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Many Christians emphasize the importance of having an actual relationship with God/Jesus as opposed to merely being religious. The previously asked question What is the origin of the "religion vs. relationship" dichotomy? attests very well to this fact. But what about when people from other religions claim to have similar personal relationship experiences with their deities? For example, a Muslim claiming to have a personal relationship with Allah, a Hindu claiming to have a personal relationship with Brahman, a Hare Krishna claiming to have a personal relationship with Lord Krishna, a New Ager claiming to have a personal relationship with the Universe, their spirit guides, their higher self, etc.

Qualitatively speaking, what sets the Christian relationship with God apart from relationship experiences that people claim to have in other religions? What makes the Christian relationship with God special and unique? Are people in other religions just having counterfeit, deceitful experiences?


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A basic premise of Christianity is that an evil one tempted through deception; the first woman fell for it, her husband chose to go along with her, and thus the evil of sin and deception began to grow and spread, like a cancer, as more and more people were born and found themselves imperfect sinners who could not relate to God without him taking the initiative. Which he did. I mention this because there IS a way for sinners to relate to God. The trouble is, the deceiver has never stopped working hard at fooling people into supposing they can relate to God in ways other than the one way God has stipulated. People keep falling for Satan's temptation to "be like God, knowing good and evil" by partaking of that which God has forbidden. One 'bite' of the symbolic 'fruit' of Satan, and the cancer of his deceptions spreads in the individual.

This has resulted in myriad religions, with only one being recognised by God as the acceptable way of approach to him - via the covenant he established with those who had faith in him (Noah, Abraham, Jacob who fathered the nation of Israel at the time of Moses.) None of the other world religions back then could bring anybody into relationship with God, but individuals could turn and be joined through the covenant. Then came the era of Jesus Christ and his ministry on earth, where he founded his church which the gates of hell would never overcome (Matthew 16:11-19). Jesus stated that HE would build his church, with himself as the one and only mediator between God and man. He stated that nobody could come to God the Father except through him. It is faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross (because of who he is) that brings anybody into relationship with God.

All attempts at all religions that do not put total faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Son of God are doomed to failure because they have fallen for satanic deceptions. They are trying to appease God by what they do; to earn God's approval by religiosity. Take, for example three religions already mentioned in answers and comments. The New Age for one. Sure, they enthuse about 'spirit guides', wonderful experiences (visions, even). But they could hardly care less which deity you like (you could even be an atheist - makes no difference to the experiences you could have). You can acclaim a hippy Jesus, a Buddhist Jesus, or no Jesus at all. (Oh, and Buddhists don't need to believe in any god because their goal is to 'merge' with the impersonal - not relate to a personal deity.) Anything goes in the New Age but not according to what the Father and the Son have already communicated to mankind. The New Age ignores that because they promote a pick-and-mix system of religiosity. The supposed 'relationship' New Agers claim to have with whatever deity they uphold is more likely linked to hallucinatory drugs than anything actually spiritual, or, if it is, then the spirits involved are agents of the deceiver. I've read Shirley McLaine's books on the New Age, and personally know a New Ager who did personal horoscopes for people, until he realised he was into the occult and was converted to faith in Christ. The covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures shows that any alliance with the occult brings God's adverse judgment. Nobody can relate to God whilst practicing the occult.

Second, take Islam. If people think Muslims claim to have a personal relationship with Allah, they need to think again. I quote from objective sources:

"The Arabic word islam means 'surrender', and the use of the term in various passages of the Qur'an shows that this is surrender to God. Thus Islam is the religion of surrender to God, and one might say that among the great religions Islam is characterized by its emphasis on the omnipotence and transcendence of God and humanity's servile or slave status before him... The teaching of Muhammad was a result of divine revelation. All his teaching is believed to be recorded in the Qur'an and is defined as surrender to the will of God as so written. In addition [to the 5 Pillars of Islam] 5 observances are expected of every Muslim. By these observances every believer hopes to earn salvation at the Day of Judgement." (The Encyclopedia of World Faiths pp154 & 165, Darton & Todd, published by Macdonald Orbis in 1987) [Emphases mine]

