Relationships with Jesus

As everyone knows, Christians put great stock in the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus. But how is it possible to have a relationship with someone who is invisible and inaudible?

What does communication with Jesus actually consist of? For sure, there is plenty of talking from the Christian’s side of the relationship. Daily prayers uttered to Jesus, or sent out in the quiet of one’s thoughts. This can, as I know from experience, feel a little like a relationship. The problem, though, comes with reciprocation.

How does Jesus communicate? Try as I may, I cannot find any Christian who is willing to admit to hearing a real voice in her head. Perhaps some Christians are afraid of being accused of having a mental illness. Auditory hallucinations are a well documented psychological condition that often follows trauma of some kind.

If Christians do not hear voices in their heads, the only language-based communication Jesus has recourse to is the Bible. But I don’t think that anyone would regard reading a book, and feeling strongly compelled by its message, to be a “relationship”. No one claims to have a relationship with, say, Shakespeare, simply by reading and enjoying his works.

And then one is reminded that neither Jesus, nor anyone who witnessed him preach, actually wrote any of the words in the Bible.

And the Bible, of course, is static. You can’t have a conversation with a 2000-yr old book (or any book for that matter). More importantly, there is no information specific to one particular reader that all other readers must be expected to ignore. The only personalization that comes from reading the Bible is one’s own interpretation of words originally meant for a crowd or a congregation.

So, we are left with a Jesus relationship that contains no actual words from Jesus. At this point, what many Christians fall back on is the idea of “signs”. Little events and coincidences that occur throughout the day, and are interpreted by the observant Christian as communications from Jesus.

Unfortunately, our growing understanding of the human mind is casting an extremely heavy cloak of doubt over such things, which share many elements with basic superstition. (See confirmation bias, illusory correlation, etc.)

Lastly, then, many Christians simply claim to feel Jesus’ presence, as if he is there listening. But once again, this does not make a relationship. A relationship requires both parties to use language, to engage in novel, information-rich dialog. This includes clear signals from each person that she has heard, and understood, her partner. This simply doesn’t happen in the stream of internal thoughts and interpretations that occupies a single mind.

At the end of the day, humans have rich and emotional imaginations, and it’s quite easy to imagine being in a relationship with an invisible entity. But this illusion cannot survive current knowledge about the human mind and how easily and willingly fooled it can be. Once this knowledge is obtained, standards go up: it becomes clear that feelings are not enough to show that another person is there, communicating original and independent thoughts. Little events and coincidences have perfectly viable natural explanations, and do not imply communication from Jesus. Taken seriously, then, these realities are devastating to the belief in a real relationship with Jesus.

Having laid these ideas out, I must emphasize that I don’t know what goes on in every Christian’s mind. I have my own quite long experience with Christianity (more than twenty years), and my experience with Christians before and after my deconversion to atheism. I would therefore welcome feedback from any Christian readers who see their relationship with Jesus differently.

Update:

1. Some Christian bloggers also struggle with the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus. See here, and here. Amusingly, another blogger lays out exactly the same sort of requirements for personal relationships as I do, and then spectactularly fails to explain how these can be achieved with Jesus, even as he exhorts us to enter into that relationship!

2. A personal relationship with Jesus implies that all people with such a relationship should learn the same things about Jesus, if they really do communicate with him. Their reports about him should build a cohesive picture of his character. Yet they don’t – Christians report conflicting views about what Jesus allegedly supports and what he doesn’t. NonStampCollector makes this point brilliantly in this video.

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4 Responses to Relationships with Jesus

  1. This post requires a great deal of thought to be able to comment appropriately and I don’t have time right now but I’ll be back! Excellent topic, Kpharri. You’ve got a great mind. (thumbs up)

  2. kpharri says:

    Thanks Warrioress!

  3. It’s difficult to understand a relationship with Jesus Christ, with God, if one is not actually intimate with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If one has not felt God’s Holy Spirit as the Comforter, one does not recognize how such a thing could be. So you ask, how does communication occur when there is no “reciprocation.”

    Evidently, this was not a part of your particular Christian experience when you were a Christian, Kpharri. In other words, for some unknowable reason, you were unable to connect with God in the manner in which many Christians are speaking of when they talk about their personal relationships with God.

    Christians may or may not hear God’s voice in their heads; I don’t know and can’t speak for other Christians. I think it might be better understood from my take, if it was explained by saying that we hear God in our hearts, or He is that quiet voice in our thoughts. Some might believe that this is actually us, ourselves, that we are hearing, but it’s not the case, at least not for me at any rate. God speaks to me through thought, through others, through the words in a song, a television advertisement, a movie, a letter written by a friend, through the mouth of a stranger.

    How can I know this is God? How can I be sure?

    As one grows in the relationship with God, one learns to recognize God’s “voice.”

    God also speaks through His word, the bible. He can often speak quite strongly to our hearts and minds through the bible, but He is able to speak intently through any method He chooses to utilize. When we are in prayer with God, for example, there is the feeling of the presence of God with us, comforting us; there is the feeling that we are not alone. I don’t know how to explain this feeling. It’s a warm, peaceful, contented feeling. It’s the kind of feeling you get when you snuggle deep down into your covers at night and you’re warm, sleepy, contented, and it just doesn’t get any better than that relaxed, peaceful, contented feeling. You know what I’m talking about? That’s how communion with God is. It’s … fulfilling. It’s just “being” with God.

    I’m trying to clarify for you, Kpharri, but it’s difficult to impart what I want to through the written or even spoken word. This is something that must be experienced in order to be truly understood and I think it can only be experienced in one who has called out to God in faith, trust, hope, and belief. The relationship truly begins at that point and only at that point.

    There’s a message I heard from someone I respect a lot that I’m going to be sharing soon. I’ll point it out for you as it explains a lot better than I can what you want to know, that you’ve asked in this post. I hope this shed a little light on my perspective on this topic, though, if nothing else.

  4. kpharri says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Warrioress.

    It seems like the elements that make up your relationship with God are very similar to the ones I call into question in my post, so I’m not sure there is much new to discuss here.

    The most interesting to me, though, is the idea of interpreting thoughts in your head as coming from God. You say that what convinces you of the source of these thoughts is that they follow a consistent “voice” that is different from your own.

    My only suggestion here would be that people are very good at constructing other personalities in their thoughts. In fact, all of us have imagined conversations with our friends and family in our heads, on a daily basis: it’s a useful tool to assess, in the privacy of our own mind, what other people’s reactions to our ideas might be.

    For this reason, it seems unremarkable to me that you should hold a model in your mind of what you imagine God to be like, and that you generate conversations with that model of God, filling in his words as well as your own.

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