Francis Chan said in a recent interview that many people walk away [from Christianity, faith, religion] because they have never really had an encounter with God. They walk away from their belief system or their parent’s belief system.
“If you really encounter God”, he says, “You don’t do that.” Moses didn’t walk off Mount Sinai arguing about a belief system. Job didn’t return to his belief system or his parents’ belief system. They had real encounters with God, and those encounters changed them.
I have thought for several years about the odd fact that Job had a million questions for God until God appeared. When God showed up, He didn’t provide a single answer to any of Job’s questions, but Job no longer had any questions!
Job’s questions didn’t matter anymore after God showed up!
When Job demanded answers, he wasn’t looking for a belief system. He was desperately seeking an encounter with God, though he might not have known it at the time. If Job had settled for a belief system (or a systematic theology as we might call it), his questions would have continued.
People will argue about belief systems, but we don’t argue about an encounter with God. You might not understand my encounter with God, but you can’t refute it. You might question my experience, but I know what I know.
Belief systems don’t change people. Encounters with God change people. A belief system is not the crux of Christianity. If we think it’s all about having a systematic theology, we are missing the forest for the trees; we are accepting a shadow of the real thing. The real thing is God, Himself!
Francis Chan ended his train of thought with the words of Isaiah in 29:13:
“[T]hese people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men….”
Christianity has no life or vitality if it is nothing more than a commandment taught by men. The essence of Christianity is Jesus. Jesus is God who became man. In Jesus, we encounter God. Jesus said,
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:0)
We do not know God if we have never encountered Him. Mental ascent is not the same thing as knowing God through encounter with Him!
Jesus urged people to seek God. He didn’t urge people to seek to know about God. He urged people to seek to know God. He urged them to seek God, the Person!
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He didn’t say, “I can show you the way”; or “I can teach you the truth”; or “I can give you the life”. He said, “I AM the way, the truth and the life!”
The way, the truth and the life resides in the person of Jesus Christ, who is one with the Father, who offers himself to us through the Holy Spirit, that we might know God intimately and personally.
We settle far too often for mere knowledge and belief systems. What we need is encounter and relationship with the Living God. What we need is the Living Water and Living Bread Jesus offers to us in himself.