. If these problems are not confronted, then each entity begins to suffer and will eventually become ineffective as it caters to human desires rather than God’s.

By having a relationship with God and understanding that our purpose is to love him back, we begin to read the Scriptures in a relational way and through them the Spirit begins to free us. We are no longer tethered by deterministic views of God; we see him as someone who wants us to work alongside him rather than “use” us. We then become confident in God’s ability to equip us for the task at hand and we become enthusiastic about accomplishing his will. If we understand that our actions can affect the future, rather than just working within a predetermined framework or a maze like laboratory rats, we will become effective in our ministries and in the lives of others. We will also change the world.

I wish my classmate had known God in this manner. If he had, he would have a quiet assurance of God’s approval and would know that he was saved. Our knowledge of God’s salvation is brought by the Spirit telling our spirits that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16, paraphrase mine).