Antecedent to ones professed belief in the divine, the inaugural question is: which God does one profess allegiance to. One of the hazards of organised religion, is a god manufactured after man’s likeness. This god is true to human’s emotional capabilities and understanding of love and life. This God is a master, a lord, a creator, a worship seeking, commitment demanding, money hungry God. This God however, is a detrimental God and leaves whosoever subscribes to them fragmented, empty and completely disempowered.
So then, the initial question becomes who is God. The deliberate attempt to avade the risk of a misunderstood divinity is for us to ask the often unentertained but fundamental question of the person and constituency of God. There are things we think God is, and things he’s not. There are ways in which we have been socialised to picture God and relate to him. Many of us when we refer to God we think of a being- A super being; a person like being. Separate from the universe but related to it. All powerful, all knowing, loving. Authority figure. Law giver, who loves us. Occasionally intervenes in lives. This is sometimes referred to as Supernatural theism- God is a being. This understanding of God bears fear.
And still others understand God as- the encompassing reality, or spirit. But not something separate from the world, but within which the world is infused. It is the comprehension that we are in God like the fish is in the water. As the writer of Acts writes, “in him we live, move and have our being”.
But to wholly identity God we have to know what he is like; what are his characteristics. Generally two interpretations emerge: Some see God as punitive- even though he is love, we cannot take his love for granted. If we don’t obey he punishes us. Again this legitimizes and necessitates the need for fear. Still God is seen as gracious, compassionate, loving and caring. This conceives a loving relation, one based on affectionate emotions between one and the divine.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
The passage above is known as the ‘Lord’s prayer’. It was taught by the Christ at the request of his disciples. But I believe this text has more to do with the identity of the divine and how we ought to relate to him than a simple prayer. I believe the text can aid us in unlimited ways to unearth the nature and constituency of God. How we understand God, determines how we relate to him. This relation thereafter shapes our lives- our lived reality. An erroneous interpretation of this passage, creates a religious system that creates empty, sheepish, fearful slaves. One only needs to look around them, and observe how organised religion has created an oppressive dominant God, and oppressed enslaved human beings- but no full humans.
What has been christened the ‘Lord’s prayer’ I suppose is not so much a prayer but an ascribed ideological system. It hits at the root of everything weve come to be taught and indoctrinated about both God and prayer. God has been limited to some self-seeking, never pleased, difficult deity who does not accept you unless you are a ‘good boy’ and not rebellious like the rest.
Having been discipled by the Christ; having walked with him, fully convinced themselves that they were of him and he of them. The disciples present themselves to inquire as to a penitent issue in their hearts. They recognized a seeming fragmentation. There’s something that they recognized themselves not to fully understand and thus not appreciate. It is in this state of insufficiency and humility that they approach the Christ and ask him to teach them how to ‘pray’.
But these are religious men. Weren’t they Jews, didn’t they already know how to pray? They must most have been in the Jewish synagogues, and other religious temples where prayer is practised. So why is it, that they present themselves to be taught prayer by the Christ as if they knew not how?
Now the fact that they are asking to be taught means that they recognized a gap. They recognize that what they know might not be conclusive- it is definitely not all there is to know. Asking to be taught means that they have questioned their prior learning and found it lacking. They must have when observing how the Christ goes about prayer and how they ‘pray’ a distinct dissimilarity. And as such they humble themselves enough to present themselves to be, not ‘retaught’, but to be taught anew how to pray. It is as if they have never prayed before.
Now the reality that they are question their prior understanding of prayer, does not signify that it was wrong or erroneous. It could well be that they realised their prior teaching was not essentially wrong, but incomplete. Something definitely prompted them to ask the Christ to teach them how to pray. I submit to you, the disciples did not know how to pray.
How many a Christian person are willing to question the doxology of their religion? How many are willing to subject their held belief system to scrutiny and radical judgement, and when having proved inadequate proceed to embrace an alternative or accessory conviction? How many are open to question the etiquette of their religious practises and expose them to the light of undefiled scripture, not even to change ideological subscription but test the legitimacy and sensibility of their beliefs?