Because of beliefs about the Day of Judgment, it is not possible for individual Muslims to suppose that (prior to that Day) they can enjoy a personal relationship with God. They think that select human beings have been charged by God, and enabled by a spirit from the amr [i.e. God's will, command] to be his prophets, Muhammad being the 'seal' of the prophets. The 1st Pillar is to recite the Shahada about Allah being the only God, and Muhammad as his prophet. No other prophet occupies that elevated, unique position, so that Muslims would never dream of trying to approach God via Jesus Christ. Also, no Muslim can know until the Day of Judgment whether they have been submissive enough to God, and have done enough good deeds to outweigh their bad deeds, and so tip the divine scales of justice in their favour. Whilst they strive to diligently uphold Qur'anic moral law and order in fear of not meeting God's just laws, they hope that trust in God's mercy will also count as merit for them. Indeed, the Qur'an condemns lack of hope in God's mercy as a cardinal sin. This all adds up to never knowing the mind of God regarding their personal relationship to him until that fateful Day of Judgment. Another quote:

"The term 'fatherhood', in reference to God, is abhorrent to Muslims, because it denotes a physical relationship. To consider God as 'Father' is, for Muslims, to imply that God has a wife and an issue - both of which are blasphemous concepts. Nor are Muslims prepared to rationalize the term 'Father' in a metaphysical sense as 'Father of all mankind', because in Islamic teaching, human beings are chattels - creatures and servants of God, not His children. Nor again do Muslims recognize the idea of God the 'Father' as presented in the Christian concept of the Trinity. Trinitarianism is flatly condemned in Islam". (Islam, The Way of Submission by Solomon Nigosian, p189 & p117, Crucible 1987) [Emphases mine]

Third, take Hinduism. Some would claim that the Hindu Trimutri equates with the Christian Trinity doctrine in terms of being able to relate personally to the one God. Hinduism has a triad of deities, but it does not have a trinity. The Hindu triad requires three gods and is called 'Trimurti' and is worshipped in the form of the guru principle Dattatrya. Let me quote from a Hindu scholar on this:

"Sometimes the three gods Brahma (a personification of the impersonal Brahman), Vishnu and Shiva are grouped together in a triad called Trimurti, occasionally although wrongly described as a 'Hindu trinity'. In this representation of 'One God in three forms' Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer. Well known from Indian sculpture, the triad has largely remained artificial and is unimportant to Hindu worship, which is much more strongly founded on the notion of Istadevata, the idea that an individual or a family chooses a specific god as the main focus for devotion." (Encyclopedia of World Faiths, Bishop & Darton, p 193 published by Macdonald Orbis 1987) [Emphasis mine]

Thus, when you suppose Muslims claim to have a personal relationship with Allah, that's false because that would be blasphemy for any Muslim. A Hindu cannot claim to have a personal relationship with Brahman because the three gods Brahma is merely a personification of the impersonal Brahman. New Agers cannot claim to have a personal relationship with an impersonal Universe, and their spirit guides are not God. That is my response, as a trinitarian Christian, to claims of other religions having a "relationship with God".

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    Extremely well-informed and concisely presented. Excellence. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 16 '21 at 15:18
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What makes the Christian relationship with God special and unique?

Only Christianity understands God as Trinity. A short answer is that Christian relationship with God is participating in the Trinitarian love within the Godhead, re-produced in our relationship with our neighbors, thus imitating Christ's love to the Father and the Father's love to Christ. We are able to love because we have the Holy Spirit (God himself) dwells in our heart, enabling us to grow in our love disposition. I think only Christianity teaches "God is love", which has a lot of content to unpack from God's revelation of himself in the Bible, through both teaching and works. Works which culminate in Jesus's sacrifice on the cross to heal us out of love and mercy for His creation.

God's love in Christianity is unique in that God himself, who as creator of the universe is powerful and glorious, doesn't find it beneath Him to

  • love in weakness that moves the heart, instead of impressing us through force (fire and brimstone). Example: Jesus as lamb of God sacrificed for us on the cross.
  • love that searches the lost one sheep in the gutter, instead of requiring us to come to his throne. Example: Jesus brought dignity, not shame, to the repentant regardless of the crime, including the worst offender in 1st century Jewish culture: tax collector (crime against other Jews in colluding with the Romans)

Are people in other religions just having counterfeit, deceitful experiences?

