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In the early 2000s, when online dating first became popular so did the term SBNR. The dating platforms asked people to identify by religion, and one option was “Spiritual-but-not-religious” and voila! Folks checked that box and SBNR was a thing!!
Today 1 in 5 Americans identify as SBNR. That’s 64 million people, the majority of whom are from the Christian tradition and are mostly young.
The reasons why SBNR resonated so strongly and caught on so quickly are many. I won’t go into those but one distinction that this shift made clear, is that religion and spirituality are not synonymous. They aren’t diametric opposites, but neither are they the same.
In the Christian tradition that is guided by the Bible, there’s no where in the Bible that you will find a verse or any inference to indicate that “religion is the way to heaven.” But somewhere along the road of Christianity from the way Christ lived it to the way it’s practiced today, a lot of rules and regulations, isms and dogmas snuck in.
Jesus didn’t say, “I’ve come so that you might have religion.” Or rules, or regulations, or rituals for that matter. He said,
I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.John 10:10
And Jesus Himself defined life — specifically eternal life — in this way:
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.John 17:3
And notice, it’s not to know about God but to know God.
Let’s just say I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama (and, by the way, I am). I know a lot of things about her. Things I’ve gathered from the news, from magazines or from what her husband, Barrack, says about her. But does that mean I know her? No! What if I know someone who knows her and they tell me everything they know about her. Does that mean I know her? No!
This is what philosopher David Matheson calls impersonal knowledge noting that there’s an intuitive distinction between knowing someone in a detached manner—impersonally—and knowing someone in a more intimate fashion—personally.
What am I driving at? Knowing the facts about God—even from firsthand knowledge from my pastor or my mother—does not equate to me knowing God.
Then what would it take to know God?
Well, the same thing it takes to know someone, say your child, your spouse, or your BFF—COMMUNICATION and RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING!
For instance, my BFF became known to me because we shared information—particularly intimate, private information. And, we’ve spent time together developing a relationship wherein we got to perceive the truth or nature and the essential characteristics of each other. In the process, we developed a great deal of trust and vulnerability.
That’s what Jesus was alluding to in His definition of life as recorded in the Book of John.
To know God is to have life.
And not just to have life, but to have it more abundantly.
“Abundant” in the Greek is perisson, meaning “exceedingly”, “beyond measure”, “a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect or anticipate.” And in knowing God we get all of this and more—the more-abundant life!
Does this mean abundance of material things? No! It means a life of spiritual abundance. Material blessings are but a byproduct of relationship with God and not indicators of one’s standing with God.
Why? Because God liberally extends His “doing”/His blessings, such as providing sunshine and rainfall, equally to the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).
Jesus calls us to a RELATIONSHIP and that makes real faith more than an unconditional acceptance of a religion’s teachings. Yes, going to church and reading the Bible are means to getting to know God, but my journey is experiential—not decided on for me.
In this way, Christ is the subject of my worship and devotion, but my worship is not an objective experience that has a greater focus on the externals (rituals or observances). Instead, it’s based upon the practical application of Christ’s teachings to my life. And that’s the distinction I make between being religious and being spiritual.
To this end, would I say I’m SBNR? No, only because I don’t define myself by labels except to say that: I’m a daughter of God, a follower of Christ and I live my life by the principles of Christ not by the traditions, rituals, creeds or doctrines (unless biblically based) of a religious institution.
Shabbat Shalom. May you come to know God through a deeper spiritual experience.
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