I believe it to be fairly clear from the Bible that the spirit of each human originates from God and that it returns to God upon the death of the physical body. I suppose it is possible that this is no longer the case, but I have as yet found not even a hint that such a major part of the scheme of things would change. Assuming there has been no change, therefore, it is no stretch to think that each of us has some manner of connection to God, as he is both our origin and our destination.
We do well to note, however, that our lifetimes are not spent at the foot of God’s throne in His glorious presence, but upon the Earth. Rather, it seems to have been his obvious plan for each of us to spend a lifetime here upon the Earth, and to be judged thereafter regarding what kind of people we have chosen to be during that lifetime. Perhaps Hebrews says it best:
Hebrews 9:27 it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment
And regarding that judgment, the Bible speaks repeatedly that each will be judged based upon what he has done while in the body, whether good or bad. (Read more here.) That judgment, it seems, happens once the spirit of man has returned to God:
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Indeed, it must be an awesome and even terrifying experience to meet God face to face after having lived out one’s lifetime here on the Earth, having long heard about God, but never having met him in this way. Indeed, none of us living on this Earth have such meetings in the presence of God and those who claim that they do are generally proven to be liars. Rational (true-to-reality) people everywhere understand quite well that they do not now have any such privilege as meeting with God in person.
Even so, however, millions and millions of believers consider themselves to have a “relationship with God”. I have already acknowledged that mankind has some manner of link to God as he is the originator and judge of the human spirits, but “relationship”? What a strange choice of words.
Who among us would claim to have a “relationship” with the sitting president or the favorite contestant on American Idol? Who among us would claim to have a “relationship” with an historical figure such as Booker T. Washington or James Madison? Suppose you were at a party and heard an acquaintance say that he has a “relationship” with the Pope. Wouldn’t you expect the plain meaning of his words to be that he has met with the Pope on more than one occasion and that some manner of business or friendship is mutual between them? And wouldn’t you roll your eyes if you learned that his “relationship” with the Pope meant only that he is an avid reader about the Pope’s activities?
Yes, you probably would, for the term “relationship” would be discovered to be quite an exaggeration, and the use of that term would be outside the normal usage of it.
So it is today with the use of the phrase “relationship with God” as it pertains to believers who claim to have such a relationship. They do not meet with God in person. They have not ever met with God in person as far as they recall. They do not receive phone calls, letters, emails, or text messages from God. They cannot call him to ask a question. They cannot even tell us what God looks like or what his voice sounds like. God does not ask them to do favors for him. Nor does he invite them over for dinner or to play cards. They do not exchange birthday cards, nor share pictures of their families.
These are the sorts of things that are normally meant when the term “relationship” is used. Yet when it comes to a person having a “relationship with God”, none of these things is included. And interestingly, hardly any such believer would even attempt to argue otherwise.
Why, then, do they insist on having a “relationship with God”? Why use such a term when it is so out of character with its normal usage?
The search term [“relationship with God”] yields over five million returns at Google! Meanwhile, a search on the similar phrase [“relationship to God”] yields nearly seven million! And by way of comparison, how many times does either of these terms appear in the Bible? Zero.
I don’t mean to suggest that if the Bible talks about people having relationships with God, it must use the exact same terms as above. Rather, I mean to suggest that the absence of these terms in the Bible should raise a red flag for us, causing us to examine our presumption about what we call “relationship with God”.
As with so many other topics on this website, this one probably justifies a book of its own, but that is outside the scope of this present post. Indeed, I could look at the many promises made to believers that they can “know God” or “have a relationship with God” and show how so many of the scriptural references cited are simply not saying what they are reported as saying. But this will have to wait until I have more time.
For now, let me leave it at this: It is a common mistake to read in the Bible of those who had conversations with God (in which God also spoke) and to imagine that we, too, have such “relationships” with God. The obvious difference, however, is that God does not speak back to us. Nor does he send us angels or practice miracles among us. How is it that we do not expect God to work miracles for us as he did for some of these about whom we read, and yet we still claim to have relationships with God as they had?
Clearly, some things have changed from then until now, and I submit that among these things is the fact that God is not now interacting with an ekklesia on the Earth as he did in the First Century. This is, of course, the central theme of this website. I regret that I do not have the time at present to write more on this present topic, for I believe that although there are some passages in the Bible that are easily confused as promising an immediate relationship with God for those who believe, the entire body of language on the subject simply cannot be responsibly taken as any such promise. Heaven is for after this life. And so with “eternal life” and with “knowing” God.