No. Other religions teach love too, but without a model of the perfect love described above, the adherents eventually either idealize a deficient kind of love (such as self-renunciation in Buddhism) or feel something is missing (which hopefully move them to consider Christianity). Other examples of the former:

  • In Islam, relationship with God is more characterized as submission
  • In Judaism, relationship with God is more of worship and repentance
  • In New Age, relationship with God is a personal quest (rather self-centered) where self-giving to others are in the periphery

What about spiritual experience?

In Christianity, spiritual experience is a means to form love in a Christian's heart. It's optional. The primary goal of Christian spiritual experience (while on earth) is not enlightenment, receiving prophecy/knowledge, or seeing the glory of God, but as an aid to help us grow in faith (trust God more) and love (serve God and others out of gratitude in response to God's love for us). Therefore, although other religions have their spiritual experience (genuine or not), if that spiritual experience doesn't lead to Christian love, it does not help one to grow the true relationship with God.

CONCLUSION

For those Christians who emphasize the "religion vs. relationship" dichotomy, "religion" distracts a person from the true "relationship" with God through Christ, whether it's a Christian religion or other religions. At best, religion should be done only to grow relationship, OR as a response flowing from a true relationship.

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  • Only Christianity understands God as Trinity - in Hinduism there is the Trimurti though: " [...] Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer". Oct 12 '21 at 14:23
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator I added links to clarify that I meant Christian Trinity, which is obviously different than the Trimurti. The underlying premise of my answer is that just by comparing how different religions define relationship with God one can see the different practical implications, which in turn show that each religion is truly different from another. The question of which one is better is beyond the scope of this answer, but of course Christians will argue that Christian's understanding is the true one leading to the perfect love. Oct 12 '21 at 14:46
  • [...] or feel something is missing (which hopefully move them to consider Christianity) - do you know concrete examples in support of this statement? Oct 12 '21 at 16:40
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Not personally, but I'm sure it's easy enough to find seemingly genuine conversions by googling. In a few minutes I was able to find this one from Islam to Christianity, although it's a teenage conversion. The conversion of Mortimer Adler is famous (I read many of his books) but he wasn't pious Jew to begin with. More Islam to Christianity here. Oct 12 '21 at 17:19
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    St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) would be an example of a Jew who felt something was missing and became a Christian. There's a movie about her that might be up your alley as a Spirit Realm Investigator
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 12 '21 at 19:01
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Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV): Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

People may believe they have a relationship with the divine, they may even believe they have a relationship with the Christian God, with Jesus. They can believe that, and be wrong. If we do not approach God in truth and repentance, then we cannot have a true relationship with him.

People of other religions may have an experience of a relationship with the divine based on nothing, or it's possible that they are relating to a demon. From the perspective of Christianity, neither amounts to anything.

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Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Deus Caritas Est - Pope Benedict XVI

As a sinful person, I entirely understand this "encounter" mentality that Pope Benedict was getting at, the encounter is so very important. As I find myself asymptotically drawn to these encounters, that's religion - it's just calculus applied to the soul's need for a relationship with Christ.

Christianity (or at least Catholicism) is often takes flack for being a "both/and" sort of religion. She takes things that by themselves would be heresies and makes them kiss (like Justice and Mercy).

So with all dichotomies of good things (especially alliterative things, like relationship and religion) the Church bundles them together.

The response to the encounter is religion. Like Mary Marsden says to her skeptical gentleman friend in George MacDonald's eponymous book, organized religion is like an orchestra making more beautiful music because it's done together.

It's not surprising that all religions would respond in the same way, Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy the about all religions expecting to have a priesthood and an altar (Which he says is denied by the modern). If the desire for religion is natural and it lifts the soul up to God it's probably written in our hearts, where it comes from doesn't much matter. Only very foolish people would think it's there because of biology, even if it's there because of biology it was put there by the Creator. Biology (i.e. human physiology), being made good is a mediator of grace; that you get more grace from certain postures of prayer, that when two or more are gathered so is Jesus, these are all religious attitudes that affect the only relationship we have with God (the channel of Grace; don't touch that dial or you'll have to go to confession!).

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