A Personal Relationship with God

The aspect of my personal faith that seems to bring about the most confusion in friends and colleagues is that I believe I have a deep and abiding personal relationship with a God that is incapable of knowing that I even exist.

I find that the confusion about this theological point rests not only with those more theologically conservative than I, but also with those more theologically liberal or secular than I. More conservative ministers and theologians are confused by my claim that I can have a personal relationship with a non-personal God. My more liberal and secular colleagues question the same thing, but with the opposite emphasis.

While I have talked about this in other articles (including here), I believe that there is no division in God, that every moment of every day we are intimately involved with God; in a flight of birds, in a breath of wind, in a cab driver who cuts us off, in a moment on the Zen cushions… all one, all God. We are a part of God, and nothing can be more intimate than this. God is a holy spirit that is intimately involved in all things, and we are intimately involved in the part of God we can touch and sense.

However, God does not, in any personal way, know that I exist as an individual. I wonder whether God is even capable of “knowing” in any human sense. More, my faith in God does not require God’s knowing of me. I am “known” simply in my being, along with all of being, and together we are becoming… and becoming… and becoming.

I do not believe that God is “consciously” involved in human life, except that we are a part of God, and we are consciously involved in our own lives. Human Free Will is a part of God. What prevents us from sensing this is our own delusion of division and self… our own conflicted natures. Issues of whether God is omniscient or omnipotent depend upon God having a human understanding of knowing or of power, and I do not believe that to be true. God simply is, and we relate to God because of that.

As one minister/professor colleague of mine has said to me, this theological stance is fairly complex, and inspired by both my understanding of Christian Faith and my experience of Zen Buddhism. It is in part this belief that holds me in Unitarian Universalism, in that it inspires in me my connection to the inherent worth of all beings and  the interconnectedness of all existence, two core principles of Unitarian Universalism.

A few years ago, in a communication within the Army Chaplain Corps, I found this statement: “Whereas the Chaplaincy, as spiritual leaders, model faith and belief in the Hand of God to intervene in the course of history and in individual lives;”. Now, I can do some theological circumlocutions and come to a place where I can accept that statement (if not agree with it), those circumlocutions are somewhat intensive. I certainly could not accept it in its obvious, literal intent. For me, God does not intentionally intervene in human history or individual lives… God simply is, and human history and individual lives change and mold in reaction to God’s existence. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, God does not play dice with the Universe, because God is the Universe and all within it.

If a belief in an intervening God who has a personal relationship with individual lives is a prerequisite to be a military chaplain, then perhaps I have some thinking to do about my call to ministry. If, rather, the document that quote was taken from actually is trying to define what the theological center of the Chaplain Corps is, then I accept that I am theologically on the margins but can still find a place. I will, in Unitarian Universalist prophetic tradition, continue to speak my truth, the truth that is written on my heart by my life, by scripture, by the flight of birds and the existence of evil, and let “Einstein’s Dice” fall how they may.

Yours in Faith,

Rev. David

  • http://patrickmurfin.blogspot.com/ Patrick Murfin

    Several years ago the folks at Skinner House published a poem of min in a Meditation Manual called “How We Are Called.” It has had some circulation in UU circles, usually as a reading in services about humanism. I recently got word that Skinner will revisit it in an upcoming anthology “The Six Sources of Unitarian Universalist Faith: A Reader’ I appreciate the attention, but those who think it is just an anti-theist screed failed to read to the finish. I think it is a lot like what you are talking about.

    I do not have a Personal Relationship with God.
    I’ve lost his phone number;
    he never answers his mail.

    We did not, as young men,
    hang out on Wednesday nights,
    cigarettes dripping from our lips,
    at pool halls.

    He is not there like an old neighbor
    to fix my broken lawn mower
    and hand me a soda
    on a blazing hot day.

    When I rip my shin on a jutting shelf
    and cry out his name,
    he does not rush to me
    with Band-Aids and peroxide.

    He does not, at times of vexation,
    when my world lies shattered,
    my relationships ruptured,
    my children insolent,
    my finances hopeless,
    come with soothing counsel to my side.

    He does not take my requests
    like a long-distance dedication
    on America’s Top Forty,
    or deliver within five business days
    or my money back
    on my catalog order—
    my business is not important to him.

    I do not have a Personal Relationship with God.

    But in quiet moments—
    in the familiar whistle
    of a red-winged blackbird on a cattail,
    or in spider webs glinting with dew
    in the grass of a clear sunrise,
    or the passing attention of an old cat—
    He/She/It/Whatever does not
    speak
    or do
    or answer
    but admits me to fleeting union
    with the Greater.

    —Patrick Murfin


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