The truth is, not many are open to any form of questioning, objecting, criticising and rationalising in any form or extent their religious convictions. This is the fruit of prominent teachings within the Christian realm that God despises questioning; that to ask questions is to imply doubt and God hates doubt. This is the result of years of religious indoctrination that faith is the absence of rational and by its nature irrational; that the very reason for the fall of mankind is because the first human species questioned and challenged the initial command by God not to eat of the forbidden fruit, and thus their untamed curiosity resulted in the fall of man.
But I propose that scripture can be questioned. I believe God is not afraid nor threatened when we ask questions. I am convinced divinity cannot be so weak and fragile and avoids any form of scrutiny and rational judgement. One is doomed to death and stagnation when they cease to question their previous subscribed idealizations. Growth, progress and maturity is only realised when one asks, questions, seeks, and searches a heightened level of understanding and discernment- Not when one has succeeded to convince themselves that they have found and there’s nothing remains for discovery.
Every progress in human civilisation has been as a result of man recognising the inadequacy of the former position- and then seeks ways for improvement and betterment. There was a time when people believed the world was flat; it was only when the original assumption was questioned and proved to be incorrect that a new understanding and thus progress emerged. There was an epoch when men believed the rain are teardrops that result from God’s weeping face; further study and inquiry proved this notion to be untrue, and offered new evidence as to the dynamics of weather and rainfall. There was a time when the world believed ones skin colour is reflective of their genetic and reproductive superiority or inferiority. This went further to suggest that the white race had superior mental faculties and the darker races animalistic and mentally inferior. Added to this were the biblical stories that the black race came from the cursed Ham and the white race from the blessed Japheth. But it only took deeper scrutiny and rational judgement of these diabolic assumptions that a new understanding as to the organization of society emerged- one that seeks to be egalitarian and non- racial, although this still remains to be an ideal than the apparent reality.
This is true of every field of study, whether it be science, technology, philosophy, medicine, art and as such religion cannot be exempt. The death of religious progress results when religion has convinced itself that it has all the answers to everything and nothing more remains to be discovered, learnt and adopted. Creativity and development reaches an eternal plateau and regression and rigidity becomes natural reality. Robust debates die out.
In the prayer, Jesus stated that those who call on the Father, will be heard of him. The challenge is, which God are people calling. He has an identity, a name. The second line of the prayer states – “Hallow be Thy name”. Which name is this that a lot haven’t bothered to seek. Maybe that’s why some prayers go unanwered. But which God are people calling upon. For me, this is more important than just believing that the is a God.
It is clear from the prayer that the Christ calls us into a relationship with the transcendent. He refers to God as the father. He relates to him in a personal, intimate manner. He ascribes personage and relation to divinity. Now if God is a person, then why are our prayers impersonal? If we have a personal relationship with him, then why do we refer to him as God, master, creator? Our understanding of God determines our relation to him. If then he is our master and Guardian, what manner of relationship does this foster?
Our heavenly father implies an intimate relationship. Many people simply need to begin by looking at prayer completely different from the way they learned in church. This is the point where your idea of prayer must go from the awful religious mentality of “getting answers” to simply “finding intimacy.” Anything less than that is a waste of time.”
Prayer is a relationship; it is a conversation. Prayer is communication with the divine; it is heavily personal. Some have rather demeaned prayer to a method to get their desires and wants met; a simplified formula to be conjured to manipulate God to give you what you want. That is why you would hear others say, “prayer works”. Some describe prayer as a tool, like a screwdriver. What a horrible picture of the beauty of prayer! While it’s okay to discuss our needs with God and to even ask him for the things we need, if getting answers is all that we care about, then we’ve totally missed the purpose and the beauty of prayer.
Prayer is conversation, a sharing of our heart with God as he shares his heart with us. Anything else cheapens prayer and is a waste of time. How would you feel if you were in a relationship with somebody, and every time they you converge they insist on doing the talking and listing all sorts of demands? The more they do it, the less likely you would want to continue in the relationship. I submit this is also true of divinity.
