My God or My Imaginary Friend?

When my three year old has an imaginary friend, it's cute, even encouraged. But when adult Christians live out their faith as though Jesus was just an invisible, childhood fantasy, it's disturbing. Unfortunately, there's an element of the "imaginary Jesus" in each of us who walk in faith.

"Was that you, God, or just me?"

I often hear this question as I work with student leaders on campus:

Student: I'm not going to lead my small group next semester.
Me: What? But you made the commitment, and you seemed really sure that God was calling you!
Student: I know, but God told me that I should stop.

Ok, it usually doesn't play out quite like that, and many times it's about dating and not leading! ("God told me to start dating this person"... umm, really?!?)

Here's the problem with this way of thinking:

  • When you pull the "God told me so" card on your staff (or pastor, or parent), it's really just another way of saying "You might as well stop talking to me becausee I'm no longer listening."
  • My first question is always, "Ok, where is your community?"

You didn't expect that one, did you?

Bascially, I don't see anywhere in scripture where God invites us to become a rogue Christian, diverting off on our own. Faith outside of community doesn't make any sense. If God is telling you something, he will be confirming that in your community.

Don't worry. God still wants to have a personal, intimate relationship with you! But if you start jumping to conclusions without discernment in community, then you're probably just letting your imaginary friend tell you what you want to know.

The next time you want to break a commitment, or start dating someone, or make a big life change − bring it to your community.

"No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him know." John 1:18 (NIV)

We get a clue as to how all this works in the incarnation of Jesus. No one can approach God, the Bible tells us, but Jesus became human to make God known. Jesus: the full revelation of God on earth. In-fleshed. In-carnate. Through Jesus' death and resurrection the church is empowered as the body of Jesus. Revelation from God must be corroborated through his body. We simply cannot do it alone.

The next time you want to pull the "God told me so" card, make sure you start with, "God is telling us," and you'll be in a much stronger spot.

Is it harder to confess sins to God or to your friends?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German theologian killed by the Nazis in WWII) asks that question in his book, Life Together. It’s a very challenging question!

Think about your deepest, most troubling sin. Now ask yourself, “Would I rather tell this sin to God while in my room all alone, or tell my friends who I have to see every day?”

You picked God, didn’t you? Yeah, me too. Why is that? Why on earth would we be less scared to tell the holy, perfect God of the universe over some mere mortal?!

Bonheoffer makes the provocative realization that maybe it’s because it’s really easy to think that we’re confessing to God, when really we’re just confessing to ourselves. So we tell our imaginary friend our sins and give ourselves assurance of forgiveness and act like everything is ok. But then nothing changes. We commit the same sin again.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16

Instead, we should have people in our lives we regularly confess our sins to. This isn’t because humans can forgive us but because, in the presence of other believers who will actually keep us accountable (as the body of Christ), we can actually move forward toward healing.

Community makes sure that we are actually talking with a real God who is incarnate in Jesus and present as His Church.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Who is your community as you head into the summer?
  2. Are there ways that you have fallen into the trap of treating Jesus more like an imaginary friend than as a true King who is ever present in his community on earth?

About the Author
Campus Staff

Tyler Allred is a UC San Diego alumnus who became InterVarsity staff to reach college students & faculty with the gospel of Christ in San Diego. He lives in Encinitas, CA with his wife, Melanie, and their daughters, Penelope and Jane. Tyler is the author of Deeply Rooted, a handbook that is being used on campuses around the country to disciple InterVarsity students through the Apostles’ Creed. Find out more at