I have a Jewish friend who says that her religion is being spiritual and believing in God as she understands Him.” She says her views are very open and that she dislikes the intolerance and narrow-mindedness of people who preach their own ideas about God and what He expects. What do I say, and how can I be a witness?
We meet many people, both Jewish and Gentile, who feel as your friend does. Her views sound similar to someone who recently read a personal essay on National Public Radio.
“I do not want to be a God-fearing man,” the slightly southern sounding man announced. He went on to use words like “sledgehammer” and “intimidation” as he recalled how he’d been dis-fellowshipped from church as a teen after having premarital sex with his girlfriend. He’d been offered the choice either to announce to the congregation that the behavior was a sin, repent and be forgiven, or leave the church. He made his choice, and has since gone on to discover “God as I understand Him.”
This man explained, “I talk to God as I understand Him every day, and though He does not answer, I know that He is there. I am not afraid of Him. He does not condemn me. He fills me with peace and joy. And so, rather than the God I was told I should believe in, I chose the God I could believe in.”
While this man came from a “Christianized” background, some Jewish people have left synagogues, particularly the more Orthodox ones, for similar reasons. After all, the God whom many people don’t understand and choose not to believe in—the God who actually wants to have a say about our personal lives—revealed Himself in the Hebrew Scriptures long before what we now know as the New Testament was given.
You can let your friend know you agree that people should not claim their beliefs are correct simply to exalt their own opinions. But you can also point out that God promised in the Jewish Scriptures, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). This shows that God wants to be known for who He is, not merely our best guess at who He might be.
The catch is the “all your heart” part. It implies that to find God, we must be willing to give up our own prejudices and pasttimes, should they turn out to be untrue or offensive to God.
Maybe your friend needs to hear you suggest that her “God as I understand Him” is really a lower-case god who has no actual power other than what she chooses to impart from her own understanding or preference. The real, all-powerful God whom we don’t always understand says His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9) He is holy as well as merciful, righteous as well as compassionate. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. But He can’t forgive us if we think we’ve done nothing wrong, and we can’t understand what’s right or wrong if we treat God as the divine re-enforcer of our own choices.
Why not ask your friend if she would want to know God as He understands Himself, if that were possible? Prayer is a great place to start and she might allow you to lead her in a simple one: “God help me to understand who You are, not just who I want You to be.” After that prayer, maybe she would be willing to check out the Bible, and we often suggest the Gospel of John as a good starting place. If she does become a seeker, we have some helpful resources on our website and if you contact us, we might even have a missionary in your area who could meet with you and your friend.