For many prayer is a way to manipulate God to give them what they want. They don’t know him and thus they cant be in a relationship with him. Religion has taught us to fear God, but fear breeds distance and dread; thus they pray to him and not with him. They fail to appreciate that prayer is a conversation- A dialogue not a monologue. Everything about God is all about intimacy.
True prayer flows from the heart. Prayer lists, all night prayers, prayer groups, & prayer chains fall short of this rudimentary understanding. Instead of prayer flowing freely from a loving heart, it becomes just a moment to mouth words which are rarely a channel of love reaching out to the other person’s heart. However, when we love, prayer is no longer a chore but a joy and every thought we have regarding that person becomes a prayer.
Many people simply need to begin by looking at prayer completely different from the way they learned in church. This is the point where your idea of prayer must go from the awful religious mentality of “getting answers” to simply “finding intimacy.” Anything less than that is a waste of time. I hear Christians saying things like “Prayer works.” If you really think about this statement, I think you’ll be left asking yourself the same question I’m left asking myself every time I hear it. What the heck IS it saying? It seems that rather than experiencing genuine intimacy with our Father, we’ve taken the very avenue through which that intimacy is expressed and we have labeled it as being nothing more than a machine. Works for what? That’s not even something that can be said about prayer. Prayer isn’t there to “work”. Once again we are saying the wrong things, proving that we don’t get what prayer is for.
Quite interesting enough, the first words that came from the mouth of the Christ when describing God is that he is our father. He would have said when you pray say, “our God who is in heaven”. But he deliberately chose that we should understand, adress and relate to God as our Father.
Of course he is God; but he wants you to see him as a father. He says “I’d rather have you relate to me as your father than as your God. Some might regard me as the creator, but I am happy when you are able to know me as your father. At the very rudiment of your understanding of me, is that I am your father.”
He is not an abusive father or a paranoid leader. But the Christianity has given us, a God who is unsatisfied with us until we behave perfectly. We learn about a God who expects us to obey and worship Him even if our heart isn’t in it, a God who uses guilt to makes us behave better, a God who doesn’t want us to shine too brightly, because it will make us proud and draw attention away from Him, a God who will not bless you unless you give yourself and your money to Him, and a God who needs to micromanage every detail of your life.
This God has immature emotions, feeds on prejudice, demands immoral acts, puts up an amazing and dangerous fuss when ignored; threatens those of different opinion or nations of a different God, and generally delights in recognition and praise. It is hard not to see the Christian God as a complex of emotions not often guided by compassion.
Sadly, the gospel message has been affected by this way of thinking. “God loves you; come to Him,” has been turned into, “Jesus got a major beating that was meant for you, so come to Him”. The message is that we owe God, that he wants us to pay because Jesus took a beating for us. This breeds a compelled in-genuine relationship, and certainly one not flowing from love.
But from the perspective that if God is love, and love is patient, kind, etc., then God must have these qualities. Love is incapable of holding grudge; love does not create hell. Christianity is more about “reward and punishment” and uses fear as a tool to motivate Christians into a loving relationship with God. The God of Christianity is absent and aloof, he is distant and hard to please; hes more like a cosmic vending machine.
Our understanding of love is so upside down that we’ve actually given Him the personality and characteristics of the devil.
We tell others that we want to be “used by God” as if love ever uses people. We boast of our “commitment to Christ” as if the substance of love consisted of making promises. We testify that God has sent us into the wilderness or made us sick to teach us things as if God would ever do such things.
