“But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation [with God]” (Rom. 5:11).
One of the more outrageous notions of the Christian religion is that the individual human being can have a personal relationship of sorts with God, the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. This is what Paul says: we boast in God, who is our Father and who cares for us. Such an assertion sounds positively egomaniacal to the ears of many nonbelievers, who are convinced that even if God did exist, surely He would have better things to do than to bother with friendship with puny human beings. It sounds to some as if Christians have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, as if the claim to a personal relationship with God is somehow predicated on the fact that we are worthy of God’s attention.
There are two things wrong with this agnostic critique. On the one hand, it misunderstands the Christian message. On the other hand, it results from a kind of false modesty that is really just disguised pride.
Let’s start with the first problem. According to the Christian religion, our friendship with God is not grounded in our own magnificence or importance, but in the fact that God condescends to make Himself known to us and to invite us into fellowship with Him. Christ teaches clearly that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). This means that knowledge of God always begins from God and never from us. If we know God at all, it is not because we are so wonderful, but because God makes Himself known to us out of pure grace. He makes Himself known because He is good and wishes to share good things with us, not because we are worthy of them but because He loves us and wishes to give us gifts. Our friendship with God is entirely a matter of grace, unmerited favor.
On the other hand, to say that God, if He exists, would have better things to do than to commune with human beings, is not a modest but an arrogant assertion. It assumes knowledge about what God would do and what His interests would be, knowledge which cannot be had by human beings. How is a human being supposed to know what God is like and what He cares about, if He does not Himself tell us? Once more we can appeal to the words of Christ: No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son deigns to reveal Him. If we cannot know by our own strength what God is like and what He wants, then neither can we arrogantly assert that God, if He were to exist, would be uninterested in fellowship with human beings. That is superficially modest but actually arrogant, and it is nothing more than a way of avoiding the kind of confrontation with oneself and reckoning which the encounter with God requires on our part. I don’t even mention the fact that God, if He exists, is not a limited being like us, so that He has to be careful not to stretch Himself too thin and occupy Himself with unimportant matters. That is how we have to live because we are finite; God is infinite and not subject to the same limitations we are; thus, if God so chooses, He can have fellowship with human beings and it would not a waste of His time or resources or attention or energy, which in any case are all infinite.
Most importantly of all, our friendship with God was won for us through Christ Jesus, who reconciled us to God. It is human beings that are at odds with God, and not God who is at odds with human beings. This is also why some people reject the notion that God would have a personal relationship with human beings — because they are secretly opposed to God and want to justify intellectually, by means of a specious argument, their refusal to turn to Him in repentance. Our sin puts us at odds with God and it also leaves in His debt, because we should be punished for what we do. But Christ saves us and reconciles us with God, who sent His Son into the world for our sake, to die for our sins and to make atonement for us, and to win us over to God, through the Holy Spirit, by demonstrating God’s love for us and giving us confidence in approaching God. We become friends of God and can boast in Him because He came and sought friendship with us and cleared every obstacle that stood in the way. This is God’s gift; it isn’t because human beings are just so wonderful that we deserved it.