Joy recently came across a book called “With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God,” by Skye Jethani, a senior editor at Leadership Journal. Jethani claims that there are four ways most people relate to God. He calls them “Life Under God,” “Life Over God,” “Life From God,” and “Life For God.” He describes them this way:
“The Life Under God posture sees God in simple cause-and-effect terms,” Jethani says. “We obey his commands and he blesses our lives, our families, our nation. Our primary role is to determine what he approves (or disapproves) and work vigilantly to remain within those boundaries….”
“Living under God’s expectations is still important to many people. In fact, many of our cultural conflicts can be attributed to people living under God, seeking to impose their values on those who would rather live over him.”
In this posture, “God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.” The Bible, if considered at all, is viewed simply as a sourcebook of principles for successful living.
“The Life Over God posture’s emphasis on working principles may be appealing because it is far more predictable and manageable than an actual relationship with God,” Jethani says. “Relationships, whether human or divine, are messy, time consuming, and often uncontrollable.”
People in this category want God’s blessings and gifts, but they are not particularly interested in God himself. God is like a wealthy but socially awkward uncle who is included in family gatherings but only because of the expensive gifts he brings with him.
“Some of the largest congregations in the United States and elsewhere are predicated on the Life From God posture, as are some of the best-selling Christian books…Sometimes it is called consumer Christianity, the prosperity gospel, or health-and-wealth preaching. In each case people are looking to God as a cosmic therapist or divine butler.”
“The most celebrated of religious postures is Life For God,” Jethani says. “The most significant life, it believes, is the one expended accomplishing great things in God’s service…”
“Whether by fighting poverty, growing the church, or engaging politics, we tend to find purpose and meaning through what we do for God and his kingdom.”
Jethani suggests a fifth approach to God—a posture he calls Life With God.
“Life Under, Over, From, and For God each seeks to use God as a means to an end,” he says. “For example, Life From God uses him to supply our material desires. Life Over God uses him as the source of principles or laws. Life Under God tries to manipulate God through obedience to secure blessings and avoid calamity. And Life For God uses him and his mission to gain a sense of direction and purpose.
“But Life With God is different because its goal is not to use God, its goal is God. He ceases to be a device we employ or a commodity we consume. Instead God himself becomes the focus of our desire.”
Joy and I found those last words particularly convicting. Using God as a means to an end—as a “device we employ or a commodity we consume”—is a temptation for all of us. Jethani’s words challenged us to reconsider what the true object of our desire really is—whether we’re seeking to simply use him or to know and love him. We hope these thoughts will cause you to reflect on your own relationship with him!