When we say that God wants to “use us” in some way to further His purposes, we are truly saying an awful thing about His heart…The gifts He has given you are never to be used at your expense. He does not want you to be used by anyone, and He will never use you. Your gifts were given to you for the purpose of bringing joy to your life, not for the purpose of serving Him or furthering His cause. Your happiness is His cause
He does not want you to be used by anyone, and He would never use you. Your gifts were given to you for the purpose of bringing joy to your life, not for the purpose of serving Him or furthering His cause.… He wants people to think highly of and respect you. He loves it when folks are drawn to you and when they are amazed at how gifted you are… Christians today have been trained to purposefully cover their light, rather than let them shine for all to see, for fear that God might get angry at how bright they are. How crazy is that?…
His purpose is for us to be His sons and daughters, and out of those relationships, we become the message.… What is the one thing all good parents want for their children? They want them to enjoy life.… God’s love is not concerned with what He can get; He’s concerned with what He can give.
Whatever we believe about love, we believe about God. God is love. If your definition of love has been filtered through our fallenness and twisted by religion, you will inevitably end up with a screwy picture of God. This is the chief reason why so many people who claim to know God are miserable. They have been told that God values us as servants and that He relates to us as a general relates to a soldier. “Relationship” for them is not about enjoying life together but following orders.
Organised religion has taught us that we must love God more than we love people. I am always mystified when I hear people boastfully say, “I love God more than my wife.” The only way to love God more than your spouse is to love God through your spouse. Your husband or wife would be the direct recipient of the love.… The God who is love loves it when we love.… God is never in competition with your love for people! Any time you love a person, you are not far from God.
Then there are those who love their family too little, possibly because they believe that family distracts from some higher calling, such as ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth: Your love for people is the evidence that God is living inside you.… It shocks me to see so many people who honestly believe that God desires a separate and secret relationship with them aside from their family members. Many men will lock themselves in their prayer closets while their wives are in another room watching the kids alone. I call this adultery.
I know pastors who spend six hours a day reading and studying their Bibles.… But when it comes to people, they’re indifferent. They could take them or leave them. These men think they know God’s heart because they have read and studied his book and spent hours in prayer, but what they don’t know is that they’re being grossly deceived. They don’t know Him from Adam! I also know people who read their Bibles about five minutes a week and pray even less. They secretly kick themselves for it, and they’re afraid to approach God because their religion has made them so aware of their sin. However, they happen to love people with all their hearts. These folks have an intimacy with God that’s irreplaceable. They know Him fully because they love and know his children.
Organised religion has sold us a bunch of lies about the love of God. God never envies anyone or anything. He never desires to take for Himself what others have. Instead, He longs to give away all He has… He keeps no record of the wrong things you’ve done because He refuses to call you by the name of your past… God always perseveres, proving He is who He claims to be. He stands through the storm and walks through the fire simply to express His love for you. He will never fail you, never fall short, never fall out of love, because He’s made of love, the very source of it all.
Paul famously prayed that we would know the measureless love of God, for it’s in knowing His love that we truly live. So how do we come to know His love? God’s love is experienced in loving people. When you truly love someone unconditionally… that flame of love inside your heart is God. So the love of God is experienced in loving people, but the love for people only comes when you already know the love of God, that God loves you unconditionally.
Organised religion has taught us that God wants us to be less so he can be more. That God is happy when we debase ourselves and regard ourselves as utter nothingness. You’ll hear many Christians pray “Lord, I want to do whatever pleases you. I want to decrease; you must increase”.
Imagine if you married someone who spoke like that. “I want to do whatever you want to do dear. It’s not about me, it’s all about you”. That would be fun for about a week. “I just want to be used by you. I just want others to know how much I am committed to you” but after a while it begins to be a serious mental illness.
The notion that God would have us put ourselves down to make Him bigger is completely wrong. In fact, from His perspective, it’s heartbreaking. You’ll hear this taking place in worship services across the country. How many of us believe He gets a rise out of our demeaning ourselves? Who do we think He is? What father enjoys this? We’re literally telling Him that what Jesus accomplished on the cross wasn’t worth spit. We didn’t get it; we’re still scum. We deny the very righteousness He freely gave us and choose to proclaim its ineffectiveness in our lives. And we do it in a sense of worship, no less. This is catastrophic! Believe it or not, when you reject someone’s compliment and “give God all the glory,” He doesn’t receive an ounce of glory.… God’s heart desires that all his glory be upon his children. He is not in competition with us; He is our greatest promoter.
