Are we all delusional? (and other questions about having a relationship with God)

October 23, 2013 | 21 comments

On Monday I met up with pastors John Burke and Eric Bryant of Gateway Church here in Austin to film a Q&A session for the Explore God campaign. Burke, Bryant, and the moderator Bridget Henderson have done an amazing job with this series, so it was an honor to be a part of it.

The question for this session was, “Is it possible to have a personal relationship with God?” Here’s the video if you’d like to check it out:

A few of the many questions we discussed were:

  • Richard Dawkins says belief in God is delusional. But most Americans believe they have a personal relationship with God. Are they all delusional? (0:35)
  • Our planet is so small in the grand scheme of things. Does the idea that the Creator of the universe wants to know us personally come from an over-inflated sense of self? (4:04)
  • If God wants a personal relationship with us, why doesn’t he make his presence more obvious? (6:22)
  • With all the terrible things going on in the world, does God care about the details of our lives? (23:20)
  • For someone who would like a relationship with God but has no idea where to start, what is the first step? (32:50)
  • It seems impossible to have a personal relationship with somebody who won’t talk with you coherently, won’t talk with you at all, and who won’t answer your really tough questions.” (44:10)
  • The vast majority of Americans believe that God answers prayers. Isn’t that easy for us to say since we have comfortable, wealthy lives? (51:05)
  • Why would a loving God send anyone to hell? (58:00)

If you have your own thoughts about these or any of the other topics addressed in the video, feel free to share! (And if you have constructive criticism about any of our answers, go easy on us — it’s surprisingly difficult to address these kinds of topics off the top of your head.)

Meanwhile, I’m going to be running around like crazy trying to get ready to go to Bismarck (otherwise known as the last time I attempt to leave the house ever, ever again).

I hope you enjoy the discussion!


  1. Jeff Thompson

    Jennifer, i loved listening to this conversation. I couldn’t agree more that Bridget Henderson was a great moderator. She asked the great questions that many of us want to ask. Thank you so much for your inspirational testimony. I like all of your answers. Right now I am thinking I liked your response to Bridget’s question about what you think of Jesse Ventura’s claim that Christians just use Christianity as a crutch. I liked your analogy about gravity! I also liked the pastor’s response that the message from the atheist is “I don’t need a crutch” as being dishonest. It was a great discussion. I now want to go back and listen to the hwole series. I am very thank ful that you have given your life to Christ. God bless you!

    • Sane

      I don’t know about the gravity remark. I didn’t find gravity very comforting when I fell down the stairs and hurt my back. I can’t agree with Jennifer’s analogy because she’s making an assertion that God’s power is something just as real as the law of gravity. Sorry, its not. I guess you can rely on gravity in a measurable sense, whereas how you cope with a tragedy is a personal choice you have control over. Just not a good comparison.

      As for not needing a crutch and dishonesty, I think its safe to assume everyone relies on some kind of “crutch” in their life, but at what point can you put the “crutch” away and walk without it? Or at what point are you relying so much on this “crutch” it may be causing more harm than good? Just my perspective on that point.

  2. Amanda

    Well, if this is the last time you’re leaving the house – I’m glad I get to see you in Bismarck on Saturday! 😉

  3. Kira

    Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure am delusional. Although, that has more to do with my relationship with ice cream.

  4. Melody

    Great video – I actually watched it wondering if I would “agree” with all the views on it (the skeptic in me?); but it ended up really affirming my faith. You all three did an awesome job. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Bonnie

    Jennifer, you add so much to the conversation because of your unique perspective of having been a non-believer who placed a high value on truth. I’m sure your comments have helped many people who are struggling with the same kinds of questions and issues you had as you moved closer to belief. I think the panel did a great job in trying to tackle the difficult questions non-believers pose to those of us who believe.
    I do have something to say about the first question, whether those who believe in God are delusional. When someone like Richard Dawkins says he thinks those who believe in God are delusional, it seems to me he presumes our limited five senses give us absolute ability to detect all that exists. But science has shown time and again how very limited our senses are. As an example, for years scientists wondered how honeybees chose certain flowers, since all the flowers looked the same to us. But then a scientist began to look at flowers under ultraviolet light, and found there are amazing patterns of colors visible to honeybees. Their sense of sight is different, and they detect the existence of something we cannot detect. Because of findings like that, it seems to me, for all we know whole worlds could exist all around us we have no way of perceiving or of even detecting. Hints that God exists are all around us, the way the honeybees’ behavior hints that there is more about flowers than we perceive. We cannot directly perceive God, no more than we could directly perceive why honeybees act as they do, but to ignore the hints we do see is to be a very bad scientist. It would seem the Richard Dawkins’ of the world are the ones who delude themselves.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      That is such an interesting analogy. I’m going to be thinking about that. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Pam K.

