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OVERVIEW:

HOW GOD INTERACTS WITH HUMANITY

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God's interactions with people as described in the Hebrew Scriptures:

As one reads through the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), one is struck by the changes in the way that God interacted with humans. "Gradually through the course of the Hebrew Bible ... the deity appears less and less to humans, speaks less and less. Miracles, angels, and all other signs of divine presence become rarer and finally cease." 1Consider:

bullet In the days of the Garden of Eden, the first few chapters of Genesis seem to describe an intimate relationship between God and the first couple: Adam & Eve. God walked through the garden and talked directly to the first humans.
bullet Later, God seemed to have withdrawn from humanity. He only appeared to the ancient Israelites on special occasions -- e.g. when he gave them three versions of the 10 Commandments to Moses.
bullet God told Moses in Deuteronomy 31:17: "...I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?"
bullet Still later in the Hebrew Scriptures, God seems to have withdrawn from contact with humanity to an even greater degree. Communication was through prophets who spoke on his behalf, announcing: "Thus spake the Lord." They meant that literally; they believed that the words that they spoke came directly from God.

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Jesus' interactions with people as described in the Christian Scriptures:

Conservative and mainline Christian denominations generally teach that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the second person of the Trinity. They believe that during Jesus' one year ministry (according to the synoptic gospels) or three year ministry (according to the gospel of John), Jesus was God incarnated in human form. In the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

bullet Jesus is described as traveling through Galilee, Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, preaching to tens of thousands of people. Jesus is not recorded in the Christian Scriptures as having direct contact with humans outside of the Middle East during his earthly ministry. Although the Mormon church teaches that Jesus made a subsequent appearance in North America, the remaining Christian denominations believe that Jesus never left the Galilee/Jerusalem area during his ministry.
bullet In the gospel of John (John 14:16, 14:26 and 15:26) Jesus is described as sending a "Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost" to teach and guide the disciples and other believers after Jesus departed.
bullet In 1 Corinthians 10:20, Paul writes that those who follow other religions and sacrifice to other gods are in fact worshiping devils. The implication is that such believers have no interaction with the real God.

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God's interaction with humanity as taught by various faith groups:

Modern-day religions are sharply divided over the question of access to God:

bullet Some conservative Protestants have an very exclusive view about the status of their faith. They teach:
bullet That only born-again Christian believers have a connection to God through prayer.
bullet Various beliefs concerning the God's role in the life of unsaved Christians.
bullet That God has terminated his covenants with the Jewish people.
bullet That non-Christians are really communing with Satan or his demons when they pray to their own Gods and/or Goddesses.
bullet Conservative Protestants in particular teach that when a person repents of their sin and trusts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that they are saved. The Holy Spirit comes to reside in them and take partial control over their life. Through a process called sanctification, "born again" Christians become increasingly more like Jesus.
bullet Jews consider that God's covenants with the Hebrews were permanent, and remain in full force today.
bullet Followers of almost all other monotheistic, bitheistic and polytheistic religions are quite certain that their Gods and/or Goddesses exist, and that a believer can commune with the deities through meditation and prayer.
bullet Many Deists believe that after God created the universe and set everything in motion, he disappeared from the scene. Some Deists pray, but only to express their appreciation to God for his works. Others do not pray because they assume that God is no longer reachable.
bullet "Strong Atheists" are convinced that God does not exist. Atheists generally have no concept of God in their belief system.
bullet Agnostics are unsure whether God exists. Praying and expecting God's guidance in their lives is chancy, at best.

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God's interaction with Jews, as viewed by Christians:

The early church developed beliefs about God's relationships with Jews and Christians:

bullet Justin Martyr (circa 100 to 165 CE) and Irenaeus of Lyon (circa 130 to 200 CE) believed in an exclusivist status of Christianity: that only Christianity was "true" and that all other religions were false.  They developed the theological concept of supercessionism (a.k.a. replacement theology, displacement theology, etc.): that, because Judaism did not accept Jesus as their Messiah in the first century CE, God unilaterally terminated his covenants with the Jewish people and transferred them to the followers of Christ.
bullet Southern Baptists, and some other conservative Protestant faith groups still teach this belief today. A former president of the Southern Baptists took this concept to its logical conclusion; he publicly stated that God does not hear the prayers of a Jew. 2,3 By extension, God would not listen to the prayers of any non-Christian, and perhaps might also ignore the prayers of an unsaved Christian.
bullet Almost all Christian denominations have abandoned the belief in supercession, and have embraced a more inclusive stance towards non-Christian religions, viewing other religions as all containing truth. In particular, many see Judaism as a sister religion to Christianity, with direct links to the God of the Bible.
bullet Some religious liberals and post-Christians have adopted a pluralistic view of Judaism and other religions. They believe that all religions are "true" and valid, when interpreted within the cultures where those religions are practiced.

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References:

  1. R.E. Friedman, "The hidden face of God," Harper Collins, (1995) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store This was formerly published as: "The disappearance of God: A divine mystery."
  2. Rev. Bailey Smith, 1980 Religious Roundtable national affairs briefing in Dallas TX. The quote was: "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." Smith later enlarged on this comment by saying:  "I am pro-Jew…I believe they are God's special people, but without Jesus Christ, they are lost."
  3. R.A. Ross, "Bigotry lurks in born-again Christian doctrine," Arizona Republic for 1982-NOV-6 at: http://rickross.com/reference/Fund5.html 

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-MAR-10
Latest update: 2003-MAR-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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