We say things like “God wants you to give Him your life,” and it doesn’t even sound bad to us anymore. Over time it actually begins to sound beautiful. We even encourage others to give their lives to Christ because we are certain that this is what God wants. Christ came that you may have life and have it more abundantly. He never asks you to give him your life. It’s your heart He is after. Only an envious God would give you life and then require you to give it back to him. He gave it to you, and He wants you to enjoy it to the fullest. God never envies anyone or anything. He never desires to take for Himself what others have. Instead, He longs to give away all He has, and He’s never tempted to take things back because He didn’t get enough attention.
Our emotional, spiritual and mental health is directly tied to our view of God. Faulty assumptions about God will sabotage your heart and life. Teachings about an angry God, who demands perfect submission, who is easily provoked, and has created an everlasting fire to throw all those who differ with him is utterly devilish. Even human beings don’t do that: we don’t tell a person that we love them unconditionally and should they dump us or cheat us we will throw them into a deep fire of hell where they will be tormented forever. Far it be from it that God is anything like that.
Love is not easily provoked, love is not based on immature imotions. Love is not proud. Love does not create hell. Love does not sent anyone to hell. Organised religion has introduced us to the proud God, the offensive God, the needy God, the angry God; He’s never satisfied, He wants all the glory, He likes it when we cut ourselves down, He threatens to kill our children, He wants all our money, and He’d light us on fire and feed us to spiders if we didn’t give it to him.
This God has rescued us from our sins. We are his slaves. We are nothing and useless without him. Many Christians are even proud to proclaim “we are sinners saved by grace”. But God is not even about that. Certainly that’s not how he sees you. The reason Christianity teaches that is because today, it has become a religion about not sinning; good/bad; right/ wrong. But I submit there’s more to God than laws, commandments and churchianity.
Relationship with God to this generation of Christianity is all about reading the Bible, going to church, tormenting each other about thoughts on hell and debasing each other to empty useless servants. But Jesus didn’t even come to recruit servants but to give us abundant life. He says “I have called you to be servants, but friends”.
After preaching a sermon, I would have some brethen approach me to say that was a good sermon. And I would naturally respond by saying “thank you”. And then the brother would respond by saying, “Give God the glory”. In the past I used to feel uncomfortable about this; I didn’t know what to do or say if a fellow believer gives thanks for my sermon. But now I am happy and comfortable to say “thank you”.
This is because I’ve come to know that God is not self-seeking. He is gratified and fulfilled when you are praised and honored. His eyes are always seeking the best for you, and He’s never worried about what He gets in return. He isn’t provoked easily or ever angered beyond His desire for complete love. He’s not “high maintenance,” and He never wants you to walk in fear of offending or hurting Him. He’s happy when we are praised and appreciated by our fellow brethren, because he only wants what is best for us.
Organised religion has also introduced us to the God who induces obedience by blessing us for good deeds and punishing us for bad deeds. But this defiles the nature of God. He is not impressed or more predisposed to bless you because you’ve come so far in your spirituality. He’s proud of you because you are His child. God does not bless us for being good little boys and girls. God blesses us because God blesses. He sends rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous.
God is not even vindictive or vengeful. During the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, it was quite common to hear our nation’s pastors explain that this was a plague sent by God to punish the homosexuals. Every bad thing that happens in this world gets blamed upon God. We truly believe that God has the character and personality of the devil.
God’s vengeance is never on people; it’s on the devil. God does not delight in getting revenge on people, and He never participates in it. God delights in forgiveness. I’ve seen people actually get excited when they think God has gotten back at someone on their behalf.
The purpose of the Old Testament is to point the way to Christ …the church continues to run back to the Old Testament principles…They prefer to embrace the comfortable rules of religion rather than the confusing, difficult freedom of relationship.
Chris Mhlongo, A short piece as preached at Believer’s Meeting (Cape Town, 2014)