    My husband and I watched this last night ans we really loved it. What a great initiative and the moderator asked fantastic questions. The combination of yourself with the two pastors answering was so, so, so good. Thank you for doing it and sharing it.

  7. Amy

    Wonderful! I can’t wait to have a chance to watch all of this. Also, I hope you have a great time in Bismarck. I tried to arrange to make that trip, but it didn’t work out this time. Have a wonderful trip!

  8. Amy

    Like the other commenters, I also really enjoyed this conversation and found it affirming of my faith. I liked the honest answers and found them very relatable. I am curious to know, however, if they told you to keep quiet about being Catholic and if so did they tell you why? I kept waiting for you to reveal that you are Catholic and really would have appreciated that honesty especially if your purpose in doing this was to help guide people to truth. Despite this, I thought it was an excellent piece and trust that those who truly seek truth will find it.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Good question, Amy. I was not asked to avoid saying that I’m Catholic, and didn’t intentionally avoid saying it, I just found that it didn’t come up. Thanks for the encouraging words!

      • Kelly the Kitchen Kop


        I thought it was perfect that it *didn’t* come up actually, because now people who want to read more about you will go to your site and realize you are Catholic and hopefully think to themselves, “Wow. She was on a sincere quest for Truth and then became CATHOLIC?” Maybe this will lead them to research it more.

        I also wonder how many listening had never heard of the great thinkers that you mentioned, Aquinas and Augustine. When I was a Protestant, those are names that weren’t heard often.

        Have a safe trip!

  9. Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    I think if more Catholics would read the writing by saints like St. Faustina’s The Divine Mercy or Bl.Ann Catherine Emmerich they would see so clearly how people can and SHOULD have a solid personal relationship with God. He’s our loving Father… too often people don’t look to Him as our Father.

  10. Catholic Lawyer Mama

    Wow, I think these are *REALLY* hard questions that cut to the root of what it means to be faithful! I commend you for taking a stab at answering them in front of a camera!

    I can only speak from personal experience, but the reason I know that I have a personal relationship with God is because I experience Him in my life. I pray, and I feel Him stirring in my heart. His responses may not come in the way that people might converse with their neighbors down the street. But they come in the little things . . . like the song that plays on the Christian radio station when I need to hear it, or the words of encouragement received unexpectedly in the midst of my struggles, or the “nudging” I experience when God wants me to do something (i.e., the opportunity he wants me to pursue is the only one on the table (God loves to limit my options that way since I tend to obsess when I have too many choices!), or the path that he wants me to follow keeps re-presenting itself whether in conversations with others or experiences I have, etc.). It’s impossible to offer “proof” of these experiences sufficient to satisfy non-believers. But my experience is “proof” to me, and it only came because I opened myself up to it, to God, and to his will for my life. It required that literal leap of faith to experience relationship with Him.

    The thing is — how do you offer “proof” to anyone of any relationship you have, whether it be a relationship with another person or with God? Let’s talk about it in concrete terms. Let’s say that Person C wants Person A to prove that Person A has a relationship with Person B. How does Person A offer that proof? Well, Person A could tell Person C about the relationship. But that’s not very strong in terms of “proof”. The only other way that I can think of is for Person C to witness the relationship between Person A and Person B. And, ultimately, Person C won’t be able to truly understand relationship between Person A and Person B unless Person C witnesses the entire relationship between Person A and Person B. Which is difficult, if not impossible. As a practical matter and unless Person C is going to spend his/her entire life observing Person A and Person B interact, Person C is going to have to take some of Person A’s observations about his/her relationship with Person B on faith. In other words, Person C is going to have to trust Person A. And this is where I struggle with some of my atheist friends. How can they judge a relationship with God that they haven’t witnessed?

    To answer one of the other questions, I do think that God cares about the “little things” in our lives. From my perspective, this answer cuts to the heart of what it means to be a parent for most people. God created us. He is our “parent”. How could he not care? Just like with my children. How could I not care about what is bothering them? Granted, there may be times that their concerns are not all that major in the grand scheme of things, but they still matter to me because they are my kids.

    Interesting discussion and video . . . Thank you so much for sharing!

  11. Tacy

    I enjoyed listening to this video podcast, and thank you Jennifer for being so articulate, honest, and intelligent in answering some very tough questions. Great job to the moderator and to the amazing pastors who have so much insight into Scripture. Well done, all.

  12. Catherine

    As someone who converted to Catholicism from atheism at 19 over 25 years ago I found the discussion was very well done because it did attempt to answer profound questions in language that people without any faith background could get a handle on. Avoiding Christian jargon or phraseology that makes sense only really once you have been in relationship with God and other Christians for sometime helped with the accessibility of the arguments you were all making.

    One shortcoming for me was the discussion of prayer. Prayer was only discussed as our having wants and needs answered or not, so that the idea of prayer consisted purely of prayers of petition. I would’ve liked to have heard more of an expansion of what prayer actually is and how vital it is to our relationship with God; the concept that prayer is a gift from the Holy Spirit and is God drawing us to himself and our response. Hearing about different forms, types and reasons for prayer – just being in God’s presence for example – could have opened up new vistas to non-Christian viewers. I think the total lack of a deeper understanding of prayer for those currently without faith can make Christainity seem shallow and self-serving if it is purely a matter of constantly asking God for stuff.

    However, I think you all did an amazing job for being put on the spot to answer or even conceptualize an answer to some very intelligent and profound questions. I am assuming you all prayed fervently before hand and God did come and help you formulate some answers in a way those without faith might grasp.

  13. Loren

    Thank you for crediting the Holy Spirit twice. I can vividly see the unity in the thoughts of ya’ll , which goes to manifest the Presence of the Trinity despite the diverse “thinking finite” of ya’ll on all questions. Now, the next step for those young and zealous pastors is to dig deeper into the Christian faith and to be at home, which is the Roman Catholic Church. Please also share with us your talk at the Thirst Conference if can. Thank you and God bless ya’ll.

  14. Sane

    I noticed something from this discussion and I’d thought I’d bring it up for the sake of argument. Keep in mind I don’t believe any of it, I’m just looking for some insight on how Christians believe any of this. So thanks in advance to anyone who responds.

    Ok, so at around the 7 minute mark Jennifer talks about how God presenting himself to us to prove his existence would mean we’d have no choice but to love him. First of all, Jennifer came to this conclusion…how exactly? How can she even verify such a claim to someone else? Second, I should believe an omniscient and omnipotent being couldn’t think of a way to appear and not leave everyone lovestruck?
    I gather from the discussion that Catholics seem to believe in angels as well. Correct me if I’m wrong, but according to your theology God hangs out with angels all the time. Apparently being in God’s presence didn’t force them into loving him as some still turned against him (hence the reason Hell was created according to one of the pastors around 59:47). Seems like a pretty big contradiction.

    The response about Hell also sounds like victim blaming to me, but I don’t want to get too long winded. Any comments?

    • Carl

      I think it is impossible to understand God or faith until one is at least open to the possibility (even if you don’t realize it). That seems to be a prerequisite. Many years ago I was convinced that either there was no God or that if there were we could not know anything about him since he didn’t communicate with us. It seemed eminently reasonable. In the midst of my unbelief, He intruded into my life and I realized I had to change my mind.

      • Sane

        Its not a matter of being open to possibilities, I’m open to plenty of things being possible, but I expect those things to be demonstrated to be real before I believe them. Your last line has me curious about God intruding into your life…did He just show up for dinner uninvited or something?

  15. Brooke

    I thought this was a great discussion that hit on questions I’ve asked over and over again. One thing I’ve noticed, though, about your writing and videos is that you often mention this unnamed atheist professor and his pig/baby comparison. You also claim that atheists believe cognitive ability is the most logical way to judge the value of, I guess, sentient beings. As much as your blog interests me and provokes me on my quest to find out whatever the truth may be, I am always sorely disappointed in this point. Who is this professor? When and where did he/she express this view? I feel like your audience should be able to examine such an extraordinary claim for themselves. I also find the claim that atheists value cognitive ability above all else in determining worth to be a sweeping statement that no one person is qualified to generalize about. If it was your own experience, fine, but it should be stated as such.

    Back to the atheist professor: If his or her statement was in fact taken in the correct context, I would certainly disagree. A pig may have more cognitive ability than a human baby at some stage, yes, but that human baby will grow into a human being with not just superior cognitive ability, but the capacity to think for him/herself, to dream, to have goals, to love and be loved, and to serve society and civilization in some way. As a former atheist and current confused agnostic, I have always held this view. I also can’t and won’t speak for others who hold a different one.

    I guess my point is that, one on hand, I agree with you: the pig/human comparison is callous and untrue! So I definitely wish you wouldn’t use it to characterize the atheist worldview across the board.

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